Thursday, April 1, 2010

Saugerties native Hallion named MLB crew chief

As a major league umpire, Tom Hallion has been able to achieve many career milestones, including working All-Star games, League Championship Series and World Series.

Now he’s reached the highest position an umpire can aspire to — crew chief.

The Saugerties native earned the promotion at the beginning of spring training and is looking forward to having his own crew when the regular season begins next week.

“It’s very rewarding. It’s almost feels like I’ve come full circle,” said Hallion, who talked by phone Monday after working the Astros-Pirates exhibition in Bradentown, Fla. Ironically, he was on his way to St. Petersburg to watch Saugerties High’s baseball team play a preseason game.

“I’m very thrilled,” he said.

With the retirements of Charlie Reliford, Randy Marsh, Ed Montague and Rick Reed, Hallion was promoted by the Commissioner’s office along with Brian Gorman, Jeff Kellogg and Jerry Layne.

A 17-year veteran, Hallion has umpired two All-Star games, three divisional series, two LCS and the 2008 World Series.

Hallion had been in Jerry Crawford’s crew the last two years.

“It’s sad. It’s Jerry’s last year and I wanted to stay with him. I was caught between a rock and a hard place,” said Hallion, who filled in as a acting chief when Crawford was sidelined by a bad back last year.
Crawford pushed him to accept the position.

The retirement of four chiefs allowed for the shuffling and creation of new crews. Hallion’s new crew includes Ed Rapuano, Ron Kulpa and Lance Barksdale.

Rapuano actually filled in when Crawford was out in ’09 and he also worked with Hallion in the ’08 All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium.

“I’ve worked a little bit with Eddie and Ron. I’ve never worked with Lance,” Hallion said.

The crew makes its’ debut next Monday afternoon in Kansas City when the Royals open against the Detroit Tigers. The unit heads to Texas after that for the Rangers and the Seattle Mariners.

Hallion’s crew will spend much of its time this season west of the Mississippi River. After the first weekend, they go to Colorado, San Diego, Arizona, then back to Texas.

Their schedule calls for only two trips to New York, including a late-season series at Yankee Stadium, and no visits to Boston.

“My niece lives up there in Boston. I had to break the bad news that I’m not heading that way,” Hallion said.

His first major league game was in 1985, but Hallion was out of baseball in ’99 as part of a failed stand by umpires which led to 22 arbiters’ resignations being accepted.

He returned as a minor league ump in ’03, made his way back to the majors by ’05 and was fully reinstated in ’07.

In another instance of coming full circle, Hallion was part of the negotiating team for the World Umpires Association that hammered out a new five-year collective bargaining agreement that was unanimously approved.

It was the largest umpiring contract ever signed, Hallion said.

Adding to the irony was Hallion sitting across the table during negotiations from Rob Manfred, MLB’s Executive Vice President for Labor Relations. Manfred was involved in the MLB’s handling of the ’99 situation that led to Hallion’s dismissmal.

“It was kind of interesting,” remarked Hallion, who plans to umpire for at least five or more six years in order to help out with the next contract.

As for memories with Crawford’s crew, last Aug. 26 in Toronto won’t be forgotten anytime soon.

Hallion had to replace Crawford behind the plate early in the game when the veteran crew chief took a foul ball off his face mask.

In the sixth inning, Travis Snider swung and missed at a Scott Kazmir pitch that crossed up Tampa Bay catcher Gregg Zaun. The 92-mph pitch hit smacked Hallion in the chest, bringing him down.

“He was calling for a slider outside. Kazmir threw a fastball inside,” Hallion remembered.

“It was like I got shot.

“It was never touched. It got the bottom of the chest protector and part of the flesh.”

It didn’t leave a Rawling’s logo on him, but a “bruise that ended up six different shades of color.”

Medical staff rushed to his side and a cart was brought out, but he eventually rose and walked off without assistance. After a 21-minute delay, Hallion returned to handle third base.

“Jerry was already out. I wasn’t going to leave us down to two guys,” he said. “They let me go stand at third base and help with the rotation. They made me promise not to move.”

The bruise eventually went away. Hallion accepts the risk, saying “It was the nature of the beast.” He did, though, get a new chest protector.

“(Umpiring legend) Joe West makes a vest that’s a little longer,” he said. “The next day he called me and said, ‘Your new protector is on the way and you’ll have it before the next time behind the plate.”