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Dick Kittle, Former WHSL Umpire Supervisor, Dies at 79


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Written by: Scott D. Simon
Friday, September 15, 2017

Mark Grace, the former Chicago Cubs first baseman who's most famous for either collecting the most hits in Major League Baseball during the 1990s or for sneaking cigarettes in the dugout between innings, once proclaimed, "If you're not cheating, you're not trying." Grace wasn't familiar with the Mensch Rule. He also wasn't familiar with Dick Kittle. Dick died on Wednesday night, so I'd like to share a story with you.

Kittle umpired so many of my little league games growing up that I regularly talked with him. Not just the "Thanks, Blue" some say when a game ends. Before games, we would discuss weird plays he called. He knew what happens when the hitter's bat is tossed into the field and later interferes with a ball in play (live ball!) and which runner to call out when two of them are standing on the same base at the same time (the one who arrived last!). Talking with Dick was a lesson in the value of becoming an expert. It also taught an obnoxious, smart-ass kid how much I didn't know about the game and spurred me to improve my baseball IQ.

By the time I was 10, seeing Dick was as regular a part of my springs and summers as the Good Humor truck -- at least once a week, more if I was lucky, and I was always on the lookout. I remember a little league travel game that year. If memory serves, that was my first time on the team, which was mostly made up of 12- and 13-year olds. Maybe I was 4'6" and 60 pounds. I'd shown perfect attendance, but this was long before modern rules required everybody on the team to play a few innings every game. The coach was so obsessed with winning that the smallest kid never got to play (even if, in this writer's opinion, the smallest kid was better than many bigger ones).

It was probably the end of August, so the coach was missing a bunch of his older players. I was in the lineup as the right fielder, batting last, and Dick Kittle was umpiring the game. There was no time for a pregame chat because the coach maintained a strict schedule for stretching, throwing, infield practice and drilling in the signs. This coach was so serious he made us learn and routinely gave the "take" sign when the opposing pitcher was struggling.

Fast forward to the sixth inning -- the last one, in little league. The game was close and I came to bat with runners on first and second with no out. I figured the coach would flash the bunt sign. He didn't; he must have figured I didn't know how. On the first pitch, knowing that my job was to move up the runners, I waited for the ball to travel deep in the zone, kept my hands in, and lined the ball over the first baseman's head into right field. Or not, because Dick called it foul.

My coach ran in toward Dick, preparing to argue the call. At some point between the third-base coaching box and the backstop, the coach pointed at the kid behind home plate and yelled, "Catcher's interference! I heard the bat hit the glove on the swing!" The catcher looked at Dick, and Dick turned toward me as I walked back toward the batter's box after running halfway down the line. Dick took off his mask and asked me if I hit the catcher's glove when I swung. I could see the coach nodding vigorously behind Dick, hoping for a free baserunner and, more importantly, to turn the lineup over so the older kids could hit with the bases loaded.

Here was an umpire, whose job it is to make the call, asking this tiny kid, the "You're killing me, Smalls" of Scarsdale Little League, to choose whether I should get first base in a clutch spot. Dick Kittle trusted me to decide in front of 30 ballplayers and twice as many parents. I respected Dick far too much to cheat, even if Mark Grace thinks it meant I wasn't trying hard enough. I shook my head no.

Chesed is the Hebrew word for grace. Rabbi Rami Shapiro says grace is “God's unlimited, unconditional, unconditioned, and all-inclusive love for all creation" -- what's happening whether we like it or not. Dick Kittle had that love for the games that he umpired and, I believe, the players on the field. I was lucky to cross paths with him as a little leaguer, as a varsity baseball player, and as WHSL Commissioner, where Dick supervised umpires for more than a decade. He will be missed.

**

Dick's wake will be held on Monday, September 18 from 4 to 8 p.m. at Coxe & Graziano Funeral Home, 767 East Boston Post Road, Mamaroneck, NY 10543.










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