MLB Umpires: Kerwin Danley becomes the first black crew chief

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 14: Home plate umpire Kerwin Danley #44 signals one more pitch during the game between the Washington Nationals and the Pittsburgh Pirates at Nationals Park on April 14, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 14: Home plate umpire Kerwin Danley #44 signals one more pitch during the game between the Washington Nationals and the Pittsburgh Pirates at Nationals Park on April 14, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images) /
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(Photo by Michael Zagaris/Oakland Athletics/Getty Images)
(Photo by Michael Zagaris/Oakland Athletics/Getty Images) /

MLB Umpire: Kerwin Danley becomes the first black crew chief

A Moderator, Not an Instigator

Kerwin Danley may not be that familiar a name to fans, to his credit. Umpiring is one profession that shouldn’t live by its visibility factor. The more familiar an umpire’s name, the less likely he is to be greeted with respect than with repulsion. In an era featuring too many umpires secure in the belief that the game isn’t (it wouldn’t dare!) bigger than them, Danley is an MLB umpire who wouldn’t dare elevate himself.

He’s on record as sanguine about the order of battle when it comes to arguments.

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“Most managers don’t start until the batter starts,” he once told a Dream Series seminar. “So you don’t hear from them anymore like you used to do. The problem is now, with instant replay, now it’s all balls and strikes. I definitely think it’s the pitching coaches first. Hitting coaches, you don’t hear from them that much, unless you’re just having a bad day. Then you hear from them.”

Longtime relief pitcher LaTroy Hawkins was on that panel. “My mom told me something at a very young age,” he told the seminar. “I got mad at an umpire in Little League and I was throwing a tantrum, and she told me, ‘Look here, son, the umpire doesn’t have a home team. They’re the villain either way’.”

Today, it seems enough umps, while few, embrace the villain role. Danley now prefers to be the moderator. But there come times when even the least confrontational can’t avoid the feature moment, sometimes to their embarrassment and injury.

Danley is probably known best for the Brad Penny fastball that eluded catcher Russell Martin but met Danley’s jaw rather painfully in Dodger Stadium in 2008. The third base ump, Greg Gibson, managed to find a little levity in the disaster. “It was kind of funny,” Gibson said, “because the Dodgers’ trainer said, ‘I’ve always wanted to tell an umpire what to do, and tonight I’m going to do it. You’re not going anywhere’.”

Show me a perfect MLB umpire and I’ll show you the lost continent of Atlantis. Danley is as human as the next umpire, even if the next umpire might hand you a bottle of shampoo for the shower for saying so. Earlier in his career, he was accused of about as many blown calls as you’d expect from an umpire who doesn’t aspire to become a Joe West-like circus attraction.

He’s blown his share, of course, and even he has been known to try squirming out of it when caught on the wrong side of a call. But he seems to have mellowed and developed a more acute eye as the years go passing by. Last year, Danley tossed only two men, then-Cincinnati Reds outfielder Yasiel Puig and his then-manager, David Bell. Their crimes: arguing a third strike in the bottom of the sixth. In the same game.

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Once upon a time, MLB umpire Rob Drake—several years before his notorious tweet threatening civil war upon a certain president’s impeachment—expressed a conscientious umpire’s predicament. “Every time I walk on a baseball field,” Drake told author Andrew Goldblatt, “I want to be perfect. Every morning when I wake up, I pray that [God] will give me the strength to live a sin-free life. The problem is both are impossible.”

But some things aren’t impossible. Danley has only to look toward his right uniform sleeve if he ever needs a reminder. He wears the right number on that sleeve for a black man breaking a precedent. 44. The number under which Henry Aaron broke the precedent of Babe Ruth‘s lifetime major league home run record.

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Kerwin Danley can also use that number to remind himself that sometimes it’s the men who aren’t garrulous and larger-than-life who break the hallowed records or entrenched if needless barriers. Tony Gwynn, wherever you repose in the Elysian Fields, your old friend and teammate has hit one out of the park.