Originally created 06/11/97

Lone American umpire quits Japanese baseball



TOKYO - Working as the only American professional baseball umpire in Japan, Mike DiMuro expected some squabbles over strike zones and balk calls.

But when a batter poked him on the chest at home plate, and hordes of angry players surrounded him in the middle of a game, he'd had enough.

After a meeting with the head of Japan's Central League, which had invited him to teach correct officiating, DiMuro said Monday he was packing his bags and going home.

"I hope that if anything comes out of this, what comes out is that no physical assaults will be tolerated on umpires and they will be able to do their jobs safely," the 29-year-old Triple A umpire said.

Japan is one of the most crime-free and nonviolent countries in the world. But the immensely popular sport of baseball is frequently marred by macho brawls, although they rarely result in serious injuries.

The critical difference highlighted by DiMuro's experience is how little respect umpires get in Japan. Umpires waffling in the face of disgruntled managers and players are part of the sport here.

It surprised no one, then, that DiMuro's characteristically forceful American-style umpiring raised eyebrows as soon as he began working under a one-year contract in April as the first American umpire in Japan.

In last Thursday's game, Chunichi Dragons slugger Yasuaki Taiho began contesting DiMuro's strike call. DiMuro promptly ejected him from the game.

In the melee that followed, when dozens of players and the Dragons manager gathered nose-to-nose around DiMuro in protest, Taiho pushed DiMuro in the chest.

Taiho's ejection in that game was the only penalty handed down for the dispute, and there were no suspensions. Although the Dragons told the league they were ready to meet with DiMuro to give an explanation, neither the club nor any of the players have offered a formal apology to DiMuro.

"We feel sorry for him. The styles of baseball are different," said Dragons spokesman Mitsuo Kodama. "He was shocked at things that we do all the time without thinking twice."

Hiromori Kawashima, head of the Central League, said he hoped DiMuro's departure will serve as a lesson for Japanese baseball. But he acknowledged that changing Japanese umpiring style to fit the American standard would take time.

"There's a big difference in the umpire's status in Japan and the United States," he said. "This may sound like I'm making excuses, but this is the reality of Japanese baseball."

DiMuro, the son of former major league umpire Lou DiMuro and a native of Dunkirk, N.Y., said he talked the matter over with American League and U.S. major league executives, while sitting out the weekend games.

"The decision has been made that I am to return home immediately to resume my umpiring career in the U.S.," he said.

DiMuro denied previous Japanese media reports that he was quitting because he was depressed.

"Rather, I was shocked," he said. "In my country, especially at the major league level, physical assaults on umpires are not tolerated at all."

DiMuro has said repeatedly he won't compromise his calls.

In one game that snatched headlines, DiMuro called a balk that brought a manager roaring out of the dugout. The manager screamed that DiMuro was "going to mess up Japanese baseball."

Masaaki Nagino, another Central League official, said DiMuro's departure was a serious loss to Japanese baseball.

"I'm sure he is wondering what kind of uncivilized place Japanese pro baseball is," he said Saturday. "It's all our fault, because we did not respect a person who came over all the way from America to show us what the real officiating should be."

DiMuro defended Japanese umpires.

"My voice on this is in support of umpires in every country, but especially here in Japan," he said. "I found the Japanese umpires to be good umpires and good people."