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"Hey, Blue!"

A New Jersey Cop Once Wore Another Kind of Blue

by Frank Briamonte

Mike Crowley is a detective with the Teaneck Police Department. In his 13 years on the job, he has employed good judgment and a calm demeanor to help keep the peace in the Bergen County town. Ironically, this same man once got in a fight with former Angels closer Troy Percival and even “punched out” Darryl Strawberry.

Given that introduction, you might think this is a story of a hothead who has cooled off – a reformed rebel rouser who has now dedicated himself to helping others. Ah, if it were only that scandalous. No, this is the story of a regular guy whose love of baseball almost led him to the Major Leagues – as an umpire.

Reaching “The Show” as a player is a difficult task. About 1,200 players are under Major League contracts at any one time, which means that for every one million people in this country, only four are Major Leaguers. That’s a pretty exclusive fraternity. But with only 68 full-time members, Major League umpires form an even more exclusive group.

So how does one become an MLB umpire? We recently sat down with Detective Crowley, who was kind enough to shed some light on a career path that few understand, as well as to share some of his fondest memories from the road.

NJB: If someone wants to become an MLB umpire, where do they start?

MC: The first thing you need to do is to enroll in one of the two MLB-affiliated umpiring schools: The Jim Evans Academy of Professional Umpiring and The Harry Wendelstedt School for Umpires. I went through the Evans program in 1991. Each school offers a five-week course in the winter that involves both class work and on-the-field instruction. The top students from each school are then sent to a two-week program run by the Professional Baseball Umpire Corporation (or PBUC), where they are evaluated and ranked. The students ranked highest by the PBUC each year are then recommended for the first openings in the Rookie and Short-A leagues.

NJB: So how did you do?

MC: At the time I went through the program, there were actually three MLB-affiliated schools, and each had about 100 students. That year, the PBUC had 24 openings, so each school sent its top eight prospects. I was one of the eight who made it from my school, and after the evaluation program, I was placed in Rookie Ball in the Gulf Coast League. The next year, I was promoted the Advanced-A Ball in the California League.

NJB: Did you cross paths with any future Major Leaguers?

MC: A few. Cliff Floyd and Garret Anderson were both nice guys. Troy Percival and I had a run in out in the California League. He wasn’t particularly fond of my strike zone one evening, and we got into a bit of a shouting match. I probably should have ejected him, but I was having too much fun jawing with him. I did eject Brent Gates once. He ended up playing second base for the A’s for a few seasons.

NJB: So why did you spend only two years in the program?

MC: I had taken the test for the Teaneck Police Department in the off-season and when I found out that I had passed the test, the opportunity was too good to pass up. It was in my blood. I’m actually a fourth-generation police officer, and my father spent 23 years on the job in Jersey City. Plus, the Police Department offered me much more job security than umpiring. The PBUC reserves the right to drop an umpire from the program if he or she isn’t not promoted every two years, and getting promoted is difficult when the umpires at the higher levels are not retiring or getting promoted themselves.

NJB: Did any of your classmates make it all the way to the Majors?

MC: Yes. Billy Welke, Mike DiMuro and Bill Miller.

NJB: Any regrets?

MC: None at all. First of all, I love being a police officer. And second, it was a great experience. I was able to travel to places I had never been before, like Arizona and California. I made some good friends, including MLB umpires Gary Darling and Billy and Tim Welke. Plus my Minor League experience helped me land other umpiring jobs. I spent 10 years umpiring college games and four years umpiring New Jersey Jackals games. But the biggest benefit of having attended the academy and done my time in the minors is that I ended up working the plate at Yankee Stadium for one game in April of 1998.

NJB: How did you get that gig?

MC: Do you remember when the Yankees had to cancel a few games because concrete was falling from the stadium’s upper deck? Well, Joe Torre didn’t want his players to get rusty by sitting around for a few days. So they summoned their Double-A team to the Bronx to play a scrimmage against the big club. The head of the local Collegiate Baseball Umpires Association called me and asked if I would be interested in working the game, and of course I jumped at the opportunity. It turned out to be a great experience. Most of the regulars played – Jeter, Bernie Williams, Paul O’Neill – the whole crew. I can remember calling out both Strawberry and Brosius on strikes. That was pretty cool. But for me the best part of the whole day was getting to see Thurman Munson’s locker. I was a huge Munson fan growing up, which is why I was a catcher in high school and college. I probably never would have visited the Yankee clubhouse, and his locker, if I hadn’t spent two years umpiring in the Minors.

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