The year was 1968. It was one of the most chaotic and turbulent years in American history but wasn’t the case on the baseball diamond at Original League due to men like Bill Fritz, who served as an umpire to make it possible for young boys to play out their baseball dreams. He has been around so long that in his second year at Original, I was playing my one and only season of Little League ball. “Webb Weekly” helps Bill look at those 50 years he spent behind the mask in an interview we conducted with him.
How did you become an umpire at Original? I worked for Acme Super Market on West 4th Street, a couple of blocks down the street from Original. In summer of 1968, a manager, Charlie Hicks, of the 40et8 team came in the store and asked me to umpire a game for them at Original League. I think it was around toward the middle week in June 1968. I agreed. That was the first I had umpired a Little League game. I did quite a large number after that. One of my brothers, John, sponsored teams during my early years. He sponsored three teams, and the last one was Sunset Ice Cream. Over the years, I established an outstanding relationship with Carl E. Stotz, as a friend and fraternity brother and mentor.
I was initially introduced to Carl E. Stotz in 1946, when my brother, John, played for Richardson Buick team from 1951 to 1953, managed by Marty Miller. When my family moved to Williamsport, I was too old to play at Original League.
What is the secret to your longevity as an umpire there? I believe the reason I continued to umpire was having a great wife, Laverta, and three sons, which allowed me to be there every night. Son, Bill, who played for Fritz Gulf in 1969 and 1970, and Park Pizza in 1971 and 1972. Son, Steve, played for Park Pizza from 1971 to 1974 and son, Bob, who played for Park Pizza from 1972 to 1975, each played four years. After my sons left Original, I stayed for a combined total of 50 years. I enjoyed my sons playing ball at Original League, also the friends I have umpired with over those years.
What has been the highlight of your umpiring career? Over the years there were a number of memorable things that happened that made umpiring enjoyable. I talked a lot to the little players while they were on the base path. It’s amazing what they say. At one time when we brought some dirt to replace some on the infield there were a few stones so while I was umping, I would gather them up and if a player got a hit, I gave him a rock and told them they were lucky rocks. If a player was having a bad day or got hit by a pitch you guessed it, he got a lucky rock. Each year at banquet time I would ask who brought their lucky rock with them and I would buy the rocks back for a dollar. I also tried to get them to give them back to me so I could have a little luck. Many would say, “Nope, it’s my lucky rock.” One time, I heard a father giving a coach a lacing about walking his 12-year-old son who had hit three home runs in his three previous times at bat in the game. The son’s name was Charlie Bennett. Charlie was chasing Mike Signor’s home run record of 15 when the opposing coach, Bruce Brossman, pitched around him by intentionally walking him in his last at-bat. After the game, Charlie apologized to Mr. Brossman saying his dad doesn’t know much about baseball. Charlie became a man that day. Charlie’s total for the season and playoffs was 21 home runs.
What is the most unusual thing to happen during your umpiring experience? During a Mac McCloskey Tournament, two teams were playing for the Tournament championship. The game was tied at the end of five innings because of darkness. This was a Saturday evening, and the people on both teams couldn’t return Monday for the completion of the game. I called my friend Scott Tate to see if we could come to Old Lycoming’s Tate Field to complete the game. Old Lycoming turned on their lights and opened their concession stand and allowed us to complete the game. That is the only time in the Mac McCloskey Tournament that we used two fields to complete a championship game.
Who has been your greatest influence during your umpiring career? Two men, both League managers, Charlie Hicks and Lee Springman. And the excellent umpire associates I worked with over the years — Carl Young, Ed Summerson, Tim Quigley and Tom Mulcahy, and also the fact that you have an opportunity to influence young minds and make them better ball players and fantastic young people.
What did Carl Stotz mean to you? Carl E. Stotz, my friend and mentor, and founder of Little League Baseball. Those of us that knew him saw a man of profound integrity and character. Yes, Carl was truly one of the greatest men I ever knew. The ideals by which Carl lived are the ultimate measure of this extraordinary man I called friend and mentor. His life, and the way he conducted it was as an honor to Little League Baseball our league and this nation.
How have things changed during your 50 years of umpiring? The game and rules have become more challenging. The distances have changed from the time Carl Stotz founded Little League back on June 6, 1939, the age brackets have changed. But I hear they are changing back the age requirements.
Is there anything you would have changed about that umpiring experience? Yes, I would have started umpiring at an earlier age if I could have. I find it is a labor of love. Love for the sport and the players. It has always felt good umpiring.
What advice do you have for young umpires just starting out? Go to all the umpiring schools you can, Little League International has a lot of great programs and excellent instructors. Every one you go to, you will find different ways to improve your umpiring experience. Stay involved!
How has the game experience changed for you through the years? I think it has made me a better man; it has taught me patience and compassion in the way I think I address people.
Is umpiring harder or more challenging now than when you started out? I think it was more fun in the beginning; now it is a lot more exciting. This year we introduced new bats along with the international.
Bill wanted to hang up his mask and ball and strike indicator this year, but found that he can’t because of a shortage of umpires at Original, a problem that many leagues are having. He hopes though, to cut back the number of games he does but is glad to provide others with the benefit of his experience. And what experience he has and has had!