“I never questioned the integrity of an umpire. Their eyesight, yes.” – Leo Durocher
We lost a great man today. A man who cared deeply for everyone with whom he interacted. A man who was brutally honest, but would always provide a compliment. A man who had a contagious sense of humor. A man who loved the game of baseball more than life itself.
My first memory of Max McLeary came when I was a freshman playing baseball at Thomas More. I stepped into the batter’s box to lead off the game. As a smoothed out the dirt in the left side of the box to get ready to step in, he so casually says to the catcher and myself, “You better be ready on the inside pitch. I don’t see that one real well.” We both kind of chuckled, but he said, “That’s my bad side.” (This was also his famous retort to coaches who would come out claiming he missed a call.)
Max lost his right eye in an accident when he was 29. But, if you did not know, you would be none the wiser. No one worked harder and concentrated more to be as good at his craft as Max. And, it showed. He was always in position. He respected the game, the coaches, and the players. We all respected him as well. Umpires are taught to umpire the ball and not the player, yet his personality, his charisma, and his ability made him one of the most well liked umpires I have ever known. You were always excited to see Max come up over the hill in his coat to call a game because you knew the game was going to be a fair and consistent. Max brought his best every day–pro ball, college ball, summer ball, high school ball.
After my playing career had ended, I was fortunate to run into Max on several occasions and get to know him on a more personal level. He was doing work with the Reds Community Fund and because Lauren worked there, I got to do a lot of volunteer work for them and with him. Max loved to share stories and I loved listening to them.
At one particular event, he walked me around and personally introduced me to Walt Jocketty, Marty Brenneman, and Jeff Brantley. He talked baseball with me, shared stories from his umpiring days, and gave me coaching advice. His passion for the game was beyond measure and when you finished talking with him, you loved the game of baseball more.
Last May, I sat down at get together with a friend of mine, who was one of Max’s dear friends. Naturally, the conversation drifted to Max. I sat there for an hour and listened to him tell story after story. Some I had heard from Max personally and others I was hearing for the first time. With each passing story, the laughter grew louder and louder.
Baseball lost a great man today. A man of character and a man of passion. He made the game of baseball better for everyone who knew him.
I never questioned the integrity of Max McLeary as an umpire or a person. But, we all (even himself) questioned his eyesight.
Oh, and you never ever ever called him Blue!
Rest in peace, One-Eyed Max. You will certainly be missed.
Bring your best today!
P.S. If you’d like to read a little bit more on the story of Max McLeary, be sure to check out this 2003 article from the New York Times or this 2006 article from Sports Illustrated. You can also read the Mike Shannon book, which followed Max for a summer through the Frontier League. Just Google Max McLeary Umpire, read, and enjoy.