Connecticut Big League Umpire Terry Tata Made the Right Call 54 Years Ago. Column by Dan Lovallo.
Anyone takes a chance, when choosing a career path, especially when the choice is to be a professional umpire.
After a 27-year career as a Major League Baseball umpire, it is obvious that Connecticut's Terry Tata made the right call.
Tata, 74, was born in Waterbury and now lives in retirement in Cheshire.
From 1973 to 1999 he umpired in the National League. These were the days when the two leagues had separate umpiring crews.
His stellar career included four World Series - three of which went to seven games - seven National League Championship series and three All Star games.
The umpiring bug bit Tata early in life. He started to umpire amateur games in Waterbury, when he was 14 years old.
Tata said Bill Derwin, Waterbury's parks director at the time, was a mentor to him, but also tried to talk him out of his career path.
"He said, 'you know, Terry, why don't you get married and settle down here in Waterbury and raise a family,'" Tata said. "He wasn't being disrespectable. He just knew it was a tough row to hoe."
But Derwin also introduced Tata to another professional umpire from Waterbury, Augie Gugliemo, who umpired one year in the National League and several years in the minors.
Tata was accepted at an umpiring school in Florida in 1960.
Thirteen years later, after seasons in the minors and the winter leagues, he realized his dream. On Opening Day 1973, Tata was the third base umpire at Pittsburgh's Three Rivers Stadium for the game between the Pirates and the St. Louis Cardinals.
It turned out to be a great day for Western Connecticut because the Pirates' pitcher was Steve Blass of Falls Village, Connecticut, the Bucs' 1971 World Series hero.
Oh, by the way, the Cards pitcher was Bob Gibson.
Blass later became a Pirates broadcaster and every time Tata's crew was in town, he made it a point to drop by and say hello.
"Just a class guy," Tata said of Blass.
In his illustrious umpiring career, Tata was a part of five no-hitters, including two when he was the home plate umpire. His first behind the plate, was when Hall of Famer Phil Niekro tossed his gem. He also had the plate when Tom Seaver, then of the Cincinnati Reds, hurled his only no-hitter.
And don't think umpires aren't aware of a pitcher working on a no-no.
"They've got those scoreboards that are so big. Around the fourth or fifth inning you look at the scoreboard and you see zero runs and zero hits," Tata said.
Tata said umpiring post season games was "very demanding."
"I hate to use the word high, but when you work the World Series, and I worked three seven-game series, you are on a nine-day high. There is a lot of scrutiny, obviously. The whole world is watching. You just don't want to screw up. If you do, it's with you for life," Tata said.
Tata worked the 1996 World Series between the New York Yankees and the Atlanta Braves. He had the plate for the second game at Yankee Stadium, when Greg Maddux pitched against Jimmy Key.
He called the experience special.
"Growing up in the north end section of Waterbury, everybody was a Yankees' fan. When I worked the plate in game two, Mark Wohlers struck out Paul O'Neill to end the game. I just wanted to stand at home plate and gather my thoughts for two or three seconds. I stood there and O'Neill turned around, after striking out swinging, and said 'boy Terry, you had a big zone tonight.' I said 'please. Leave me alone. I just want to gather the moment here.'
"We played all these games as kids and everyone wanted to emulate some player. Who wanted to be Mickey Mantle? Joe DiMaggio. You name it. And to have that come true and be on the same turf as those guys, it was a dream come true."
Tata said his favorite ballpark in which to umpire was Wrigley Field in Chicago.
Being able to work day games and enjoy Chicago's great restaurants at night beat hanging around the hotel room all day and working a night game.
The park itself also made umpiring there something special, according to Tata.
Umpires are scrutinized more than ever today, with the introduction of instant replay, but Tata does not think that is a bad thing, even though he has some problems with a team that is protesting the play, stalling to watch the replay, before making a challenge. "I think instant replay is positive. You're not going to have as many ejections as in the past."
As for what makes a good umpire today, Tata said, "You have to have good eyesight, agility, knowledge of the rules and you have to carry yourself well in the field."
Tata did all of that and more, proving he made the right call more than a half century ago.