Monday, February 21, 2011

Ernie Tyler, the Ironman of Umpire Attendants, Dies at 86

                      Nick Wass/Associated Press
From opening day in 1960 until
July 27, 2007, Ernie Tyler was the
umpire attendant for every Orioles
home contest, a streak of 3,819 games
 February 19, 2011

By Bruce Weber; New York Times

In the sports world, showing up for work every day is so valued that consecutive-game streaks are hallowed in the record books. Lou Gehrig, the Yankees first baseman known as the Iron Horse, for example, played in 2,130 straight games, a record that seemed unassailable until Cal Ripken, the Baltimore Orioles infielder, broke it; his streak reached 2,632 games.

Less celebrated was the streak of another Oriole, Ernie Tyler, though for sheer length it dwarfed Gehrig’s and Ripken’s. From opening day in 1960 until July 27, 2007, Tyler was the umpire attendant for every Orioles home contest, a streak of 3,819 games. Then he skipped a game, but only because Ripken asked Tyler to accompany him to Cooperstown for his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Tyler, who learned he had a brain tumor on the next-to-last day of last season, died Feb. 11, his son Fred said. He was 86 and lived in Forest Hill, Md. He had worked for the Orioles, first as an usher, since 1954, their inaugural season in Baltimore. He took the job as the umpire attendant six years later and became a giant in his field, however small the field.

“He was a fatherly figure, and just a fixture in baseball,” said Bill Miller, a major league umpire who first met Tyler in 1997. “Ernie Tyler was an institution.”

To Orioles fans, first at Memorial Stadium and since 1992 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, he was the elder statesman as ball boy; his duties included keeping the home plate umpire supplied with baseballs, and well into his 80s, he ran them out between innings from his on-field stool with a distinctive, hustling, leaning-forward gait.

To several generations of umpires, who counted on him to perform necessary and thankless tasks — making sure their laundry was done, their cleats unmuddied, their ticket requests filled, their pregame and postgame meals served, not to mention rubbing dozens of new baseballs with Delaware River mud each day so they would not be dangerously slick — he was a bit of warmth in what might otherwise be a chilly environment.

Jim Evans, an umpire in the American League from 1971 to 1999, said that during the O. J. Simpson Bronco chase in 1994, Tyler brought him updates between innings.

“You trusted Ernie,” Evans said, recalling that Earl Weaver, the Orioles’ manager (and legendary umpire baiter) from 1968 to 1986, could make Baltimore feel pretty hostile.

“With Weaver there, it was almost like enemy territory, but Ernie was a friend.”

And to the Orioles players, he was a local hero.

“Maybe we should rename Camden Yards as Ernie Tyler Stadium,” the former Orioles pitcher Scott McGregor said during a funeral eulogy on Tuesday, “because Ernie Tyler represented everything that every family in the city of Baltimore should want to stand for.”

Ernest William Tyler was born in Baltimore on April 30, 1924, went to high school there and joined the Air Force, serving in North Africa during World War II, where he met his wife, an Algerian, Juliane Frances Roux. After the war, he worked for a time as a private detective. During most of his time with the Orioles, his full-time job was with the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by a brother, Fred Besche, of Baltimore; 11 children, including his sons Jim, who is the home-team clubhouse attendant at Camden Yards, and Fred, who is the visiting-team clubhouse attendant; 27 grandchildren; and 6 great-grandchildren.

“He had contacts for us in local restaurants and gold clubs, he fed us before the game, he fed us after the game; you could always count on Ernie being there,” Miller said. “And you could always count on him to call you at the hotel, just as you were taking a nap.”

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