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March 2015: In My Opinion

On December 15 of 2014 Tom Mason, the long time National Umpire-In-Chief of the Amateur Softball Association, and the International Rules Interpreter for Softball, passed away at the age of 83. I didn’t have many opportunities to talk to or see Tom after he resigned from his position as the head of this vast umpire organization, but I thought of him so very often. Tom lived in Delaware his entire adult life, and we kind of lost touch after he left the Amateur Softball Association.

 

Tom was an outstanding clinician, a great rules interpreter, and a marvelous Umpire-In-Chief, and was not nearly as appreciated by the commissioners of this organization, as he should have been.

 

I remember when I decided to start weekend umpire schools for the ASA umpires. Their Executive Director, Don Porter, would not give me his blessing or approval, for what reason I will never know. No athletic program will ever be any better than the officials or umpires that are working their games, but as is the norm with me, if I believe in something that didn’t stop me. I went ahead with my plans and financed the school myself, and got Orie Chandler, the ASA commissioner in Indianapolis to provide me with the fields and the adjoining classroom I needed.

 

Tom Mason was all in favor of the weekend school concept, but had no idea how to organize it and set the school up with on the field drills and etc. Tom knew the playing rules inside out, but was at a total loss when it came to teaching umpires their craft. Tom was an excellent manager though, and he had no problem with an inflated ego. He was all about getting the best people he could find to do the things that he knew he was not strong in. Bill Humphrey of Midland, Michigan was the accepted guru of fast pitch umpiring, so we brought him onboard, and he, Tom Mason and I met at my home for the weekend to plan the very first weekend umpire school.

 

Pat Adkinson, Alabama ASA commissioner and chairman of their national umpire committee, came to Cincinnati and to Indianapolis to observe and evaluate this new school to see if it was something the ASA organization might want to make part of their program, and Pat gave the school a rave revue. I gave every student, at that first school, an opportunity to evaluate every aspect of the school and provide us with a secret written evaluation. A few students told us that Bill Humphrey and I should teach the umpires on the field, and Tom should stick with teaching the playing rules. I was always afraid that those remarks might have hurt Tom’s feelings, but he took it in stride, and strongly recommended the school to everyone. As a result of the efforts of Tom Mason and Pat Adkinson the ASA governing body made the weekend umpire schools a big part of their national umpire program, and they are still being conducted today.

 

A few years later Tom decided he needed someone from the ASA National Umpire Staff to assist him in overseeing the 60,000 plus umpires that were registered in their program. The two finalist for this position were Merle Butler and myself, and Tom selected me for this position Sometime later I was in Midland, Michigan observing the Men’s Major Fast Pitch tournament when Tom Mason told the President and the Executive Director of ASA organization that he needed an increase in salary and expense or he would resign. The only problem with this was that no one but Don Porter, the Executive Director of ASA, knew he was being paid at all. The Umpire-In-Chief was an unpaid position in the ASA as far as everyone knew, but Don Porter was secretly giving Tom money, and hiding it somewhere in the financial statement. Now the secret was out, and several members of the board of directors did not like being given an ultimatum like this, so Tom Mason was relieved of his part time, supposedly unpaid position, as Umpire-In-Chief.

 

At this tournament in Midland the board of directors held an emergency conference call meeting, and decided to make the Umpire-In-Chief a full time position, and the person would report to Don Porter, and out of the national office in Oklahoma City. I was brought in for a meeting, since I was already at that tournament, and asked if I would be interested in being the first full time Umpire-In-Chief of the ASA. I told them I would first have to ask my wife. So, I called her, and she and my two children told me that if that is what you want to do, fine, but we are not moving to Oklahoma, and we are going to continue to live here in Cincinnati. Well, that was end of the opportunity, and I told the board of directors I was not interested at that time. The rest is history, and Merle Butler moved from California to Oklahoma to become the first full time Umpire-In-Chief of ASA, and Tom Mason just kind of rode off into the sunset.

 

I learned from my very enjoyable time working for and with Tom Mason that you do not have to be the best umpire, teacher, clinician, writer or any of the other attributes that I thought it took to be the Umpire-In-Chief of an extremely large group of men and women. To succeed one has to have great managerial skills along with the confidence to delegate work out to people who excel at that particular task. Tom had the inner confidence in himself to be able to delegate work out to others without feeling threatened, and that is what a true leader does. I now have a tremendous regret that I didn’t pick up that phone more often to talk to my dear friend, Tom Mason. He truly was a great Umpire-In-Chief, an even better person, friend, husband, father and grandfather. He will sincerely be missed.

 

Well again, that is my opinion. What is yours?

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Posted by on Mar 24 2015.
Filed under Commentary, Ron Jeffers.
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