Joe Ump Pines For Hall Of Fame

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

by Jeffrey Reed, Editor, LondonOntarioSports.com

Joe Serratore (left) with fellow umpire Jim Cressman. Photo: London Sports Hall of Fame.

After almost 50 years of officiating local baseball, fastball and football, Joe Serratore knows more than anyone that you can’t change the decision of the umpire.

Sure, today Major League Baseball does just that with video replay. But for the most part, the umpire’s call stands.

That said, Serratore wants one call reversed in his favour: induction into the London Sports Hall of Fame.

A life-long Londoner and legend on local diamonds and gridirons from 1962 to 2011, Serratore almost received the call to join the hall in November. But a series of events surrounding his selection by members of the London Sports Hall of Fame committee have left him on the outside looking in – for now.

Joe Serratore. Photo: LondonOntarioSports.com.

Without a doubt, Serratore, 72, deserves to be in the hall, joining the likes of umpire and former London Free Press sportswriter Jim Cressman, legendary athlete, sports administrator and coach Ken Benjamin, and former big-league hurler and London Majors ace Mike Kilkenny who nominated Serratore for the hall.

But just like an umpire’s call, the decision isn’t always the right one.

“I was so close to getting the call, but when I had heard what had happened with the voting, I knew my hopes were dashed,” Serratore said.

There are always at least two sides to a story, and details remain murky in parts, but here’s what transpired in April, according to Bill Smith, a member of the selection committee and executive director of the London Sports Council which oversees the committee.

Smith said all nine members of the selection committee – including Serratore – were asked to first review a list of nominees, and then submit a short list of 10 nominees. But one member submitted only two names, one of them Serratore. That member’s short list was then tossed out as invalid.

As the process continued in order to determine who would be inducted this year, Serratore was not chosen as part of the Class of 2019.

This year’s inductees include former world kickboxing champion Leo Loucks; volleyball coaches and administrators Vaughn and Jane Peckham; former drag racer Scott Wilson; and former Western Mustangs athlete and former Director of Sports and Recreation Services Therese Quigley.

Would Serratore have been voted in this year, if that one member’s short list had not been tossed? This is where it gets cloudy.

According to Serratore, who has since left the committee, an old selection process was followed, rather than the current one. He said with the wrong procedures used, he would not have been chosen for the hall this year, but with the proper procedures followed he would have had a solid chance for induction.

Smith didn’t go as far as to agree with Serratore, but he said work is underway to clarify what remains a confusing voting process for committee members.

London Sports Council executive director Bill Smith

“There is a process, but right now we are in discussions with the committee to put in place the proper procedure, so that it is followed to the letter. The constitution is non-specific in certain areas. So this summer we’re tightening those loose ends and making sure that everyone on the committee understands what the process is, what the procedure is, what the guidelines are when individuals and teams are selected,” Smith said.

“(Committee chair) Tom Dalby and I asked this committee member to submit eight more names. And they didn’t come. So the entire process got off track, off the rail, and it tumbled down from there. It was not going to be automatic for Joe to get in if this committee member would have submitted 10 names. But at least it would have been considered, and would have been in the tally,” he said.

“We’re going through the process this summer so that this never happens again.”

The committee is moving in the right direction, and using their mulligan to make things right. And certainly, it’s not strike three on Serratore’s future induction into the local sports hall – not by a long shot, as anyone realizes after considering his impressive sports CV.

While attending Catholic Central High in London, Serratore provided vocals and played saxophone for a local group called, The Electras.

“We were a four-piece rock band who played at weddings and other special events. We had a blast,” he said.

A young Joe Serratore (top row, second from right). Photo: Facebook.

His father, Frank, was also a musician with local group, The New Modernaires.

Joe praises his father, a shoemaker who died in 1998, for encouraging him to stick with umpiring after a rocky start.

“In 1962, at age 15, I umpired my first game – a recreation grade school fastball game on the London PUC sandlots. I went home and told my dad that I was quitting,” remembered Joe.

“I was a new umpire, and just a kid, umpiring first base at a fastball game at Kensington Park. In the fifth inning I called a player out at first base, and he was all over me about the call, chest bumping me. I’m scared! The player was ejected. I went home and told my dad, I’m scared, I don’t want this, I don’t need this. I like it, but I don’t want the abuse.

“My dad said, ‘You’re going back, you’re going to do it, you’re going to listen to people who can teach you and you’re going to work on all of the things they do teach you. Doors will open for you. And when they do, you need to take advantage of it. Go back.’ So I did,” Serratore said.

The next year, Serratore joined the London Umpires Association, a group he belonged to until 1984 and for whom he filled the role of president in 1978 and ’79.

Joe Serratore with local sports legend Ken Benjamin. Photo: LondonOntarioSports.com.

For almost half a century, Serratore served as an umpire, an umpire-in-chief, a football official and a timekeeper, along the way making numerous friends and earning a well-deserved reputation as one of the most well-liked sports personalities in London. He has umpired local, regional, provincial, national and international baseball, and achieved Level 5 umpire status, once considered the highest level by the Ontario Baseball Association.

For years, Serratore umpired fastball games, including contests when pitching great Metro Szeryk was on the mound. He officiated minor, high school and provincial football including London Lords games in the early-1970s at Labatt Park.

Hockey is in Serratore’s blood, too – or perhaps he would have gone crazy during winters without baseball or football. The Ontario Hockey League recognized him in 2003 for 25 years as timekeeper, a role he filled for 27 years with the London Knights until 2005.

But it was on the baseball diamond where Serratore shone the most, working for years in the Intercounty Baseball League, from the wood bat era, during the aluminum bat era from 1977 to 1994, and again during the return of the lumber until he retired in 2011. He umpired independent baseball at London Werewolves’ Frontier League contests, and London Monarchs’ Canadian Baseball League games at his second home: Labatt Park.

It was fitting, then, that Ump Joe would tie the knot in June 2005 with the love of his life, wife Bren, at the forks of the Thames in front of 300 family and friends.

Joe and Bren Serratore. Photo: Facebook.

Today, Serratore recalls how he thought about his dad when umpired first base at a 1991 exhibition game between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Canadian national team in front of 25,000 fans at a baseball-converted Lansdowne Park in Ottawa.

“Here I was, standing beside Blue Jays first baseman John Olerud in front of the largest crowd I’ve ever worked for. I thought then that if I had not listened to my dad – to go back and to watch doors open for me – that it would never have happened.”

Now, Serratore waits for the London Sports Hall of Fame to open its doors for him. Today, he receives encouraging words from friends including Benjamin, who, along with Serratore, works as a starter at Highland Country Club in London.

“When Benny coached the (Intercounty Baseball League’s) Brantford Red Sox, I never tossed him out of a game. We had our disagreements, but I earned his respect,” Serratore said.

Cressman once introduced Serratore to former American League umpire Ron Luciano, who died in 1995. Known for his flamboyant, shoot-from-the-hip officiating, Luciano, according to Serratore, advised him to “enjoy yourself, have fun, don’t go out with a chip on your shoulder, know the rules and leave the game on the field. Enjoy it. When it becomes a job, then it’s time to leave.”

Serratore said he left umpiring in 2011 “because it was my time, and I had nothing to prove. I miss the idea of being a part of the game, and not sitting on the sidelines watching. I miss having fun.

“But I had a lot of doors opened to me, and I gained the respect of the players. I was very fortunate. It was the time of my life.”

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Award-winning writer Jeffrey Reed has covered local sports as a print, broadcast and new media journalist since 1980. Contact him at jeff@londonontariosports.com.

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About jeffreyreed

A leading Canadian communications professional. Corporate office https://www.JeffreyReedReporting.com established 1989. Publisher/Editor of this website and https://londonontariogolf.com. Sports journalist since 1980.

2 Responses to “Joe Ump Pines For Hall Of Fame”

  1. Michael Todoroff says:

    I have known Joe Ump for over 50 years both professionally and personally. He is a man of integrity, sincerity, and a man who I regard in the highest esteem. He has been the consummate official regardless of the sport which he is officiating. I also umpired with Joe Ump in the Intercounty Baseball League from 1970 until 1979 at which time my employer transferred me to the US to become an Engineering Manager. Joe Ump wishes to become a member of your hall and I know that he is deserving of this honor.

  2. Ron Earnshaw says:

    I am the committee member whose ballot was declared invalid. The only direction I was given was to read the resumes, do further research on my own and then vote for the ones I felt should be inducted into the HOF, which I did. After I only voted for two, I was then asked to vote for six. Later I was asked to vote for 10, ranked 1 to 10. I told the committee that I felt strongly about only voting for two. No one ever told me my ballot may be invalid. At our next meeting, three different scoring systems were used to calculate the totals. After further discussion, we all agreed on who would be inducted, which included Joe Seratore. A few days later, I was told by the committee that my ballot was invalid. I offered to vote again, even for 10 if needed, to make sure my ballot counted, but I was told it was too late.
    Ron Earnshaw, London