The One-Eyed Umpire
A legend in baseball circles, Max McLeary (1948-2014) umpired games for more than a decade in the Frontier League, an independent minor league circuit operating out of the Midwest in towns like Chillicothe, Ohio and Evansville, Indiana. What made Max renowned is the fact that he had a prosthetic eye (he lost one of his eyes in a freak accident as a young man), and it is believed that he is the first and only one-eyed umpire in the history of the game.
“The gratification of the job is beyond anything they can pay me,” said Max, who earned a meager $100 a game umpiring in the Frontier League. His steady, even-tempered nature and extraordinary work ethic earned praise from everyone. “I was amazed,” said one player of Max. “Someone calling balls and strikes, with pitches coming in at 90 miles an hour, and to be as consistent as he is tells you what kind of person Max is. Try walking down the street with one eye. It’s hard to keep your balance. And he’s umpiring! And doing a really good job. He’s one of the best in our league.”
The easygoing McLeary, though, was not above using his “disability” to make a point. In fact, when once confronted by a particularly argumentative and obnoxious manager, Max delivered one of the greatest comebacks in baseball history. After he’d heard all the complaining he wanted to hear, Max popped out his fake eye and handed it to the stunned manager, saying, “You want to umpire this game? Here, be my guest.”
Unconscious in Chillicothe
One of the best stories about Max McLeary occurred during a game in Chillicothe, Ohio in his first season umpiring in the Frontier League. Midway through the game, the batter fouled a ball back. The catcher didn’t get his glove on the ball and it smashed through the bars of Max’s mask, knocking him down like he’d been shot.
The ball actually got stuck in the mask, but hit Max in the face, breaking his nose and giving him a concussion. Before the umpire passed out, he heard the Chillicothe catcher holler, “Max is bleeding!” The team’s athletic trainer and doctor rushed onto the field to see what could be done to bring Max back to consciousness. The crowd went silent.
Max’s good friend, Bob Hughes, was attending the game and was coming back from the concession stand when he realized his buddy was lying on the ground. By this time, the trainer had ripped off the mangled mask. Max tells the rest of the story:
“The medical people were really worried. They didn’t think I was going to make it there for a while. The trainer, who didn’t know me real well yet, took out one of those small flashlights, and when he shined it in my eye, he didn’t get the reaction he was looking for. He said, ‘We’re losing him! His eye is glassing over!’
“And Bob Hughes, who’s standing behind the backstop with a Pepsi in one hand and a bag of popcorn in the other, shouts, ‘Check the other eye!’”
The Baseball Reliquary’s collection includes Max McLeary’s infamous mask, with the baseball that smashed into it and lodged between the bars, breaking his nose and giving him a concussion during a Frontier League game. The Reliquary’s collection also includes a bobblehead doll of Max (note he is holding the same mask with the baseball stuck between the bars), and his Frontier League umpire’s cap. The items were donated by Max McLeary and Mike Shannon, author of the book, Everything Happens in Chillicothe: A Summer in the Frontier League with Max McLeary, the One-Eyed Umpire.