Tim Tschida was getting ready to umpire an American Association game in Buffalo, N.Y., when he received a call early in the afternoon of July 24, 1985, telling him to catch a flight to Chicago to serve as an umpire for a Detroit Tigers-White Sox game.
“I gained an hour in time zone or I never would have made it to my major league debut,” Tschida said. “I got to the ballpark, the old Comiskey, about 20 minutes to 7. Don Denkinger was the crew chief and he said, ‘You have second base.’ ”
A member of the Tigers saw Tschida on the field, came in for a closer look and greeted the 25-year-old rookie umpire with his usual bluntness: “What are you doing here?”
It was pitcher Jack Morris, fellow St. Paulite. “I was the bat boy when my brother Tom played on Jack’s Babe Ruth team,” Tschida said, smiling. “I said, ‘I’ve been umpiring for five years and this is my first big-league game.’ ”
Dan Petry was pitching for the Tigers that night, not Morris, but the St. Paul connection was dramatized after the game.
Denkinger and Drew Coble, the veteran umpires in the crew, popped a bottle of champagne in the umpires’ small dressing room to celebrate the occasion for Tschida, and then came a knock on the door.
The security guard said there were people to see Tschida. “It was Arvid and Dona Morris, Jack’s parents,” Tschida said. “They gave me big hugs and congratulations. They were genuinely thrilled for me. That put a top on a great day for me.”
A topper, St. Paul style. Tim Tschida, Tim’s brother Tom, Jack Morris, Jack’s brother Tom, Dave Winfield and Paul Molitor — they were all products of St. Paul in the ’70s and ’80s, when it remained the smallest big city in the world.
“Amazing thing about St. Paul, people 50 and beyond who grew up there … everyone knows everyone,” I said to Tschida in the middle of last week.
Tschida smiled and said: “That’s correct. And this is one of the gathering places.”
This place being Mancini’s Char House, the steakhouse that’s been on West Seventh since 1948, when the local pro hockey team down the street played at the still-revered St. Paul Auditorium, and Dutch Delmonte, Bing Juckes, Bucko Trainor, Huddy Bell and Bobby Dill helped lead the Saints to a U.S. Hockey League championship.
Tschida was in and out of Chicago on that July day 35 years ago, back in the American Association for most of the summer, but in 1986 the American League exercised the option, and the St. Paul kid became a full-time big-league umpire.
He was 25 when that season started, turned 26 on May 4, and took a favorable retirement package after the 2012 season, at age 52. Young making it to the American League staff, young leaving the major league staff, even after 27 seasons at the highest level of umpiring.
“I didn’t want to do nothing,” Tschida said. “I worked as a bartender in a dozen different St. Paul bars when I was in the minor leagues. I could make more money in five months bartending than you make in the minor leagues as an umpire.
“I talked with Pat Mancini, he needed a bartender, and I said, ‘I’ll work a few shifts.’ I’ve been here since then. I’m now the day manager, keeping groups like those [Winter Carnival] Vulcans alums over there at the table under control.”
Tschida smiled and said: “Do you know Giggles?”
Tim Weiss. Cretin guy. It’s St. Paul. Everyone knows Giggles.
“I’ve been running the bar at Giggles’ Campfire Grill for him at the State Fair,” Tschida said. “Crazy up there. That’s another pandemic disaster. No State Fair.”
A man constantly on the road as an umpire for 32 years, he’s been single since 2012, lives in a duplex near West Seventh, works for the Mancinis and Giggles; meaning at 60, Timothy Joseph Tschida is back to being as thoroughly St. Paul as when he was a bat boy for a Jack Morris-led baseball team.
‘Worst I’ve ever seen’
Tschida’s best break on the rapid ascent to joining Morris in the American League was the first one: He was 20 and finishing up in Arizona spring training in early April 1981, ready to fly home for a two-month stay before returning to umpire in a rookie league.
Then, a call came from Barney Deary, the supervisor of umpire development for the major leagues.
“Barney told me an opening had popped up in the California League and to get on a plane,” Tschida said. “I flew to California and was umpiring a game in Lodi that night.
“I was getting a chance to skip two levels. I wasn’t the first Minnesota guy to make it to the big leagues from the Cal League, though. Kent Hrbek was tearing it up at Visalia and went straight to the Twins in August 1981.”
Tschida was back in the California League in 1982, with Dale Scott as his partner.
“Butch Fisher and Randy Tollefson were a couple of my mentors getting started as a kid umpire,” Tschida said. “They both had umpired in the minors and they had the same advice: ‘You can’t let ’em run over you. Work hard and control the game.’
“Dale and I were doing that, and it required running quite a few guys. Joe Gagliardi — no, not a relation to John — was the Cal League president and he hated ejections.
“Ten days left in the season, Gagliardi comes to see us and says, ‘You’re not coming back to this league; you wouldn’t be in any league if it was my decision. You two are the worst umpires I’ve ever seen.’
“I remember actually having tears while making a drive to the next game. Three years wasted, starting with two umpire schools. I was getting ready to call Father Lavin at St. Thomas and try to get back in college for fall quarter.”
Deary came to the rescue. He flew in from headquarters in St. Petersburg, Fla., told Tschida and Scott to ump out the last week of the season, and to know they were seen as strong prospects in the supervisor’s office.
Deary wasn’t blowing smoke.
Tschida umpired those 27 big-league seasons. Scott also made it as a full-timer in 1986 and retired in 2017 after a series of concussions.
Tschida was a crew chief for seven seasons, worked three World Series, and one of his All-Star Games was in 2002, when the senior umps had to break the news to Commissioner Bud Selig that the game in the new stadium in his hometown had to be declared a tie because both managers — Joe Torre and Bob Brenly — claimed to be out of pitching.
“I love Bud, because nobody loves baseball more than him,” Tschida said, “We went over to tell him it had to be a tie, that we couldn’t tell the managers that they had to send a position player out to pitch.
“Bud said, ‘This is embarrassing. Isn’t there anything we can do about this?’ And what I remember are the profanities included in that question.”
Caught you, Joe
Mancini’s reopened in June, but it isn’t exactly packed in daytime hours, mid-pandemic. So, if you want a few baseball stories, buy a beer and the gentleman circulating in the Hawaiian shirt only has a vault now capped at 10,000 of those.
The one dearest to Minnesotans would be his involvement as the plate umpire on Aug. 3, 1987, when Twins starter Joe Niekro was suspected of trying to make baseballs less aerodynamically predictable for hitters.
“Joe wasn’t exactly suspected,” Tschida said. “We knew what he was doing. We also knew scuffing the baseball was absolutely out of control that season.
“Davey Phillips was our crew chief, and he had Cal Jr. [Ripken] come up to him after seeing the Houston guy, Mike Scott, in the All-Star Game and said, ‘This is nuts, Davey. Somebody’s going to get killed the way the ball is darting around.’
“I was on a different crew for a [Bert] Blyleven game earlier that season and we wound up with a bunch of scuffed baseballs. We were talking after the game and I remember saying, ‘I think it was Bert. That fastball was moving all over tonight.’
“Niekro already was a known ball scuffer, of course, and rather than tossing balls out of play, I was putting them in my extra pouch in case we needed evidence. Those balls didn’t have the normal nick. They had gouges the size of a half-dollar.
“I finally had to go out there. I said, ‘Joe, I want to see your glove and your hands.’ He turned a whiter shade, stammered a little, and then put his hands in his back pockets.
“As it turned out, he had a hunk of sandpaper trimmed and glued to the palm of his left hand. It was touched up to look like flesh. And when he wanted the extra movement, he would take off the glove and rub the baseball as if he was trying to improve the grip.
“He had his left hand in that pocket, trying to work the sandpaper off his palm while making more of an act out of going into his right pocket. He took out a small photo of his son Lance, maybe 11 or 12 then — great kid, by the way — and tried to sound defiant, saying, ‘I have a picture of my son, OK?’
“Davey Phillips said, ‘Dig a little deeper, Joe,’ and out came the emery board. That’s what most people remember, but I wouldn’t have thrown him out for the emery board. I would have just said, ‘Keep that in the dugout.’
“What happened is the piece of sandpaper fell out of the other pocket. Joe wound up getting a 10-game suspension and the appearance on Letterman.”
Tschida paused with a smile and said:
“Best quote of the night came from Gene Mauch, managing the Angels. He said, ‘Those baseballs weren’t scuffed; they were mutilated.’ ”
This one and more like it, available with a purchase several day shifts per week at Mancini’s.
Write to Patrick Reusse by e-mailing email@example.com and including his name in the subject line.