Steve Rippley Touches Home
“I was standing next to Bruce Froemming – he was the crew chief at the time – and when she was butchering the whole song, Bruce mentioned, ‘I’m thinking about going out and taking the microphone away from her,’” Rippley said.
The Retrosheet website counts Rippley as having 56 ejections under his belt. He was behind the plate in Atlanta on August 12, 1984, when 17 of those ejections occurred that afternoon. The four-game series between the Braves and Padres devolved into a beanball war, as San Diego’s pitchers went after Atlanta’s starter, Pascual Pérez, who hit Alan Wiggins to lead off the game.
“The night before … (Pérez and Whitson) had been conversing after the third (bunt) base hit. So I knew, the next day, that the first pitch that [Pérez] hit [Wiggins] with was for the night before,” Rippley recalled. “Had they come out and hit Pérez on the first at-bat, I think it would have been a non-issue. But because they kept missing him, it mushroomed into 17 ejections.
“In that case, I had to write 17 ejection reports. At the time, we didn’t have online [submissions], so everything had to be written up and faxed to the league office.”
One of his fellow umpires during that beanball-filled game – the crew chief, John McSherry – was a close friend of Rippley’s, having umpired together in the National League for 13 seasons. The two were scheduled to begin the 1996 season together on April 1 in Cincinnati when tragedy struck.
Rippley, who was on the field as part of the umpiring crew that day, called it one of the “toughest days of [his] life.”
“That day was tough obviously, and the next day is when we did play [the game] but it was probably the toughest day of my life trying to concentrate on the field,” he said. “It was a tragedy; it was tough to get through it. I had worked with John, and I had taught at umpire school with John, so we were fairly good friends.”
Rippley spent offseasons as an instructor, then head instructor, at Joe Brinkman’s umpiring school. Many of his students are now MLB umpires, including several who are crew chiefs.
“All that tells me is that I’m getting old,” he joked.
Now semi-retired in Florida, Rippley remains active as an umpire observer for Major League Baseball at games played at Marlins Park in Miami, filing reports and watching game film to assess the umpires. Otherwise, he enjoys traveling and spends a good deal of free time on the links.
Yet, it might have been a life incomplete had he himself not had the opportunity to touch “home.”
After all, his colleague Harvey is still watching to make sure.
Matt Rothenberg is the manager of the Giamatti Research Center at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum