HIGH POINT CONFIDENTIAL: Umpires nearly took a beating in 1920

Jimmy Tomlin, The High Point Enterprise, N.C.
·4 min read

Apr. 17—HIGH POINT — Just in case you think we take sports too seriously these days, perhaps you'll find comfort in the fact that, hey, we've always been a bunch of sports-crazy hotheads.

Consider, for example, the High Point baseball game in the summer of 1920 that nearly turned the old Welch Field into a riot scene because of, ahem, shoddy umpiring.

Keep in mind, there was a lot going on in 1920, from the onset of Prohibition and women's suffrage to the rise of Adolph Hitler in Germany. But for more than a week that August, all of High Point was abuzz over the fracas at the ball field.

And Public Enemy No. 1 was umpire George Tandy, who probably considered High Point the low point of his umpiring career. You've heard of the Russian Empire? Well, Tandy was the Rushin' Umpire, because he couldn't get out of town fast enough after what happened on the afternoon of Aug. 19, 1920, at Welch Field.

The hometown High Point Furniture Makers were hosting the Raleigh Nats, and even though High Point managed a 2-1 win in extra innings, the fans were decidedly upset with the performance of Tandy.

Granted, the anonymous Enterprise sportswriter who covered the game was probably a tad biased, but according to his article, Tandy apparently couldn't tell the difference between the strike zone and "The Twilight Zone." And when the Furniture Makers loaded the bases and then appeared to score the winning run in the bottom of the ninth, Tandy called the runner out instead, even though the catcher's foot was apparently nowhere near home plate.

It was so bad that the sportswriter compared the ump to notorious outlaw Jesse James for trying to steal the game from the hometown team.

Even after High Point won, the writer stated, "the fans sought to caress the features of Jesse James Tandy with their fists." And though the journalist claimed he hated "rough stuff," he suggested "harsh measures might be altogether desirable" for the umpiring fiasco.

Here's where the details get a little tricky. Early in the game, Tandy ejected High Point's player/manager Bill Pierre for using foul language — pun intended — toward Tandy after what Pierre deemed a dubious call. Several witnesses claimed Pierre not only called the umpire "all kinds of vile names," but also "went over to the bleachers and tried to get the High Point fans to rush the field and mob Tandy," The Enterprise reported.

Other witnesses denied the allegation.

As the game ended, though, boos rained down on Tandy and fellow umpire Joe Lohr, and the crowd began swarming around them, loudly expressing their displeasure and threatening to hurt them. One fan, in particular, angrily charged toward Tandy, and it was Pierre — the man whom Tandy had ejected — who saved the ump by restraining the unruly fan.

That night, a High Point player visited Tandy's motel room and advised him to leave town, "as there was talk on the streets of an effort being made to 'get him,'" The Enterprise reported.

Tandy heeded the advice and spent the night in Greensboro.

Meanwhile, the Greensboro Daily News, which didn't actually cover the game, described it — or, more accurately, the crowd's behavior — as "a deplorable affair," and defended Tandy's umpiring skills.

To which one High Pointer promptly replied, "Thpppppt!!"

"As soon as the game began," High Point's Charles Coble wrote in a letter to the Daily News sports editor, "it was apparent that the umpires had it in for High Point, and it was this that stirred the indignation of the fans."

Coble went on to say the umpires "robbed" the Furniture Makers, and he accused the Daily News of lazy journalism.

Oh, and did we mention this? Charles Coble was actually the Rev. Charles Coble, pastor of First Presbyterian Church.

Talk about righteous indignation.

The whole matter was turned over to William Bramham, commissioner of the Piedmont League, who levied a $50 fine against Pierre for cursing at the umpire, but chose not to suspend him for the allegation of inciting a riot. Meanwhile, Tandy was allowed to continue umpiring, and he was even promoted to a higher league the following year.

Oh, and one other side note: A couple of days after the near-brawl, the Furniture Makers were on a train bound for their next game at Danville, Virginia, and who should they find in their coach but none other than Tandy and Lohr, the two unpopular umpires. According to a newspaper account, the umps went to the smoking car for a while, and when they returned, their luggage was gone. A search by the train crew turned up nothing.

Confidentially, we can tell you what probably happened to those bags. We suspect they landed in a field alongside the railroad track, somewhere between High Point and Danville.

Because, you see, while baseball may be one of our national pastimes, revenge is another.

jtomlin@hpenews.com — 336-888-3579