Baseball’s 328-pound umpire John McSherry died Monday after collapsing on the field seven pitches into the Cincinnati Reds’ season-opening game.
McSherry, 51, walked away from home plate and motioned to the other umpires. Then, in front of TV cameras, he fell to the ground near the backstop. He was pronounced dead at a hospital about an hour later.
The hospital said McSherry had sudden cardiac death, in which the heart beats out of control.
Reds manager Ray Knight said he was told by another umpire that McSherry had postponed a doctor’s appointment for arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat, because of the season opener. He had rescheduled it for today.
Reds outfielder Eric Davis said McSherry’s death “puts everything in perspective. Players and umpires are at each other’s throats all the time. But unity is more important now … more than balls and strikes. This is a situation we’re in together.”
The game against the Montreal Expos was postponed until today.
“The team is rattled, really rattled. Nobody wanted to play after seeing something like that happen,” Knight said. “We met with Montreal and they didn’t want to play either.”
As the game opened, McSherry had been joking with Reds catcher Eddie Taubensee.
“In fact, he said, ‘Eddie, you can call the first two innings.’ He seemed to be in good spirits,” Taubensee said. After the seventh pitch, McSherry “just said, ‘Hold on, timeout for a second,” Taubensee said. “I turned around and said, ‘Are you all right, John?’ He didn’t say anything.”
Knight said McSherry was considered one of the more personable umpires, always willing to talk things out.
“Whether or not he was right, he was always fair,” Knight said. “He would never try to overpower you. He was a supportive, solid, caring umpire.”
McSherry, who was named a crew chief in 1988, replacing Lee Weyer who died of a heart attack, had had medical problems in the past.
Last August, McSherry had to leave a game because of heat exhaustion. In 1993, he left a game after becoming ill in the 87-degree heat. McSherry left Game 7 of the 1992 National League playoffs in the second inning because of dizziness. A year earlier, he collapsed during a game because of dehydration.
Umpires are given annual physical checkups. McSherry was examined in February, the NL said.
Knight, on his first opening day as a major-league manager, had to fulfill a role he never expected.
“I lead the world in team meetings,” Knight said after learning of McSherry’s death. “We had five today, four based on this. Some heartfelt things were said.”
Knight said the umpire’s death put criticism of his approach to managing in perspective.
“Everybody takes my success or failure like it’s really important,” he said. “I will not judge myself by what happens here. I want to be a good person, take care of my family.
“I do have perspective about the importance of life. Winning games is important to a lot of people. It’s important to me in my job … but my future, whatever it holds, doesn’t matter. I’ll do the best I can.”