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A Weighty Issue Umpire Takes A Leave To Trim Down

Tue., April 9, 1996

Reacting to the death of John McSherry, baseball officials gave a leave of absence to umpire Eric Gregg on Monday so he can lose weight and get in shape.

Gregg, listed at 325 pounds but visibly heavier, has long been an example used by critics of overweight umpires. The decision to give him a leave was made following a Sunday night meeting among A.L. president Gene Budig, N.L. president Len Coleman and umpires union head Richie Phillips.

“In light of recent events, I feel this is the right time to take a serious look at my weight and conditioning,” said Gregg, an N.L. umpire since 1975. “My goal is to be a major-league umpire for many years to come, and to accomplish that I need to take a closer look at my overall health.”

During Sunday night’s meeting, Phillips asked for training machines such as treadmills and Stairmasters to be installed for umpires at each major-league ballpark. He also would like umpires to remain in a single city each week, rather than rotate after every series.

“It was extremely constructive and far ranging,” Coleman said. “We will be meeting again shortly.”

McSherry, whose weight had gone up to nearly 400 pounds at times, had a heart attack and collapsed behind home plate on April 1 seven pitches into the season opener in Cincinnati. He died an hour later.

Baseball officials have pushed for weight restrictions, but the umpires’ association has resisted.

“Sometimes in life it takes the ultimate tragedy to move people to do things they should have done beforehand,” acting commissioner Bud Selig said. “We obviously need to deal with that whole problem.”

Gregg also took a leave of absence from April 4-May 23, 1990, and league officials sent him to a weight-loss program at Duke.

“It is in his best interest and the best interest of his family to take this constructive action for his health,” Coleman said.

Phillips could not immediately be reached.

Also, the N.L. chose Ed Montague to replace McSherry as a crew chief. Montague, 47, spoke at a memorial service for McSherry last Friday. He became a regular N.L. umpire in 1976, and umpired in the World Series in 1986 and 1991.

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