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Ken Kaiser, colorful umpire who quit during labor talks, dies at 72

In this June 8, 1997, file photo, home-plate umpire Ken Kaiser, left, and Texas Rangers manager Johnny Oates go over the lineup before a baseball game against the Kansas City Royals. Kaiser died in his hometown of Rochester, New York, on Tuesday.  He was 72. (ORLIN WAGNER / Associated Press)
In this June 8, 1997, file photo, home-plate umpire Ken Kaiser, left, and Texas Rangers manager Johnny Oates go over the lineup before a baseball game against the Kansas City Royals. Kaiser died in his hometown of Rochester, New York, on Tuesday. He was 72. (ORLIN WAGNER / Associated Press)
Associated Press

ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Former major league umpire Ken Kaiser, a colorful figure between the lines who briefly moonlighted as a professional wrestler to make ends meet while working in the minor leagues, has died. He was 72.

The World Umpires Association said Thursday he died in his hometown of Rochester on Tuesday. Kaiser had diabetes for years.

An American League umpire from 1977-99, Kaiser umpired two World Series, one All-Star Game and several playoff series.

The 6-foot-3 Kaiser, who wrote in his book, “Planet of the Umps: A Baseball Life from behind the Plate,” that when he graduated from high school in 1964 his “long-range plan was lunch.” He weighed just less than 300 pounds and often was criticized for that portly physique during the more than 3,000 big-league games he umpired.

Former Chicago White Sox announcer Jimmy Piersall once called him “a gutless, lazy whale,” while fellow former umpire and mentor Ron Luciano described him as “like a barrel on which two arms had been stuck on backwards.”

In his book, published in 2003, Kaiser wrote of his decade in the minor leagues and offseason jobs that included bar bouncer, bank teller, and that short stint as the wrestler dubbed “Hatchet Man.”

In 1986, Kaiser was voted most colorful umpire in the American League in a poll conducted by The Sporting News.

Kaiser’s umpiring career ended when he joined a group of umpires who submitted their resignations in 1999 during labor negotiations, a gamble by the Major League Umpires Association that failed. He was not rehired.

He is survived by two adult children. Funeral plans are incomplete.

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