Tag Archives: Pioneer League

“Baseball can be Drab and Dreary, Filled with Disillusionment”

7 Nov

George Sosnak was known for creating incredible works of art on baseballs.  Sosnak started painting baseballs while working as a minor league umpire in the 50s and early 60s, and occasionally worked as an umpire at Detroit Tigers spring training games in Lakeland, Florida until his death in 1992.  His work has been displayed at the Hall of Fame and multiple museums. As of 1979 Sosnak told The Tampa Tribune had had painted more than 3000 balls.

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Sosnak, 1962

When his work appeared at the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Virginia last year, the museum quoted Tigers manager Sparky Anderson, who said after Sosnak’s death:

“He did the most wonderful job of hand-painting a baseball. He was the best I’ve ever seen at doing his job. He also did a good job of umpiring.”

A Pittsburgh native, Sosnak began his career as an umpire in Class D Appalachian League in 1954.  He provided a glimpse into the life of an umpire in the low minors in a 1957 interview with Les Biederman, who covered baseball for The Pittsburgh Press for nearly 40 years.  Biederman said:

“Baseball is an exciting business all right, if you’re on top.  Or even if you’re about half-way, looking upward, it still hold a great deal of hope.

But if you happen to be an umpire in a Class D league—lowest in baseball—then baseball can be drab and dreary, filled with disillusionment.”

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Jack McKeon argues a call with Sosnak, Three I League, 1959

Biederman called umpires in the low minors “One of the tragedies” of baseball:

“Playing in Class D is bad enough but when you’re young, can absorb quite a bit of punishment, knowing the parent club has an eye on you and will protect you.

“As a player in Class D you have a chance for advancement within a year or two…But an umpire in Class D must have a good bank account , a strong constitution, memorize the rules, and another requirement is that he should own a car.”

Sosnak told Biederman he became an umpire by mistake while serving in the military in Germany after WWII:

“I was in charge of a labor platoon and the First Sergeant told me he was going to send me to an ‘umpire’s school.’ He thought it had something to do with field maneuvers but it was a baseball school all right.

“I liked it right away and never returned to the labor platoon.  I spent six years in the service and (after returning to the states) umpired in the Bill McGowan Umpire School in Florida, and they got me a job.”

Sosnak said in D ball he earned just $250 a month, “And out of this the umpire pays for his uniforms, his meals, room, laundry, and incidentals.”

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Earl Weaver argues with Sosnak in 1961 that Joe Pulliam of the Fox Cities Foxes was hit by a pitch, Sosnak disagreed

Sosnak said it was necessary for one of the two umpires to own a car:

“Each umpire receives three cents per mile for transportation, so the umpire without a car turns over his three cents per mile to his more affluent brother umpire.”

Sosnak said:

“In Class D I had a room at the YMCA for $4 a week, I ate two meals a day and got by on $1.50 each day.”

When he was moved up to the Pioneer League, a C league his salary increased to $400 a month and:

“He roomed in hotels, paying between $2.25 and $2.50 a day.  He ate a little better food and a little more food on his $400 a month.”

Biederman noted that some umpires, like Larry Goetz, who had just retired:

“(S)pent 15 years in the minors before reaching the National League in 1936, yet he was rated among the most competent, even in the minors.”

The “tragedy” of the life of the minor league umpire, Biederman concluded:

“No one aids the umpire like the manager, the coaches, or the veterans.  The umpire must stand on his own two feet.

“Nobody really appreciates the fine points of the work of umpire, except other umpires.”

Sosnak made it as far as the Class A Florida State League before giving up full-time umpiring in 1964.

Several excellent examples of Sosnak’s work can be seen here.