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Not many people can say they’ve been on the baseball field when Bucky Dent hit the dramatic home run during the famous Yankees-Red Sox playoff game back in 1978, or during the earthquake in San Francisco in the World Series in 1989, or when Cal Ripken Jr. broke Lou Gehrig’s record for most consecutive games played in 1995, but Al Clark can.
Clark worked as a major league baseball umpire for 26 years, and chronicles his experiences in the book “Called Out But Safe: A Baseball Umpire’s Journey.”
“I was eyewitness to many iconic moments in major league baseball history, but the most memorable thing for me was signing my first major league contract,” said Clark, who has called Williamsburg home for more than two decades.
In addition to working the Bucky Dent game at Fenway Park, Clark was behind the plate during Hall of Famer Randy Johnson’s first no-hitter in Seattle, when Nolan Ryan earned his 300th win in Milwaukee, and when Yankee player Dave Righetti pitched a no-hitter at Yankee Stadium on July 4, 1983. He was also on duty when an earthquake struck during the San Francisco Giants-Oakland A’s game, postponing the World Series for ten days.
“That was quite traumatic, not just for baseball, but for the entire Bay Area,” Clark said.
Another fond memory for Clark was being on the field when Baltimore Orioles player Cal Ripken Jr. tied Lou Gehrig’s record for most consecutive games played, and then broke the streak the next night.
“That was exhilarating, to be a part of something in baseball history that will never be broken,” Clark said.
Clark says he has no favorite baseball players or teams, but “what we do have is a mutual respect for each other because we know what we’ve all been through to get to the big leagues,” Clark said.
He first started making calls as an umpire for a summer job at the age of 16 in Trenton, NJ. After graduating college, Clark worked as a teacher and as a writer before deciding to attend umpire school. Clark was an umpire in the minor leagues for a few years and made it to the Majors when he started with the American League in 1976.
“It was a culmination of a lot of hard work and sacrifice,” Clark said.
In total, Clark has umped for 3,392 regular season baseball games and 58 post-season games, including 13 playoffs, two All Star games, and two World Series. He’s traveled the country as well as the world, serving as an umpire for games in every major U.S. city and Mexico, Venezuela, and Canada. One season, he worked at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Fenway Park in Boston, and Camden Yards in Baltimore on consecutive days.
“That was pretty cool,” he said. “It was a baseball fan’s nirvana.”
Clark was an umpire the opening night of Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, Jacobs Field in Cleveland, Ohio, and The Ball Park in Arlington, Texas as well as the closing night of the old Cleveland Stadium.
Clark says that living a larger-than-life existence as an umpire came with incredible highs and lows. Specifically, his book touches on two major low points in his life: his firing in 2001 after violating his contract by failing to report that he traded in his first class plane tickets for economy; and, later, his 120-day stint in a federal prison camp for mail fraud.
“I made a mistake,” Clark said. “I knew it was wrong, but I did it anyway, and I paid a dear price for it. I’m not embarrassed to talk about it. Everybody has had bad stuff happen to them. We are all human.”
Clark said his time in prison provided lessons on humility and trustworthiness. He wrote his book not only to share his experiences with baseball fans, but also to help others who may be struggling.
“It’s about the hows, the whys, and my feelings about it all,” he said. “If someone else can benefit from my negative experiences, and enjoy my positive experiences, that’s great. That’s what I want.”
These days, Clark still travels the country, this time as a motivational speaker through his company Al Clark Enterprises. He says he no longer attends many baseball games, but keeps up with the sport as best as he can.
“To me, baseball is the greatest game in the world,” Clark said. “I was a part of it for 30 years and it created a tremendous and unbelievable life for me.”
Read more profiles of local residents in WYDaily’s new section In Our Hometown.