The early end of Brian Runge's career

Greg Fiume

Somehow I missed the initial news a few weeks ago, but here's the initial news and a surprising update:

MLB announced on June 14 that Brian Runge was no longer on the staff and that a Triple-A umpire had been promoted, but didn't give a reason. Only once since 2000 had such a change been made in midseason, and that was because of an injury.

The two people said Runge failed at least one drug test, then reached an agreement so he could remain on the umpire roster. When he failed to comply with those terms, he was released.

The people spoke on condition of anonymity because MLB didn't publicly say why Runge was gone.

It could not be independently determined by the AP what drug was involved.

--snip--

He is a member of MLB's first three-generation family of umpires. Grandfather Ed was an American League umpire from 1954-70 and worked the World Series three times; father Paul called National League games from 1973-97 and did the World Series four times before becoming the NL's executive director of umpires.

In 2007, Runge drew a one-game suspension for bumping Mets manager Jerry Manuel. Major League Baseball's position was pretty obvious, considering that Runge got suspended while Manuel and Carlos Beltrán were merely fined. A couple of years later, Runge was behind the plate for Jonathan Sánchez's no-hitter -- the Giants' first since 1976, by the way -- which ended like this:

Shades of Don Larsen, Dale Mitchell, and Babe Pinelli (video). One source -- okay, so it's Wikipedia -- says that game-ending pitch "appeared to be a ball" ... but appearances can be deceiving, especially given that camera angle. According to Brooks Baseball, that pitch was squarely in the strike zone. What's more, Runge seems to have called an outstanding game, at least while Sánchez was pitching.

Runge generally seems to have avoided controversies during his 14 seasons, but hadn't drawn many postseasons assignments, which supposedly are given because of both merit and seniority. So it's hard to say if Major League Baseball will miss him. The good news is that there's always a huge pool of young, hard-working umpires in the minors -- but with plenty of major-league experience, as fill-ins -- who are ready to step in when something finally opens up in the majors.

Generally speaking, it's a shame when something like this happens. But it's reasonable for the umpires to play by (roughly) the same rules as everybody in baseball, and while nobody ever talks about this, Major League Baseball has to consider the possibility of an umpire becoming indentured to a drug dealer, and thus vulnerable to extortion.

Runge's not likely to find a new job as good as the one he had. The good news is that a man can make a decent living umpiring amateur baseball games. It's just not the living he's undoubtedly used to.

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