From a public standpoint, Gregg never did get a chance to write another chapter to his short life, so we're left with an image of a man who struggled with his weight, wasn't particularly good at his job, received some terrible advice from his boss and lost that job, never got back on his feet, and died young -- a grossly unfair reduction. Reading various obituaries, one comes away with the impression that Gregg's peers--fellow umps, players, managers (even Cox)--held him in high esteem, and his family loved him dearly. Son Kevin Gregg (not the pitcher), in talking about his father as his inevitable final hours unfolded, painted a portrait of a hard-working, well-liked man who overcame many obstacles as he rose from humble origins to make the major leagues, a success story just like many a ballplayer.As testament to the positive aspects of Gregg's life, the man was remembered on Friday in an upbeat memorial service in Philadelphia:
As fans, we sometimes have a tendency to reduce players players to the sum of their stats and forget the human side, but as often as we bust on the incompetence of Neifi Perez or Aaron Small, we're not impugning these players' personalities, just their performances. Umpires don't have stats (well, they do, but parsing them is another story) and there's a temptation to see them as interchangeable, particularly with the amount of turnover seen in recent years. They've become anonymous autocrats, and we gripe about their performances even as technologies like Questec squeeze their authoritah. Many of them are still just as belligerent as the rank and file appeared to be when Phillips marched them like lemmings into the sea. For whatever his shortcomings, Eric Gregg was different than that. Rather than being buried for his role in one game, he should be remembered as the all-too-human face of the men in blue.
Bill White, the former major-league player who was NL president during part of Gregg's 23 years as an umpire, called Gregg a pioneer in the game.It's certainly sad to see the man go, but I'm gratified he got the sendoff he deserved. He truly was larger than life.
Gregg, known for his rotund build and his big laugh, umpired his first major-league game in 1975, becoming the third African American to do so.
"I've been to a few celebrations of life," White said. "Jackie Robinson, Elston Howard, Junior Gilliam, John Roseboro, Curt Flood, Larry Doby. They were all pioneers. And we're here today to celebrate another pioneer. Eric Gregg wasn't the first black umpire, but he was the most flamboyant."
Marty Appel, the former New York Yankees public relations executive who cowrote Gregg's autobiography in 1990, described Gregg as the "most famous umpire in baseball history."
"Eric saw baseball the way it's supposed to be, in its truest form -- fun and entertainment," Appel said. "He never lost that spirit, whether he was dancing with the Phillie Phanatic or going toe to toe with Tommy Lasorda."
...Everyone had an Eric Gregg story. White told of how he entered the umpires' room shortly after an earthquake hit San Francisco before Game 1 of the 1989 World Series. He looked around the room and saw just five of the six umpires.
"Where's Eric?" White asked.
Someone pointed downward.
"Eric was under the (buffet) table, and every few minutes this big hand would come up and grab a shrimp," White said.
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