Outside the Zone with IHSA Umpire Andre Morgan

June 23, 2016

WillCountyBaseball.org: Andre, you’ve been umpiring in the Chicago area for 18 years. You could call games pretty much anywhere. But you do a lot of games in the far southern suburbs. Sometimes you’re the only black man on the baseball field or in the stands. This gives you a unique perspective any way you look at it. How has this experience changed since 1998 when you first started?

morganivmorganiiAndre Morgan: The number of blacks working in the south suburbs as umpires has not changed since I started. The majority of black umpires work in the Chicago Public League, where I was a successful player and coach. I just choose to work out south and in the Chicago Catholic League because of the top quality of the baseball. To survive in that environment I had to umpire at an elite level almost from day one.

morganigaI usually am the only black on the field so there is always an extra spotlight on me. I know it and the fans, coaches and players know it. Some days it seems like everyone knows me by first name even when I have no clue who they are.

That is just the way it is and I accept that spotlight and the challenge to be better. I am driven by an intense desire to be the best and that would be the case no matter what color my skin turned out to be. I am very proud to be only the second African American in 77 years to work three times for the big school (3A/4A) class tournaments at state. Maybe I pushed the door open just a bit more for others to get through.

 

 

WBC.org: One thing I noticed this spring – everywhere I saw a high school baseball game. There were very few black kids on the field. There are many reasons for this. Almost all the time it’s not a matter of racism. There’s just not very many black kids playing baseball in the area.

Do you agree with this, and why do you think this might be the case?

Andre Morgan: I agree that the number of black kids playing baseball is down – in some areas. Depends on where you are. Saturday I umpired Jackie Robinson West in the Urban Baseball Classic and there were hundreds of black kids everywhere playing.

The numbers, however, are nowhere citywide like they were when I grew up playing in the 60’s and 70’s. Baseball is now a country club sport. By that I mean it is expensive to play. Equipment, registration fees, and travel to play can easily run over $1500. My own parents would not have done it even if I showed MLB potential. So I can imagine what black parents today are saying.

In addition, baseball is hard to master and at times can be boring or repetitive. In today’s we-want-it-fast society kids tend to find basketball, football and track easier and less expensive. It takes a special kid of any color to become a high first round draft pick like Corey Ray (JRW-Simeon-Louisville) just became. MLB has recognized this issue and there are programs such as R.B.I. to revive interest and recruit black players. Ray is part of the alumni from the R.B.I. program. So it works.

WBC.org: You’ve umpired three State Finals tournaments. What was your favorite game?

And, from your perspective, what separates the best teams when they come that close to such an elusive state championship. Especially considering how difficult a baseball title is to achieve.

morganvAndre Morgan: I loved each of the 12 state games I umpired in my career. To maintain consistency with a team’s season on the line is much more difficult than the average fan knows. With that said, my favorite game of my career was the 2016 4A championship between Providence Catholic and Mundelein.

That game had some of everything in it; and that made it fun to do. I was honored that the IHSA selected me to work the plate with the state title on the line. There were almost 5,000 assistant umpires in the stands and I could feel the intensity in the air with every pitch.

I am very proud of the way I umpired that game and how I handled each situation I was involved in. I had a great crew in Alan McCormick and Craig Davelis, so that made my job a bit easier. Although not possible, every umpire should strive to give themselves a chance to work at that state finals level at least once.

The best teams have talent and a bit of luck too. Once you get down to the final four teams, or even the final eight including the Super Sectional teams, it really comes down to if you are a team of destiny. You rarely see a 10 run blowout in those games because it is such a fine line between the coaching and player talent. At the end of the year only one team finishes as a winner.

Andre Morgan is one of the most decorated baseball state finals officials in Illinois in recent years with 12 playoff appearances in his 18 year career including 12 regionals, seven sectionals, six super sectionals and three state finals assignments including the recent 2016 4A state championship. In addition he has been an IHSA Football Crew Chief for 16 years, NCAA / NAIA College umpire for 16 years, college NCAA DI baseball coach, high school head baseball coach at two schools and in 2016 was inducted into the IHSA Wrestling Hall of Fame as a broadcaster and reporter. He  has been married 33 years to Nicole and has two sons, Sergio and Mario (a 2011 NCAA Wrestling National Champion for Nebraska (Omaha).

Feature photo courtesy PJBPhotos.com on Twitter @pjbphotos.

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