Ken Kaiser, who was a big league umpire from 1977 until 1999, has died at his home in Rochester, New York. The cause of death was not given. He was 72.
Kaiser — who this excellent obituary in the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle notes spent time as a professional wrestler before he made the big leagues — was a colorful umpire with a colorful strike and out call. That didn’t always sit well with the players but you certainly knew when he was behind the plate. He once split his pants during a game and kept umping because, heck, we all wear underwear, right? No big whoop. I know umpires are supposed to make people mad as a matter of course, but I always sorta liked Kaiser and guys like him. If the calls are good and they’re not of the view that they’re more important than the game I don’t mind a little showboating and humor. Kaiser didn’t always make the right calls, but no other umpires do. I don’t recall him being a Joe West type as far as attitude, but it’s been a while and that’s all ancient history now.
Unfortunately, Kaiser’s end in the game came by virtue of a profoundly misguided labor negotiation tactic during the 1999 season. That’s when the umpires union had the brilliant idea of mass resignations as a means of attempting to create bargaining leverage. It backfired spectacularly as Major League Baseball happily accepted the resignations of the umps it didn’t like but had no real power to fire — Kaiser among them — and re-hired the ones they did like and went on its merry way. Since then there has been labor peace with the umpires, but Kaiser and 12 other umps saw their careers end.
The linked article suggests that Kaiser fell upon some hard financial times after losing his job, but I hope that he still managed to find some happiness all the same. Rest in peace, blue.