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February 3: The Tormented Umpire

Lawrence Bush
February 3, 2017
Dolly (Albert) Stark became the first Jewish umpire in Major League Baseball when he was added to the National League roster on this date in 1928. Stark was born poor and lost his father at a young age; his mother then went blind, and he ended up on an orphans' home. He became a semi-pro ballplayer but made his mark as an umpire — known for being the first who moved around on the field to position himself to make calls. "He would run with the baserunners," writes Ralph Berger for the Society for American Baseball Research, "and behind the plate would make adjustments in his position to call the pitches more accurately. Stark kept himself in good condition so that he could move quickly around the diamond. One observer said Stark 'had a pompous strut and when he dusted off home plate he did it with a flourish.'" Stark was popular with the players, but gave himself a hard time, resigning more than once over what he called the "torments of umpiring." In 1936, he resigned over money issues and became a radio sportscaster, though he returned to the field for four more years. "Unfortunately, Stark's life away from baseball was one tragedy after another. Though he was successful as a designer of women's clothing and had a line known as the "Dolly Stark Dress," he spent large sums of money to support his mother, blind since 1920, who needed constant medical attention. His sister was always in poor health and committed suicide. His marriage to Betsy Lee in December 1952 ended in divorce four years later. And in his final years Stark was in dire need of financial help. There was no pension money at that time in baseball, and his Social Security check was insufficient." --Ralph Berger

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.