Before and After
by KEN McCONNELL
Umpires, you will be surprised to learn, are regular fellows. Some of them have even got themselves married. You'll be glad to know, too, that the boys in blue working the current series between Vancouver and Wenatchee at Capilano Stadium, Johnny Nenezich and Harry Ornest, have no use for glass eyes, rabbit ears or any other accessories with which, on occasion, they have been charged.
They make up a good team. About 42 games Western International Baseball League games ago they met.
“I am Harry Ornest—a Hebe.” the young man introduced himself. And his partner shot back: “I am Johnny Nenezich—a Bohunk.”
Nenezich, for a little guy—he weighs only 150 pounds and once fought professionally here and along the west coast as Johnny Morgan—has been in several celebrated rhubarbs.
Probably the most notable was in Spokane late last fall and the loss of that game might have been the winning factor so far as the Caps were concerned. You may recall the Spokes were rained out and the Caps clinched the pennant by a single percentage point, by just sitting chilly.
* * *
Spokane was playing Salem. The score was 5-5 and it was the top half of the ninth inning. Salem had two men on base with nobody out.
The first Salem man planned a sacrifice. The Spokanes' picked up the bunt, hestitated where to throw the ball and all hands were safe, desplte the final, frantic heave to third base.
Ben Geraghty, the Spokane manager charged out for Nenezich. “That was a bad call, the runner was out,” he shouted.
That started things.
Geraghty was eventually tossed out of the ball game. Then John Gorman, Spokes' first baseman, came charging across the diamond, made some pithy observations and he was run off.
Meanwhile, Harry Schmees, the Spokane centrefielder, had come in to second base.
“Come on, let's go,” ordered Nenezich as he tried to resume play. Then he noticed Schmees at second.
“What are you doing there?” he demanded.
“I can play any place I want.” was the reply.
Nenezich then turned away and turned back just in time to see Schmees making some signs with his hands which were easily understood by the fans—and Nenezich when he saw them. Schmees went out!
* * *
Geraghty came back on the field.
By this time the fans were in a tizzy and Nenezich was fit to be tied.
“Eggs were 90 cents a dozen and they threw $50 worth at me,” recalls Johnny.
Then he issued an ultimatum.
“This game resumes right now,” he told all and sundry. “Or I am going home.”
“You have not enough guts to do that.” a Spoke shouted.
“I have not what”? asked Johnny. Like all umpires he did not want to forfeit the game. After all he has to protect the team and the fans.
But the statement was repeated.
“You have not enough guts to ...”
And that was that. Jobnny Nenezich called off the game, Salem was the winner.
That night the same two teams met again in Spokane. The place was packed. The umps had to reach the field through the home team's dugout.
Nenzich walked through. There was dead silence. But one Spokane player whispered: “Stay with 'em, John.”
* * *
Arguments between players and officials are quickly forgotten.
Johnny has a saying that carries considerable authority. “If I get into a fight with a guy, no matter how big he is, I'll get a sandwich even if he is getting a full course meal.”
He means it too. He knows about baseball fights.
There was a team when Smead Jolley joined Spokane. The opposing catcher called a ball.
“You really didn't like that one, did you?” asked Jolley.
“Why should an old has-been like you get any breaks?” came the reply.
“Take off your mask," and the catcher did so. “Take off your belly pad,” belligerently ordered Jolley. “Old man, eh, I'll outhit you by 200 points before the season is over.”
By this time Johnny had taken a hand and the would-be fight never materialized.
There was no contest in hitting, though. Jolley topped the league in everything but stolen sweaters. He hit a ton. The catcher referred to is still in the league and according to Johnny, “He finds it difficult to get along with anyone—even himself.”
- Vancouver Sun, June 12, 1948
(Note - the catcher referred to is likely Frank Volpi, who kicked around the WIL before and after the war).