This is Chapter Seven in a developing series titled “Who Remembers…..” that aims to highlight the careers of colorful and intriguing personalities who made their mark on the game of baseball, whether on or off the field.
WHO WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE PROFILED NEXT……………
As we often find with larger than life personalities, there can be a dichotomy between what we see, what we think we want to see, and what the actual reality is. Ron Luciano was an American League umpire for ten years during the 1970’s. At 6’4″ 270 lbs he was often chided from the dugout about causing the grass around him to die due to lack of sunlight. Loud and boisterous, known for enjoying a drink or two, he was also one of the top rated umpires in the game during his tenure in baseball.
He would also become a marked man in the city of Baltimore where his nose to nose “arguments ” with Orioles manager Earl Weaver became the stuff of legend. Later in life, he would author four best selling books. No doubt, Luciano enjoyed the game and the spotlight. He also loved his craft once saying, “There’s nothing more satisfying than getting a close call right “.
Perhaps though, it’s the “nothing more satisfying ” part of that quote that reveals more about the reality along with the burden of being Ron Luciano……..
Luciano was born in Endicott, New York in 1937. He went to Syracuse University and played as a lineman on their 1956 National Championship Team, blocking for the All American running back and future NFL legend Jim Brown. Following graduation, he was a second round draft pick of the Detroit Lions. However, a shoulder injury ended his football career even before it could begin.
As an umpire, he rose quickly through the Minors reaching the Majors in 1969. He rapidly became known for his flamboyance in making calls, and in particular for what was called his “shoot out “. On occasion, he would pump his arm as many as ten times as though firing a shotgun. Needless to say his style, while a delight to fans, often enraged both managers and players.
If you’re serious about this job, “you’ll go crazy out there.” And so he did……to the delight of fans. On nights when he handled third, he could be seen taking bows after making calls they liked and putting his hands over his ears when they complained. If a line drive came his way, he he would be likely to wave his handkerchief at the batter in reproach.
Later, he would reflect in a more serious manner about the myriad of changes he witnessed in the game during his rather brief career stating, “When I started, it was played by nine tough competitors on grass, in graceful ball parks,” he observed. “But while I was trying to answer the daily Quiz-O-Gram on the exploding scoreboard, a revolution was taking place around me. By the time I was finished, there were 10 men on each side, the game was played indoors, on plastic, and I had to spend half my time watching out for a man dressed in a chicken suit who kept trying to kiss me.”
For Ron Luciano, the road following his retirement was roughly paved. Luciano’s writing partner Dave Fisher said he was “a gentle, good man who really preferred being by himself, walking in the woods … watching the birds.” He said of Luciano’s seclusion in Endicott as the ’90s wore on and his mother succumbed to Alzheimer’s: “I wanted him to come to New York, come to L.A. He was a terrific entertainer. But it was hard for him, because Ronnie was actually very shy. He never got out of Endicott. And he should have; he needed to.”
He would try his hand at marriage only to be divorced two years later. In the end, he would be found by a handyman in his own garage having taken his own life at the age of 57. Some stories simply don’t end well……..life is full of surprises…….all the cliches apply. But for all of this, Ron Luciano made his mark on baseball as a man who excelled at his craft while being a source of entertainment to fans of baseball.
SOURCES AND ACKNOWLEDGMENTS:
New York Times Obituary The Showboat In Blue People Magazine
Misc. Baseball Word Press Ron Luciano The Christian Science Monitor