Marty Clark ended 47 years of umpiring on this pitch to Montclair’s Ethan Daddabbo in his 20th state final.
Marty Clark was working the plate last Saturday when Middletown South defeated Montclair, 6-0, to win the NJSIAA Group 4 championship.
It was Clark’s 20th state final and his last. It was also his last game as an umpire for the NJSIAA. Clark, who grew up in Ewing and is a Mercer County guy through-and-through, umpired his first high school game at the age of 18. He’s been doing the umpiring thing for 47 years.
“It’s time,” said Clark. “I don’t have to stop. I’m still better than most. But it’s time.”
Clark, indeed, was very good right to the end. Sitting directly behind home plate at Bob DeMeo Field in Hamilton’s Veteran’s Park, it was clear Clark was ON. Well, Clark always seemed to be on.
“After the game, Craig Yetman said he didn’t think I missed a pitch,” said Clark. Yetman is also a veteran umpire, evaluator, state assignor and liaison to the NJSIAA. Sitting with Yetman and fellow veteran umps Warren Bennett and Jack Venezia during three straight finals was certainly an education, aside from the laughs.
“You learn a lot sitting with umpires,” said Clark. “It’s a different perspective.” That made Marty think of his brother, longtime Major League Baseball umpire Al Clark. “It’s so different watching a game with Al. Their mindset at that level is not the same as ours. And what we know is not close to what they know about the game.”
We all got to watch Marty Clark close out his umpiring career the way Mariano Rivera closed out one game after another during his long Hall of Fame career — with excellence, attention to detail and quiet humility. And like Rivera, Clark left no doubt who was in charge.
Marty asked after the game with a smile, “How’d I do?” He was told, “Only one fan in the bottom of the sixth whined about a call but he had a crummy view.”
Clark’s view — was he ever out of position? — was filtered through a thorough grasp of the rules of the game.
“Marty cares about the game,” said frequent crewmate and good friend Greg Zak. “He’s not going away. He’s just stepping off the field. He will still be able to influence young umpires.”
Clark is doing that every day at Diamond Nation as the facilities’ director of tournaments. Part of Clark’s busy job there is to run a large umpiring crew that is put to the test through the hot summer months as tournament games begin at 8 a.m. seven days a week and continue through 11 p.m.
“The one thing I’ve always taken away from our conversations over the years is that Marty loves the game of baseball,” says Warren Bennett, president of the N.J. State Federation of Umpires, Sedlak Chapter. “Everyone knows that Marty is a great umpire but, he’s also given many officials an opportunity not only to become umpires, but given them exposure, knowledge and guidance. Marty is an institution in umpiring.”
Clark has some great memories from some outstanding state semifinals and finals and from specific things that happened in those games.
“Todd Frazier’s senior year (at Toms River South) he led off the state (Group 3) semifinal at Waterfront Park (Trenton) with a line drive home run to left field,” said Clark. “It was the first pitch of the game and it almost landed on Route 29.”
Just to verify all calls aren’t easy, Clark recalls a pitch he called a ball in the Group 4 final in 2014. Brandon Janofsky of Jackson Memorial was pitching a no-hitter against Roxbury with two outs in the seventh inning. Clark called a borderline two-strike pitch a ball. Janofsky lost his no-hitter on the very next pitch. “I was just doing my job,” said Clark. “I heard it after the game from his mother.”
Frank Malta, now the East Brunswick athletic director, was the Jackson coach and remembers the pitch as, “Very close!”
Clark says the thing he will miss the most about umpiring is the friendships he developed over the years with his fellow men in blue. “The camaraderie among umpires years ago was amazing,” said Clark. “That’s what’s missing today. You don’t see that enough with the younger guys.”
Clark says he will indeed miss those Thursday nights he’d meet his umpiring comrades out for food, drinks and a bit of rules discussion. But we all doubt Marty is done with that part of the umpiring equation.
Clark loves dissecting a game and the umpiring within it. He’s had 47 years of practice at it.
Clark’s brother Al is 10 years his senior and has been a huge influence on him to this day. It was Al Clark who brought his young brother out to an empty Ewing High School baseball diamond 47 years ago and asked him, “Do you want to be an umpire? Go down to first base and make a call. Go behind the plate and make a call.”
Clark said, “Al taught me where to stand and what goes into the mechanics of umpiring. I had no clue. There is an art to it and a way to teach it.”
“Marty 100 percent knows how to use his resources,” says Zak. “And Al is his No. 1 resource.”
Al Clark is 75 and long retired from umpiring at the highest level but remains, through his younger brother Marty, an influence on umpiring in the Garden State.
“I still use Al,” said Marty, “even here at Diamond Nation. He’s on speed dial. His rule interpretations and clear thinking on the game are tremendous.”
Marty and Al’s loyalty to each other is not surprising to those who know Marty well. Loyalty is a big part of who Marty Clark is, particularly to the game of baseball.
“Yes, loyalty is a big thing to Marty,” said Zak, “especially to the craft of umpiring. He truly cares about the game.”
And he cares about his fellow umpires, who don’t expect him to be too far out of reach when they need him.
Did you know?: Marty Clark worked a major league exhibition game between the Orioles and Cardinals at RFK Stadium, Washington, D.C. in 1998. “It was the last exhibition game before the start of the season,” said Clark. “Al told Marty Springstead, the AL Supervisor of Umpires, that I was capable of doing the game. I worked third base and had one foul ball call. That was it.”