Ron Luciano’s Suicide

Ron Luciano’s books collecting anecdotes from his umpiring days were some of the most popular baseball books of the ’80s: “The Umpire Strikes Back,” “Strike Two,” “The Fall of the Roman Umpire,” and “Remembrances of Swings Past.” When he committed suicide with the exhaust from a car in the garage of his home in Endicott, N.Y., in early 1995 (the afternoon of January 18 to be exact), it surprised outsiders. After the death, the Syracuse Herald-Journal talked about Luciano, who’d been an offensive lineman blocking for Syracuse and Jim Brown in the 1950s.

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.”

Fisher added: “He wanted to please everybody, so he played football. I don’t really think he loved it. He was born in the wrong body. He was never that person.”

At Syracuse, Luciano was named a tackle on Football News’ All-America team, then went into the NFL with Detroit, Minnesota and Buffalo for four years, but he never played in a regular-season game. He umpired in the American League for 11 years.

Fisher said: “Baseball – he was never a fan of the game. He wouldn’t be the kind to sit in front of a TV and watch a game. He was a fan of the umpires.”

Joe Garagiola reflected:

“It doesn’t surprise me that Ronnie was very depressed. There was a far more sensitive side of him that few people knew, and I know he was a lonely guy. Everybody thought every day was New Year’s Eve for him, but I can attest to the fact that he had a lot of August the twenty-thirds and October the fifths.

“I know he was hurting being out of baseball. He needed to be around people and he missed it. I loved him. He was one of the few umpires who didn’t act like he was anointed. I wanted to see him call a guy out. Baseball wasn’t High Mass to him.”

Luciano gave his opinion of some of the less than glorious aspects of baseball: “When I started, baseball was played by nine tough competitors on grass in graceful ballparks. By the time I finished, there were 10 men on a side, the game was played indoors on plastic, and I spent half my time watching out for a man dressed in a chicken suit who kept trying to kiss me.”

Fellow umpire Davey Phillips said:

“But to be honest, I don’t think he really liked umpiring. I think maybe he was really lonely, but he camouflaged a lot of it because he worked hard to be funny.

“I’ll never forget one game — true story — I’m umpiring at first base and I look down to the plate where Ronnie is and he’s not wearing his mask! Campy Campaneris is the batter and he’s attempting to drag bunt and the pitcher is winding up when I start running toward the plate to call time-out. Campy bunts the ball foul and sees me and thinks I’m calling him out. All of a sudden, both managers, Kenny Aspromonte and Chuck Tanner, are running out of the dugout and I go over to Ronnie and tell him he has no mask on.

“You know what he said? ‘I knew I was seeing the pitches good!'”

A while ago I put together a collection of Luciano’s not-so-fond memories of life as an umpire in the 1970s. Here, from the article, is a bit of what he had to say: “The umpires have kept this game honest for 100 years. We’re the only segment of the game that has never been touched by scandal. We gotta be too dumb to cheat. We must have integrity, because we sure don’t have a normal family life. We certainly aren’t properly paid. We have no health care, no job security, no tenure. Our pension plan is a joke.

“We take more abuse than any living group of humans, and can’t give back any. If we’re fired without notice, our only recourse is to appeal to the league president. And he’s the guy that fires you. That’s gotta be unconstitutional.”

Here, from the Seattle Times of February 6, 1979, is a picture of Luciano and an article on him on the offseason banquet circuit:

Read more about Luciano in this long retrospective of his career he did for Sports Illustrated, which had written a profile of him in 1974.

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13 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. In a game of personality’s,high salaries,changing formats ronnie umpiring kept the game in respective that its suppose to be fun.I don’t know why there making such a big deal recently over a basketball player having a gun in his locker after all luciano was shooting baseball players out for years. ( there’s just something about that last name )The reason luciano books were so popular was because he wrote funnier material than leno,letterman and connan obrien combined . I bet that after reading strike 2 and the umpire strikes back i guess not only did the mangers and players know ronnie but ever food vender as well.

  2. i have his books, i miss him. Hope the family knows he is missed.

  3. Ron”s book; “The Umpire Strikes Back” made me a baseball fan. It’s a shame he is not with us anymore. He made the world a better place.

  4. I had a brief encounter with Ron after game five of the 1974 world series. I was in the hall that led from the Oakland Coliseum clubhouses to the parking lot trying to get autographs. A big happy looking guy in a suit walked by me. I asked Ron if he was an umpire. A big smile got bigger and he said yes. It was a nice moment in a night of fantastic moments. I wish I could have been around Ron in his last days so I could talk to him and keep him from talking his life. Just thinking about how he umpired makes me smile.

  5. Probably one of the best and most entertaining umpires we will ever experience. Very saddened when I originally heard about Ron. I went to a couple of games in NYC just because he was the umpire. He might be gone but NEVER forgotten.

  6. A wonderful human being. He was a mans man. His books were really fun reading .We really never know what is in a persons mind when they end their life…….GOD BLESS THE ITALIAN HERO…….

  7. I met Ron in spring training in 1988. He was a great guy and very entertaining! He realy took a liking to me. I told him that if he was ever in New Jersey, that he should stop by to visit. Well, he did, and he brought David Fischer with him! I gave Ron a few baseball bats to take with him while he had his NYC talkshow visits. He was a really nice guy who will be missed.

  8. I remember years ago during a Game of the Week they let Mr. Luciano give the lineups for the day. He had a little comment about each player. Besides being funny he gave me insights into the game you couldn’t always get from managers and players. Those guys usually said something safe like how they were glad to be on this ball club and that they could really help this ball club (sometimes they’d say “baseball club” to help those who didn’t know what sport they were watching) and that he was giving 110%. Mr. Luciano’s comments were a breath of fresh air. I was sorry to hear about his suicide. We never really know about someone, do we?

  9. why no umpiring videos anywhere of him gunning someone out at first he was the greatest god speed to you

  10. Late 1960s through early 1970s, I managed the front desk crew at the Holiday Inn Downtown in Baltimore, where AL umps always stayed. We often socialized, as they’d just be getting back from a night game when second shift was leaving. Amazingly, the gang-of-four desk clerks remain friends, nearly 50 years later, and still speak of Ronnie Luciano with bittersweet fondness. Occasionally, he’d bring his cherished mom, Jo, along on Baltimore trips. What a sight…this tiny, archetypical Italian mother with her doting Leviathan son:) Knowing I was into owls at the time, he would often bring me one from his travels – ceramic, stuffed, candle – or return from dining out with extra dessert for the desk staff. There wasn’t a kinder, smarter, funnier guy on earth and the thought of his sad desperation at the end broke our hearts. Anyone who cares for the game of baseball should acquaint themselves with this remarkable man who brought joy – and perspective – to the game, if not to his own troubled soul. Catch you on the flip side, Ron…

  11. I think Ron Luciano was as good for baseball as the DH was bad. He just made a dull 2 hit or 3 hitter interesting because the game is boring unless you like no excitement. I miss him and his antics very much and 57 is way too young to check out.

  12. I heard his name today on MLB…and I decided to look Ronnie up…I was a huge fan of his..anyhow I just found out just now that he ended his life…what a sad deal…I can’t believe it…the guy had charisma and added so much to the game of baseball….RIP Ron….

  13. I was a fan of his umpiring skills and antics, and later bought, read and re-read all 5 of his books. When I learned of his death, it brought me genuine sadness. I wish he had had more close friends to help him through the rough times, and wish that he had known so many people appreciated and liked him.

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