by Frank Hyde
February 13, 1982
Over Half A Century As A Baseball Umpire
But that's just what happened to Chautauqua County Legislator Joe Nalbone of Jamestown, who has devoted more than 50 years of his life to calling balls and strikes behind the plate and safes and outs on the bases and in the outfield.
And Joe is still calling 'em for just about every type of local and area amateur baseball, independent, county league, high school, Babe Ruth, Little League and the like.
Nalbone recalls that marathon day in 1940. The first game was at Allen Park at 10 a.m. From there he hustled to a doubleheader at Poland Center, which was at 1 p.m. His knees may have been getting a little wobbly by that time, but he climbed into his car and zeroed in on Steamburg for a 6 p.m. start. "It added up to 34 innings," he recalled the other day.
Many extra inning games, "longies," as Ty Cobb used to call them, are dotted through Joe's long career as an arbiter. One he will never forget was the 37-inning caper between Cherry Creek and Ashville in 1937.
Umpiring has been instilled in the Nalbone family for three generations. There are the father, Joe; the son, Don; and a grandson Don, Jr., all three umpires. The elder Nalbone has been a standby in the old Pennsylvania-Ontario-New York (PONY) League and the modern New York-Pennsylvania (NY-P) League since 1939.
Joe, who likes to keep stats on himself, has figured out that he has devoted 37 percent of his waking time to umpiring since he started in 1939. That's quite a chunk of a man's life to be the target of the abuse an umpire often takes. "But I loved every minute and I still do," he laughed.
"It was great," he added, "because I'll never forget some of the great players we had during the early years of professional baseball in Jamestown - fellows like Johnny Newman, the homerun king of the era; Greg Mulleavy, a fine manager who won two pennants for our fans; Johnny Pollock, Dick Schmidt, Ted Wvberanec, Frank Smrekar, Duane Shaffer, Dave Werner, Al Taylor, Lyle Parkhurst and Tommy Hurst, and umpires Rog MacTavish and Ross Crucilla. Most of them lived here after retiring. They were real pros."
The passing years brought Nalbone in contact with umpires who went on to the majors. He teamed with officials like Nester Chylak, Art Frantz, Jake O'Donnell, John Flaherty and others and was making decisions in the PONY League when Larry Napp, now umpiring in the majors, was a player for Olean.
When the Pittsburgh Pirates came to Celoron to play the local club in an exhibition game on August 22, 1939, Nalbone was one of the umpires. The teams played to a 1-1 tie before 800 fans in a game halted in the seventh inning by rain.
Pie Traynor was manger of the Pirates then and Mickey LaLonge was the Jamestown skipper. That was the very first year for the PONY League, it having been organized the previous winter. Johnny Rizzo hit a homer to tie it in the sixth after Jamestown had scored a run off Cy Blanton in the third. The immortal Honus Wagner was a coach for the Pirates. The Waner brothers Lloyd and Paul, Arky Vaughn, Chuck Klein and Gus Bell were the big names in action for Pittsburgh.
Ed Carmichael, Johnny Lukon, George Goodell, Ray Lawrence, Greno Buzzinotti, and Lloyd Price were part of the Jamestown lineup. Most went on to the higher classifications in baseball.
Nalbone was also the umpire when the Detroit Tigers came to Jamestown to play the Falcons years later at what is now College Stadium. Stubby Overmire, later to manage Jamestown, pitched in that game as did Dizzy Trout. Joe was one of the officials at the Cooperstown Hall of Fame Stadium when the Jamestown Oldtimers played the Youngstown, OH Oldtimers there.
Nalbone was born in Eleanor, PA, which is often called Tom Mix country, because the famous cowboy star of silent films lived in that area for a time. On one occasion Eleanor produced quite a conversation oddity for Joe. He had umpired a game at Ludlow, PA and was enroute home with two Jamestown players, Morrie Mistretta and Jim Dankovich. Jim mentioned that he was born in Eleanor and imagine his surprise when Morrie and Joe both laid claim to that village as their birthplace. "That must be a million-to-one shot," Joe grinned, "three people together by chance and all three born in the same small village."
Names of people who became famous have had a way of creeping into Nalbone's life. For instance, the game he, Morrie and Jim were returning from was played in the old Wildcat Park at Ludlow. Joe Nagle's Bombers furnished the opposition. Sparky Lyle 'hit one a mile' for Ludlow, as they often say in baseball. Since the outfield sloped away to a creek, Joe, working the plate, could not follow the course of the ball. Frank Smrekar, working the bases, could see it and up went his hand signifying the catch and out. "Sure enough," Joe says, " George Parsons has raced out there in water nearly up to his waist and made the darndest catch."
Sparky Lyle, of course, broke into professional baseball in 1962 and became a top-flight pitcher for the New York Yankees.
Familiar names pop up as Nalbone looks back. There was the time an attractive young girl and her boyfriend asked for a ride to the Jamestown at Warren football game, which Joe was planning to attend. The girl knew very little about football, but asked a lot of questions and was soon rooting wildly for Jamestown. She became famous in films. Her name is Lucille Ball.
Another name that became star quality in the movies was important in repairing Joe's bicycle when he was a kid living in DeLancey, PA. He needed a certain kind of bolt. He pedaled his bike to Punxsutawney - no luck -, then on to Indiana, PA, where an affable hardware man dug around until he found what the dusty, tired youngster was looking for. His name was Stewart and he was the father of Jimmy Stewart, who became a famous actor and is still in Hollywood.
Nalbone is no stranger to hard work. Joe dug ditches for the Pennsylvania Gas Co., worked in the Punxsutawney Bottling Works, took a fling at the coal mines, and after moving to Jamestown, was with Empire Worsted Mills in Falconer and the Kling Manufacturing Co. He also attended barber school and worked at that trade for a short time when haircuts were 35 cents. "I quit, though, because I always wanted to be an umpire and barbers often had to work late at night," he remembers.
The Jamestown man got his start umpiring in 1930 at the old Oriole Field on Buffalo Street Extension. A MUNY League game was scheduled with Oscar "Swede" Larson ready to umpire the bases. The plate ump did not show up and Oscar pointed his finger at Joe, who attended most of the games. "You're it," he said.
Today, Joe Nalbone lives quietly but stays busy. As a member of the county legislature, he serves on five legislative committees: Human Services, Governmental Affairs, Office of the Aging Advisory Board, the Physically Handicapped Children's Review Board and the County Insurance Committee. He also spends considerable time at the YMCA exercising and jogging.
Joe's first wife, Josephine, died and he is remarried to the former Grace Quisimberto. Joe and Josephine had two boys, Robert and Sandy, and a girl Rose Marie, now Mrs. Conti.
"How long do you expect to keep umpiring?" a man asked.
"Just as long as I can get my equipment on, walk out on the field and do a credible job," he replied.
Judging by his physical condition, that might be a considerable length of time to add to the 52 years already logged.
The additional financial assistance of the community is critical to the success of the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame. We gratefully acknowledge these individuals and organizations for their generous support.