by Frank Hyde
May 25, 1984
Joe Nalbone, 54 Years An Umpire
(EDITOR’S NOTE – In Frank Hyde’s typical dedication to the Post-Journal, he provided the sports department with three columns written in advance so they could be published while he was in the hospital. He died Thursday night in the Cleveland Clinic. This column is the second of the three.)
The Jamestown Falcons were playing a PONY League game at Hornell years ago. Joe Nalbone of Jamestown was umpiring behind the plate and the Jamestown batter was the late John Newman, the peerless home run swatter. It was Nalbone’s first pro game after many years among the amateurs as a player and umpire, so he was a little nervous. The pitch came to Newman obviously high and Joe impulsively called it a strike. Newman who always carried a big chaw of tobacco in his cheek, glared, spat and then snorted: “That was high, real high, shake yourself.” Then he swung at the next pitch and hit a towering home run out of the park almost to the adjoining public buildings in the left-center, easily a 450 foot blast. As he trundled around the bases and crossed home plate he pause and remarked: That’s one strike you can’t take away from me!” Joe gained experience amoung the pros and sometime later Newman called him the best umpire in the league on balls and strikes. One chats with Joe Nalbone today and one gathers the impression umpires would make good weather forecasters. “I have had games rained out, hailed out, snowed out and blowed out, all this year. This has to be the worst spring in Jamestown history,” Nalbone said.
When one gets the full scope of Joe’s devotion to baseball, it brings up a question: Is he the oldest umpire in the country from a standpoint of uninterrupted (except by the weather) from his umpiring duties? Nalbone is 75 years old and has been umpiring for 54 years! And he is still going. Bill Carpenter, who was Supervisor of Minor League Umpires when he said in 1980 that Joe was the oldest still active ump in New York State. Carpenter made the statement after his check of men in blue living in the state. “If he isn’t the oldest still active arbiter in the nation he certainly is among the oldest,” Carpenter said when questioned on the subject. Nalbone had his chance to move up and turned it down. He was working a PONY game at Hornell when he got a phone call from his wife who was discouraged. She was ill, so were the kids, some household equipment had broken down, so she asked him to give it up. By a strange coincidence, there was a knock on his hotel room door a short time later. It was Carpenter with the “good news” – three leagues of higher classification wanted him. They were Mid-Atlantic, Canadian and Carolina circuits. “I told him I’d let him know, Joe said. “I thought it over all night and turned down the chance to move up. I wanted to stay close to home.”
So Nalbone never moved off the minor league chain into the mainstream of those headed for the top. But he worked for years with many who did go on to the majors, fellows like Art Franz, John Flaherty, Nestor Chylack, Jake O’Donnell and several others. Nalbone dates back to the St. James Holy Name in the Muny A League, various teams in the Community Center, Falconer Falcons, also county league; plus Carnahan in the Junior American Legion. He even took a turn on the pitching rubber but admits he was “junk ball thrower.” He is current president of the County Grapebelt League. He served as president to the Muny Class A and is listed in an old league party folder when Walter Black was vice president: Louis Collin, secretary and Conrad Gregg treasurer. Joe took a turn at managing, handling the Junior American Legion club from 1937 – 40.
Nalbone has volunteered his umpiring services to the Jamestown Area Baseball Oldtimers since 1964 and he still recalls going to Cooperstown, site of the Baseball Hall of Fame and birthplace of the game, where he umpired the Oldtimers game with Youngstown, Ohio in 1978. He was also the third base ump at Celoron when the Jamestown Falcons of 1939 played the Pittsburgh Pirates in an exhibition. Jamestown was managed by Mickey LaLonge and the great Honus Wagner was handling the Pirates for this trip.
Nalbone’s years of toil on behalf of baseball has not gone unnoticed. He has quite a trophy chest, awards from appreciative baseball people. One is a plaque from Bowie Kuhn, the commissioner of major league baseball Also there is a plaque from Tom Gorman, chief of the National League Umpires Association and one from the Chautauqua Umpires Association presented at a 50-year party. Political figures have also recognized him with awards for long and meritorious service such as one from State Governor Hugh Carey, Congressman Stan Lundine and County Executive Joe Gerace.
The Nalbone parents are deceased. His dad worked for Ludwig Construction, the organization that erected The Hotel Jamestown and Jamestown High School. Joe, a small man, obviously in fine physical condition, was married just recently for the third time. His bride is the former Connie Palermo. Both of Joe’s previous wives are deceased and he has three children by them. Sandy is a MS patient and a red hot baseball fan. His wheel chair used to be spotted on a regular basis at the end of the left field bleachers at College Stadium. Another son, Robert, the youngest, works for TRW and his daughter is Rose Marie Conti.
Sometimes sports figures keep odd statistics on their achievements, especially in their later years. Joe says he has umpired for four generations of the Kent family of Ellington, the Marsh family of Cassadaga and Sinclairville and the Seeley family of Forestville. Then there are four three-generation families: The Nagles, Parnellas, Rissell and Seeley. How long will he keep going? He laughed and answered, “I went to high school one year at Adrian, PA where a veteran coach told me, ‘Run as fast as you can as long as you can.’ I’m still running, but not so fast.”