Lengthy career as MLB ump, active community life to credit of Ford

By Marvin Birchfield
STAR STAFF
mbirchfield@starhq.com

   A chance to be a part of a major sporting event is a life-time dream for most people, but for Dale Ford it became a way of life, as he spent nearly three decades in Major League Baseball making the calls.
   In 1974, Dale got the break he needed after umpiring a baseball game in Charlotte, N.C., where he was forced to make the calls behind the plate.
   "I worked the plate in a double-header and I had everything happen," said Ford. "Obstruction, interference, and everything that could have happened did, and fortunately I got it right.
   "The next day the manager came up to me and said his owner was watching in the stan
ds, and said I did a heck of a job, and he was going to have that kid in the big leagues someday. I thought he was just blowing smoke, and looking for a call later."
   The call did come, but it was from Major League Baseball who wanted Ford to become one of its umpires out on the field.
   "It turned out that guy was telling the truth, and if I would of had a bad game that day, then I'd probably never have gone to the big leagues," said Ford. "I was at the right place at the right time."
   Dale finally called it quits in 2001, but he still remains active at the high school, college and minor League levels whenever needed.
   A highlight of Ford's career was getting the opportunity to work playoff and All-Star games, and even a World Series.
   "For an old country boy with no particular brains and definitely not good looking, I felt like that was OK," said Ford.
   Ford grew up in the Sulphur Springs community, and then headed off to ETSU, where he spent the next two years of his life. He played both high school and college ball, but he knew he probably wasn't good enough to make it in the majors, so he decided to attend umpiring school.
   "I wanted to stay close to the game, so I went to umpiring school in St. Petersburg, Fla., and four and a half years later I was in the big leagues," said Ford. "I was definitely lucky, because anyone who tells you that they got to the big leagues without a lot of luck at any capacity, whether it is coach, manager, umpire or trainer, is lying."
   The biggest game of Ford's career came in 1986, when he got the chance to call a World Series championship between the Boston Red Sox and New York Mets.
   It was Game 6, which became one of baseball's greatest moments ever, when Bill Buckner misplayed the easy routine out, which would have sealed the series for Boston and put an end to the famous Bambino curse.
   "My best moment all boils down to one play in the 1986 World Series, and I was working behind the plate when Bill Buckner let the ball get through his legs," said Ford. "It ended up beating the Red Sox out of the Series that year, and needless to say that was the highlight of anybody's career.
   "I read in the Sporting News where that was claimed to be one of the top three games in World Series history."
   It's definitely not easy to become a referee or umpire, because whenever things don't go one teams way, the first and most often used excuse is "it was the referee who cost us the game."
   "To be a referee, the first thing you have to do is to have decent comebacks," said Ford. "For example, Billy Martin came out one time to argue and said 'you kicked that play.' I said, 'Billy what do you want me to do, get them all right?'
   "He looked at me like someone had slapped him, and then he said 'you're crazy' and then turned and left. You have to stand your ground with those kind of people, because if you give an inch, then they'll take it a mile."
   Ford says when you're starting in the Major Leagues, they want you to be somewhat of a hot-head, because they can always calm you down.
   "If your passive then it's hard to get a fire built up in under somebody, but I never had a problem with that because I ejected 22 my first year in the big leagues," said Ford.
   When asked who was the best pitcher that Ford ever saw, he says Catfish Hunter, and the best all-around player he thought was Paul Molitor.
   "People think I'm crazy, but the best baseball player I ever saw was from right here in Telford, John Hensley," said Ford. "If he would of had any desire to play in the big leagues, then he would have played for at least 20 years. He's still a good athlete, and he and Rod Carew were the only two people who could get fooled on a pitch and still hit it."
   Apart from baseball, Ford spent 25 years on different arenas officiating college basketball games.
   "I worked college basketball for 25 years, and it was almost everyday I spent officiating somewhere.
   Since Ford retired from the Major Leagues, he has remained active in trying to give something back to his community.
   "Now that I've retired, I cook every Tuesday at my church for the senior citizens, and people from the congregation come in and help with that," said Ford. "It's a good ministry."
   Dale also displays his singing talent, where he travels with his family to sing all across the Southeast.
   "I also sing with the Ford family in the gospel quartet, and we have a TV show in Mississippi coming up in a month or two, so we're looking forward to that," said Ford.
   Running for a seat in the State Legislation last year, Ford was narrowly defeated, but this was due to a late entry and not being prepared for what was expected.
   "I didn't realize that you needed to be out soliciting votes a year in advance, and I worked hard when I worked, but just started too late," said Ford. "I really don't have a desire in pursuing it again. The way the political system is in this country, it's hard to get anything done."
   With such a busy and demanding schedule, Ford still finds time to do public speaking engagements, holding umpiring clinics, and whenever possible making the rounds across the golf course.
   Dale remains active as far as calling games at the elementaries, high schools and even colleges when needed, for his passion and love for kids still runs deep.
   "I'll go to the classrooms and speak sometimes, and if someone calls me up and says they need somebody to officiate a game, whether it's fifth graders or whoever, I'll go," said Ford. "I'll do the same job there as I did in the big leagues, because I think kids deserve the best they can get.
   "Even at the middle school level, it might be the last game they get to play in front of a crowd. People don't always have the same philosophy that I do, but those kids work hard for that particular day."