Hustle, thick skin and a willingness to work just about any game have helped Babe Glumack earn a reputation as a fair and reliable official.
Animated, too, but more on that later.
The Iron Ranger knows, though, sometimes the best trait a person can possess is luck. So it was in 1998 when Glumack was umpiring a Little League regional tournament in Indianapolis. He was all set to call the championship, unless, of course, the Minnesota entrant was involved. Fortunately for Glumack — if not the Minnesota Little Leaguers — they lost in the semifinals.
"I got chosen to work a game on ESPN, one of those games where everything went well, which sometimes it doesn’t,” Glumack remembered. “Two years later, I got the Little League World Series in Williamsport (Pa.).”
The 2000 LLWS, one of America’s favorite amateur sporting events, is a highlight in an officiating career that began in 1969, and one that has equipped Glumack with a never-ending supply of stories.
There was the time he met and posed for a photo with Kevin Costner, the “borderline low pitch” he called for a third strike to trigger Kirby Puckett during a Twins’ exhibition against the Minnesota Gophers, the chance to work an American Legion World Series in Fargo, N.D., when fellow Hibbing native Roger Maris was the guest speaker.
When you have a gift for gab like Glumack, not to mention an easy demeanor that invites conversation, you’re bound to accumulate stories over 50 years of heatedly making calls on baseball and softball diamonds, basketball courts and football fields.
Glumack says his flair comes from the Wendelstedt Umpire School in Daytona Beach, Fla., which he attended shortly after graduating from Hibbing High School in 1968. It’s not merely showing off, he insists. Instead, it’s a way to sell calls. If Glumack is yelling, shuffling his feet and flailing his limbs over a strike-three call, heck, he must really believe it’s the right one.
When you’re watching a game officiated by Glumack, you’re certain to get more entertainment bang for your buck. Even the players enjoy the theatrics.
“The kids wait for close plays because they love it,” Grand Rapids baseball coach Bill Kinnunen said. “That’s when he’ll go nuts on a call, run three or four steps and then ring the guy up.”
Gary Southgate, another 1968 Hibbing grad, partnered with Glumack for 45 years. The two had their own good-cop, bad-cop routine.
“I was the straight and narrow guy and he was the flamboyant one,” Southgate said. “He’s throwing his arms and legs all over the place.”
It’s no act. That’s just Glumack’s personality. He’s an excitable guy who loves sports.
“Babe’s always been like that,” Southgate said. “It’s part of his repertoire. That’s who he is.”
That authenticity no doubt helps Glumack get away with a little bit of showmanship. As does his professionalism.
“A great communicator,” Kinnunen said. “Gets along with the kids all the time, not just the coaches. And he gets along with the fans, too.”
It can’t hurt that, after a half-century of working games across the region, Glumack knows just about every person by name — and vice versa — when he walks into a gym or ballpark.
Glumack was behind the plate for last week’s Section 7AA baseball final between Duluth Marshall and Esko at Proctor. The Hilltoppers led almost from start to finish and won comfortably. Yet he maintained his intensity from the first pitch to the last, his delayed strike calls, which are accompanied by Glumack shooting a finger toward first base, in fine form.
From 1979-93, Glumack was a Big Ten baseball ump. That’s how he got on Puckett’s bad side, briefly. The year after he rang up Puckett on an iffy pitch, the Twins’ late Hall of Fame center fielder approached him before another exhibition vs. the Gophers and quipped: “Hey, I still remember that pitch. It was low.”
What’s kept him going for 50 years? That’s easy — it’s the people, the relationships. They overshadow the occasional belly-aching fan. Regardless, Glumack admits thick skin is a prerequisite. Other keys include working hard, being on top of the action and taking control right away.
“Set the tone early in the game,” Glumack said. “If you do that and have a good reputation ... you can get by with stuff, like missed calls. Everybody misses calls. Geez, I’ve been working 50, 51 years and, heck, I miss calls.”
Glumack noted another helpful ingredient: a supportive family. His wife of 33 years, Georgean, who died May 25 from lung cancer, was understanding and encouraging of her husband’s jam-packed sports schedule.
Without her support? No way.
Glumack is “getting down to the end.” He says he’ll go through one more basketball season, albeit with a scaled-back slate, down from about 80 games to 35. He’ll continue to call baseball and softball.
When Glumack gets out for good, it’ll be the Northland’s loss. Games around the region will be a little less colorful.
“He’s an outstanding umpire first of all, but he’s a better person than he is an umpire,” Kinnunen said.