By jim zbick
At the turn of the century, The New York Times referred to Tim Hurst, who earned most of his fame as a major league baseball umpire, as "one of the best known sporting men in the country."
This was lofty praise for Hurst who developed quite a coal region reputation as "a runner of considerable ability" while growing up in Ashland. After leaving Schuylkill County early in his career, Hurst spent most of his time in New York City, and later befriended some of the top actors and athletes of the early 1900s.
One Pittsburgh writer described Hurst, the major-league umpire, as a "terror" and "a short-set moon-faced young fellow who was sort of a bantam physically." The "terror" reference evolved from the famous outbursts he had with players and managers who questioned his calls during baseball games.
When Hurst broke into the game, he already had a reputation as a "player tamer."
One writer explained that ball players of the era "didn't surrender to discipline so easily" and the umpires were known to "quake" under the incessant nagging and protest of their rulings.
Hurst, however, was from a different mold.
His launch into a big-league umpiring career was quite by accident. Hurst was a spectator at a heated minor-league game when the regular umpire, who was "under fire" from spectators, suddenly quit and left the field. Hurst stepped in to take his place and in the final inning made a critical call at home plate, calling the runner out in what would have been the tying run.
Sensing trouble, Hurst took charge. He pulled out a pistol and according to a New York Times reporter, "not a move was made toward him."
Although he never again brandished a weapon on the field during his long major league career, Hurst's reputation as a no-nonsense umpire was firmly established. One writer said he was so emphatic with his calls that "fans turned out to see the fun that Timothy created in "running the roost" (managing the game as umpire). The writer assessed his combative nature.
"Hurst believed that a reply in kind was demanded and he was the young man to sling the stuff," he said. "He was such a master of sarcasm that he would have taken that sweet term and made it sound mean to an assailant. Hurst dodged many a pop bottle. He figured in scores of stirring escapades."
The writer said it was not unusual for Hurst to "strike arguing players on their heads with his mask or his fists." In 1897, an irate fan tossed a beer stein at Hurst.
The umpire threw it back, but hit the wrong fan. He was fined $100 and dismissed by the National League.
Hurst switched hats for the 1898 season, becoming the on-field manager for the St. Louis Browns. As manager, he learned what it was like to be on the other end of on-field arguments and, true to his competitive spirit, he led the league in umpire-baiting.
After the Browns suffered through a dreadful 39-111 record, however, Hurst switched back to his more familiar role as umpire.
After five stormy years in the National League, Hurst joined the American League, but there his fiery temperament ran just as hot in that circuit. In one game, after a raucous argument with New York manager Clark Griffith, he followed Griffith to the dugout and knocked him cold.
Baseball fans of today may remember an incident a few years back when Roberto Alomar spit on an American League umpire. Hurst was also involved in his own on-field spitting incident a century earlier while umpiring.
After a heated exchange with Eddie Collins, the future Hall of Fame second baseman for the Chicago White Sox, Hurst spit in Collins' eye. This type of unprofessional conduct did not sit well with league officials who were aware of Hurst's reputation for instigating onfield mayhem.
Roger Bresnahan, another star player of the dead-ball era, defended Hurst, stating that umpires of that era weren't protected so "they had to take care of themselves." He also felt the loss of Hurst hurt the sport because of the umpire's entertainment value.
"His school may have been rough in type, but their ways and means enlivened diamond combats and not a few veterans insist that the game suffered when the fire-eaters (tough umpires) were driven to the woods," Bresnahan said.
After his exit from baseball, Hurst moved onto an occupation which seemed well-suited to his strong personality – boxing referee. He worked a number of important bouts in New York and also refereed most of the big wrestling matches in the city.
Away from the bright lights of sports, Hurst was never considered to be a free spender, a product no doubt of his young and lean years while growing up in Ashland. One writer called him "an economical dresser."
In later years, he also made some poor business decisions, such as investing in and managing a motorcycle track in Pittsburgh. But that feisty coal-cracker nature remained with him until the end of his life.
A writer stated that Hurst paid more attention to fence jumpers than he did to important details. One night he caught a gate-crasher and whacked him with a board.
Timothy Carroll Hurst died at the age of 49 on June 4, 1915, in Pottsville, the result of ptomaine poisoning.
He is interred at the Calvary Cemetery in Woodside, Queens, New York.