“If it doesn’t look good to you
Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 29, 2000
, then you’re going to stink out there. It’s one thing to call somebody safe, call somebody out, but how you look when you call them out is also a way to sell your call,” Smith said. “A lot of times everybody in the stands may think that person is out or safe. But the way you say it, they may disagree with you but then they say, Hey, OK, he’s safe’ or He’s out.’ It makes a difference, and I try to tell the guys coming along that their wives may think they’re going crazy, but it’s OK.”
Other than that, Smith shows off very little. He values professionalism and knowledge over flash and style. From having his shoes shined up to knowing the intricacies of the infield fly rule, it’s a trait he has tried to instill in younger umpires under his direction.
“Why umpiring is getting so good around here is that George, as umpiring chief, is teaching these other umpires how to be professional, how to do a good job,” Temple said. “He spends a lot of time with the rest of the umpires in the area trying to get the best out of them and show them the tricks of the trade. George is teaching, and because of him being a teacher and wanting to teach his professionalism and teach his skills, we’re starting to get a number of really good umpires around here.”
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Smith also serves as a teacher to the other people on the field the players.
“Each one of the umpires, but especially George, after they call something or before they call something, they warn the kids,” Temple said. “They always warn kids first and give them an opportunity to make an adjustment. Or, after they’ve done something, they’ve always been really good about explaining to the kids why they’ve done something or how they messed up.”
After the game is over, Smith doesn’t forget them, either. Temple, a former catcher at Porters Chapel Academy, Hinds Community College and Delta State before becoming coach at WC, said Smith has kept in touch with him through every step of his career.
The making of an umpire
Smith’s baseball career started behind the plate, as a catcher for Jackson State from 1970 to 1972. He played for a semi-pro team, the B-29 Braves, from 1977 to 1983 before finally hanging up his playing spikes.
“The only things I can say about George is good things. He’s always been one of those persons who, when he does anything, he gives it his best and he always tries to do the best he could in any kind of activity or sport,” said Vicksburg High football coach James Knox, who coached the B-29 Braves during Smith’s stint with the team.
Knox and Smith remain friends, but Knox said the two have their differences.
“The only difference we have is he’s a Jacksonian and I’m an Alcornite,” Knox said with a laugh, referring to the rival SWAC schools.
Smith’s baseball career may not have taken off, but he didn’t leave the field after his playing days were over. When he could no longer play, he turned to umpiring to stay involved with the game he loved.
He started as a softball umpire in adult recreational leagues in 1986 and began officiating high school baseball and basketball games a year later.
In 1997, he became supervisor of baseball and softball officials for Warren County, making him responsible for assigning and disciplining umpires in the county.
“George pretty much keeps everybody on track with scheduling. When you’re calling high school sports, it’s not a main job. So you have to shuffle around so many people’s schedules and he has to keep up…,” Jones said. “From the administrative side, I think he’s done a tremendous job for the last three years that I’ve known him, as far as assigning games and taking all the pressure.”
In 1993, he began his run as a SWAC umpire, which culminated in his being behind the plate for the 2000 SWAC Tournament baseball championship game. He also umpired in the SWAC softball tournament.
“A couple of dreams have come true, the first being able to be a member of a SWAC team, and then being able to call in the tournament was really special,” Smith said.
According to Jones, however, Smith’s crowning achievement came a couple of months before that, at the Vicksburg-Warren Central game on March 14.
Nearly 20 umpires from all over central Mississippi attended the game not to see a great baseball rivalry, but to see and observe Smith.
“So many of his colleagues came … basically to watch George and his … mechanics behind the plate. And I’m not just talking young guys, I’m talking guys with 10, 15, 20 years, and one guy was like 70 years old and had been calling 34 years, but he came just to watch George’s plate mechanics and how he controlled the game,” Jones said. “That’s respect from his peers when they come from Jackson, Canton, Madison just to watch him perform on a big rival game.”