By Jim Henneman
An umpire wears the "EWT" wrist band at the Orioles' home opener, April 4, 2011.
For more than a half-century, first at Memorial Stadium and later at Camden Yards, Tyler served as the umpires' clubhouse attendant. But he was so much more than that. Through the years he became close friends with three generations of umpires -- so much so that they literally considered him one of their own.
It was as the keeper of the game bag of baseballs that Ernie first became something of an icon to generations of Orioles fans. In his very visible seat off to the side of the screened backstop, he was as accessible and friendly with those who sat in the vicinity as he was with those in the neighborhood around Memorial Stadium, where the Tylers raised their 11 children.
To the umpires, Ernie was so much more than the guy who brought out a new batch of baseballs (which he learned to rub up himself, an art in its own right). He was their "go to" guy, not to be confused with their "gofer," though he was probably that more than a few times as well. He was a friend, a confidant of the highest order. He told stories; they told stories -- and what was spoken in the confines of that room stayed there.
He probably wouldn't be human if he didn't have some favorites, but in all the years I visited the umpires' room -- and I did so often with their blessing and occasionally Ernie's intercession -- I always got the impression that those who made up the crew in town at the time were his favorites. They all trusted Ernie equally and implicitly.
So, when Ernie passed away a couple of months ago, it was almost a foregone conclusion that the umpires who so admired him would want to do something in his memory, without infringing on whatever the Orioles might plan to do. The club is planning on honoring Tyler as part of Opening Day festivities, details of which will probably be announced during the weekend.
Meanwhile, the umpires, in conjunction with Major League Baseball and the Orioles, have come up with a clever idea. Every umpire will wear wrist bands inscribed with the initials "EWT" for all games played at Camden Yards, starting with the April 4 home opener.
"We just got approval to wear the wristbands at all games at Camden Yards," said Mike DiMuro, whose father Lou preceded him as a major league umpire -- and a friend of Tyler's. "We are extremely happy that we will be able to pay tribute to Ernie in such a unique and personal way. He was a special guy -- and it's not going to be the same for any of us going to Baltimore without seeing him. We will miss him, and we're proud that we can honor him in this way. We're working on getting the wristbands in time for Opening Day, or at least very shortly after."
MLB does have some restrictions on how long a patch can worn in an umpire's honor -- but DiMuro indicated his group is hoping it can have that restriction waived and wear the bands the entire season at Camden Yards. It's the umpires' way of letting everyone know "EWT" was, indeed, one of them.
Jim Henneman can be reached at JimH@pressboxonline.com
Posted March 30, 2011