Reynolds J. Burt credits his father with inventing umpire hand signals

Letter written by Brigadier General R. J. Burt, U.S. Army (Retired) to the assembly, Association of Graduates, U.S. Military Academy, West Point, N. Y.

March 4, 1966

Please Note: This letter has been reproduced verbatim from the original. Any incorrect or unusual spelling, phrases, punctuation or meaning are not transcription errors.



Base Ball (Army)

Quite some time following the so-called settlements for Peace with the Mid-West Indians, in which campaigns he engaged full-part, my father, Andrew Sheridan Burt, U.S. Army – Brevetted Major for Gallantry in Battle (Civil War) — ultimately appointed Brigadier General, in course of years, became known throughout the Army’s Mid-West as, in present day parlance, Mr. Army Base Ball Man. Since, wherever stationed in command, he developed baseball teams, this in his belief, heightened esprite and entertain troops. His own team, here and there, of which he was proud, be it amateurishly good or bad, not only played other army teams, but, when practical, went barn-storming as on a Fourth of July, to neighboring small towns.

As I had played for three years on the U.S. Military Academy teen, I was the Old Gentleman’s special advisor and center-fielder.

Therefore, Mr. Army Base Ball Man, in 1898 when the Spanish American War broke, was the first regiment to be rendezvoused at Chicamauga Park, Georgia. Several other regiments followed, and being Americans, immediately started ball games against each other. I did a lot of umpiring. Had sense enough to watch older fellows at that game, to pick up pointers; one such in particular, was important. Namely at calling a “strike”. Action was to pick up a pebble in the right hand, and same at same, for a “ball” in the left. Thus, had an accurate marker to show in case of heated riots, which were many.

One Sunday afternoon, about the only free ball time. Two teams in fierce rivalry, clashed. I the Umpire, while partial crowds on each side of the diamond (standing room only) even left little maneuver space for the catchers, and raised a terrific din. It became necessary, as Umpire, to raise an arm high in the air, right for strike, left for ball. Naturally, the pebbles were bound to slide out of hand. I was an alert young “Shave-Tail” then and substituted upright fingers for pebbles. This pleased Mr. Army Base Ball Man greatly, since, of course, he, an Officer of rank, caould not push into the crowds.

The story flows on to find the “Old Gentleman”, a Brigadier General, and upon retiring, moving to Washington, D. C. for civilian life, such as it might be.

Immediately, if not sooner, on arrival, marched off to overlook Mr. Griffith’s ball team. Whether or not they were nominated Senators at the time, I do not remember. A disturbing factor at once arose. On the Professional grandstand, he often could not hear the Umpires’ call of strikes and balls; although some of them sounded off to High Heaven. On the “Ball”, as usual, Mr. Army Base Ball Man sent off a polite letter to President Ban Johnson of the American League, setting forth his disturbing factor, and out-lining his routine of showing strikes and balls, with right and left hands as signals in the air, requesting that the routine be adopted. Mr. Johnson replied most cordially, stated in effect, that the idea was good. That he had directed his Umpires to put it into effect with one modification. Namely, that the hand signal for strikes, was sufficient, since if the fans saw no signal, they knew that call was a ball. This was fine for the Old Gentleman, especially as enclosed, was an annual complimentary pass to Andrew S. Burt, for all American league games. The old gentleman was excited over this to no small end! Similar passes arrived each year, as long as he lived. And Andy Burt, Brigdier General, U.S.A. marched on towards his last ball game, proud in the knowledge that he had given the Base Ball World, everlasting pleasure as long as the game might be played. A spiritual monument to stand among his many other Military, Historical, Achievements.


To the Assembly Staff:

Yours neath clouds or sunshine,

R.J. Burt, Brigadier General, U.S.A.


P.S. Even in my time, efforts were made to show by electric transmission, strikes and ball signs on far field score boards. Same were in general, unsuccessful, since they were forced to be a bit slower than the umpire’s arm; at times distracted sight from a critical play in the diamond, but above all, occasionally struck themselves out. R.J.B.

This entry was posted in General Andrew Burt, Spectator Demand, Umpire's begin to use signs. Bookmark the permalink.

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