Jeff Hertz gets to his job as an attorney with the Federal Communications Commission in the District by 7 a.m. most days. On game nights, he leaves work in time to head over to his part-time job, a position where he is often second-guessed, yelled at, booed, cursed and threatened. Sometimes by as many as 14,000 people.
Hertz's day job earns him a comfortable living. His part-time job, the one that comes with all those headaches, is that of official scorer for the Bowie Baysox, the Class AA affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles. It pays him $21 a night--and he has no plans to give it up.
"It keeps me sane," said Hertz, 54. "It's my safety valve. Plus, I love the game."
For Hertz, who lives in Bowie with his wife, Ilene, the job at the FCC sometimes can be a pressure-cooker. He works in the Common Carrier Enforcement Division, which ensures that telephone and cellular carriers provide service as dictated by the law. Although he doesn't appear in court, the boom in wireless communications has kept him very busy.
But when he comes to the ballpark, he doesn't have to speak to other lawyers, doesn't have to worry about plea arrangements or judges' decisions. He has to watch the game, talk to his colleagues in the press box and score what's happening on the field in front of him. At Prince George's Stadium, he's the judge. His decisions are final.
Hertz's approach to the job seems lawyer-like. He wants the facts, and he wants to get his decision right. But Hertz, who has been on the job since 1995, also knows he is not perfect.
"I'm only right 50 percent of the time," Hertz said with a laugh. "I try and be consistent, just like you want the umpires to be. If you're wrong, you're wrong, but you try to call it the same way for both teams so that you can't be accused of favoritism."
Passion With a Purpose
A typical clear summer night for Hertz usually finds him at the ballpark two hours before the first pitch in his traditional spot next to the partition that separates the first row of the press box from the radio booth. He's often munching on a box of popcorn.
Hertz sets up his computer program that lets him keep the official box score and gets everything in place to earn the $21 he's paid by the Eastern League. He'll say with a smile that he hasn't received a raise in five years--and it's easy to see that he's not here for the money.
"I can schmooze here, be with friends, relax and let off steam," Hertz said. "Hey, I'm a sports junkie. I'm here for the love of the game."
Part of the reason for his passion for sports, Hertz admits, is that he never was able to play sports. At age 6 he was stricken with polio.
"I knew that I couldn't play, but I still had the love for sports, so I did anything I could that would keep me involved," said Hertz, who sits in a wheelchair while scoring for the Baysox and uses it, or crutches, to get around. "I always looked on the side that there was somebody that was worse off than I was."
Hertz lived across the street from a ballfield while growing up in Allentown, Pa. It was there that he developed his attachment to Eastern League baseball.
"I grew up in an Eastern League town when it was Class A. I often went to see Allentown. The stadium was only five minutes by car from my house, so I'd go as often as I could," Hertz said. "I grew up in the Eastern League. Reading was an Indians farm club at one point, and one year I saw players like Rocky Colavito and Roger Maris."
He went to city recreation and church league softball games in that nearby ballpark and handled a variety of baseball jobs while growing up, serving as batboy, scorekeeper or in other positions for teams that played there. When he got to high school, Hertz became involved with a local radio station that broadcast sporting events. He often handled statistics and later became a radio announcer while at the University of Pennsylvania in the mid-1960s, broadcasting baseball, football, basketball and track and field mostly on the school's station.
Hertz also had a stint as the emergency scoreboard operator and backup public-address announcer at Philadelphia's famous Palestra. After attending the Dickinson School of Law in Carlisle, Pa., and being recruited by the FCC in 1969 to work as a lawyer, Hertz's sports career was put on hold until the Baysox arrived.
Bowie made its Eastern League debut in 1993, playing its home games at Baltimore's old Memorial Stadium that first season. Team officials came to Bowie to introduce the Baysox to their future fan base that year and that's where Hertz met Dave Collins, the Baysox's director of broadcasting and media relations. Hertz expressed an interest to Collins about getting back into sports, specifically asking if he could work for the Baysox.
Hertz was contacted by Kenny Peyton, then the team's official scorer, who asked if he'd like to be his backup and even do some games for the Frederick Keys, the Orioles' Class A affiliate. Hertz made the long round trip to score about 15 Frederick games and gain experience. The day before the 1995 season began, Peyton surprised Hertz by saying he had to step aside because of other team responsibilities. The job was Hertz's if he wanted it.
Hertz has been there ever since, through the easy calls and the tough ones. In five years, he has missed only seven games.
On questionable calls Hertz will frown, think for a few seconds, then make the call. Other times, there will be no hesitation and his decision will be announced immediately.
His feeling: the quicker, the better.
"When you're sitting in that position, you don't have the benefit of replay and you can never be sure yourself that you've seen everything," Collins said. "He wants to be fair, and he wants to be right."
Sometimes, being fair and right makes for tough decisions. His toughest came in 1996, when Bowie's Aaron Lane had a no-hitter with two outs in the last inning. The next batter hit a ground ball that Baysox third baseman Willie Otanez bobbled and threw wide to first. Hertz thought the runner would have been safe even if the throw was good and ruled it a hit. And that's when the fun began.
"The place went berserk," Hertz said. "They almost had to close the windows in the press box."
Troubled by the uproar and concerned that he may have been incorrect, Hertz quickly put in a call to the umpires when the game ended. One of the umpires said the runner would have been out if the throw was good. Hertz changed the call from hit to error, giving Lane the no-hitter and pleasing the crowd.
When Hertz made one close call last season (a judgment call, as many are--he scored an error on a tough play for a Bowie infielder), it led to a fan screaming at him from about five feet away in the seats below the press box. Hertz listened, nodded and then proceeded to ask several in the press box what they thought. Most agreed with the fan's assessment, so Hertz then changed the call.
"It's something that's a big part of the game because there's careers on the line, so you have to make these calls very objectively and you've got to take opinions of managers and players and you have to ask people, and Jeff does a good job with that," Bowie Manager Joe Ferguson said. "He tries to make the best decision because really what you're trying to do is get it right, and I think Jeff does a good job at that. He's reasonable."
Tried and True
The players are not allowed to contact Hertz directly if they disagree with his calls. If they have a problem, they have to go through Ferguson. Hertz said he only hears from the manager a handful of times per season. The players certainly don't agree with all of his calls, but most appreciate what his job entails.
"He does a pretty good job," said Bowie center fielder Eugene Kingsale, who has played with the team for parts of the last three seasons. "It's a job and you've got to come in every day and do the best job that you can."
Hertz tries to do just that. He doesn't want sympathy because of his wheelchair, and this job can be tiring for him, often keeping Hertz at the ballpark until 11 p.m. Eight hours later, he is back at his office in the District.
But he'll still have a smile on his face.
"It's an outlet for him," Ilene Hertz said. "He gets a lot of enjoyment and fulfillment from this job. It's a total escape and change from his daytime 9-to-5 job that pays the mortgage."
CAPTION: Jeff Hertz spends his days monitoring telephone and cellular carrier service, but at night he turns his attention to on-field movements of Bowie Baysox.