Dutch Rennert, a longtime National League umpire who retired in 1992, died on Sunday at the age of 88. You might not immediately recognize his name, but you most likely recognize his distinctive strike calls.
Rennert’s strike calls weren’t just loud, there was some serious choreography involved. It was so different and unique that you’ve probably seen a video of Rennert “performing” before, even if you didn’t know the umpire behind it.
Rennert’s strike calls were an amazing blend of purpose and performance art. After a pitcher threw a strike, he’d take a step back, turn to his right, and angle himself toward the dugout. Then he’d go down on one knee, point with one hand, and yell “STRIKE ONE” so loudly that the radio and TV booths often picked up the audio. And he did it for every single strike call.
Rennert had a long career in baseball. He was brought up from the minors in 1973, and spent the next 28 years calling over 2,600 games, including six NL Championship Series, three World Series, and two All-Star games. He was from a different era of umpires — not all of them put as much flair into their everyday jobs, but after getting advice from umpire August Donatelli and Hall of Fame Al Barlick, Rennert told MLB.com in 2015 that he wanted to add some flair to his job.
“[They said] ‘You’ve got to add something to your work. You’ve got to be a little bit more colorful.’ But I think I got carried away,” Rennert joked during a 2015 television interview. “It wasn’t an act. It just came natural.”
Today, despite everyone’s insistence that umpires like to make themselves the center of attention, no one has a strike call like Rennert’s. Jim Joyce comes closest — his strike calls were audible, and you could often hear him on a broadcast going “stri-KEEEEEEEEEE.” But Joyce, who retired before the 2017 season, just did a simple point to signify the call instead of a mini dance routine.
If an umpire like C.B. Bucknor or Joe West decided to do some theatrics with their strikeout calls, it’s hard to know how it would be viewed by fans. But it would be incredible to see that even once. It would be a fitting tribute to Dutch Rennert, who turned his strikeout call into performance art.
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