After 24 seasons that saw him rise to crew chief and work dozens of playoff games, Marlborough native Jim Reynolds retired as a major league umpire.
He was one of 10 veteran umpires who stepped away after the season, some motivated by a change in their pension plan that made it financially feasible.
“I grew up a baseball guy,” Reynolds said. “I was extremely lucky to have the job I did. Fenway Park was my office. I did my first game there in 1999. What a thrill that was.”
None of it was something Reynolds planned. His family moved to the Hartford area when he was young and Reynolds enrolled at UConn in 1988 as a communications journalism major. Then came a fire drill that changed the course of his life.
Reynolds walked outside when the alarm sounded and came across a fellow student he had played football and baseball against in high school.
That was Dan Iassogna. They quickly formed a friendship that centered around sports, specifically baseball. Iassogna encouraged Reynolds to take a one-credit course on umpiring taught by Huskies baseball coach Andy Baylock.
“It was basically Danny saying, ‘Did you ever think about umpiring?’ ” Reynolds said.
That led to Reynolds working junior varsity games in the spring and the varsity games during the fall season with Iassogna.
Pete Walker, now pitching coach of the Blue Jays, was one of UConn’s pitchers at the time and he made sure his teammates didn’t give the young umpires a hard time.
Iassogna saw umpiring as a vocation, something Reynolds wasn’t sold on. He wanted a career in sports journalism and had prepared for that by writing stories and columns for The Daily Campus and interning at the CBS affiliate in Hartford.
The station offered him a job when he graduated, but Reynolds decided he’d give umpiring school a shot.
“I told them, ‘I’ll be back here in six months,’ ” Reynolds said. “I never expected it would work out. But Dan and I went and we made it.”
Reynolds worked Single A games in 1992 and made his way up the ladder much in the same way players do — only there are far fewer opportunities to reach the majors.
After making his debut in ′99 with his family watching from the seats at Fenway, Reynolds worked the 2004 All-Star Game and did his first playoff series in 2005. He was part of the crew in the 2018 World Series.
Iassogna also debuted in 1999 and is now a crew chief.
Reynolds said games at Fenway were always a favorite because it kindled memories of attending games there with his father.
“That first time you walk on that field to work, it really hits you,” he said. “Sometimes it’s funny. In 2018, I was working left field in Game 2 [of the World Series] and a fan is letting me have it.
“Then after a few innings somebody must have told him where I was from. Then he said, ‘Hey, this guy is one of us!’ I had a good laugh at that.”
Reynolds was one of the best umpires in the game. Last July 14, the Umpire Scorecards website determined he called 130 of 131 pitches correctly during a Tigers-Guardians game based on tracking software.
“It really has been a privileged profession,” Reynolds said. “I’m extremely proud of it. I met my wife through baseball and we have a 13-year-old son. I owe a lot to baseball.”
But there are costs. Reynolds has had at least 10 concussions over the years because of foul tips — seven in the last six years alone.
Dr. Micky Collins, the Pittsburgh-based specialist who helped former Red Sox catcher David Ross recover from a debilitating concussion in 2013, has treated Reynolds.
“MLB has been great with getting us the best care,” Reynolds said. “I’m grateful for that. It’s dangerous when you get hit that often. That was part of my thinking, too.
“I played football [in high school] and then I umpired 24 years and eight years in the minors. There was a serious discussion about the health of my head.”
Reynolds initially planned to work another year, but getting the chance to spend more time with his family ultimately meant more.
“I worked with Durwood Merrill (who umpired 23 seasons in the majors). He retired in 1999 and I was at his funeral three years later,” Reynolds said.
“I thought long and hard about it and my wife [Deanna] and I decided now was the right time. I want to help raise my son and see his soccer games. I was extremely lucky to have the job that I had, but now it’s time for something else.”
Reynolds has been heavily involved with Umps Care, a charity focused on helping children in need. He serves as vice president and will remain part of the organization in retirement.
He and Iassogna also are working with Connecticut officials on strengthening laws to protect umpires, referees, and officials on the amateur level from harassment.
“I’ll see what opportunities are out there for me,” Reynolds said. “Maybe something will interest me. But I’ve had 31 years without a summer, so I’m looking forward to that.”
The coming seasons will be a challenge for umpires. Baseball will use a pitch timer for the first time in 2023 and it will be on the umpires to enforce it. Base umpires will be charged in making sure the new shift rules are followed.
It’s not certain when — or if — MLB will use an automated system to call balls and strikes. Commissioner Rob Manfred has suggested the system would present the opportunity for players to challenge a certain number of calls per game.
Six other crew chiefs — Ted Barrett, Greg Gibson, Tom Hallion, Sam Holbrook, Jerry Meals, and Bill Welke — are retiring along with Marty Foster, Paul Nauert, and Tim Timmons.
MLB will promote their replacements from the minor leagues.
Trade deadline error has gotten worse
For an executive who has preached using all available methods to improve the talent base of the organization, the mistakes Chaim Bloom made at the trade deadline last season remain hard to fathom.
By holding on to J.D. Martinez, the Red Sox remained over the first limit of the luxury tax. As a result, they will receive draft picks 133 and 134 as compensation for Xander Bogaerts and Nate Eovaldi leaving as free agents.
Had the Sox ducked under the cap, it would have been Nos. 70 and 71.
In the history of the draft, eight players with a career bWAR of at least 10.0 were taken at 70 or 71. Only four such players were taken at 133 or 134.
Floyd Bannister, Andrelton Simmons, A.J. Pierzynski, and Danny Tartabull were among the players at 70 or 71. Coincidentally enough, the best player taken at 134 was righthander Corey Kluber, who agreed to a one-year deal with the Red Sox this past week.
It’s certainly possible the Sox could find major league talent with those bonus picks. But they could have had five of the first 83 picks, which opens more opportunities to be creative.
Bloom’s deadline strategy of trading Christian Vázquez and Jake Diekman while obtaining Eric Hosmer, Reese McGuire, and Tommy Pham led to a 25-32 finish.
It would have been far better for the long-term future of the team to have traded Martinez, Rich Hill, and a few other veterans and started preparations for 2023. At the time, the Sox had a 29 percent chance of making the playoffs, per Fangraphs.com.
It only got worse from there.
A few other observations on the Red Sox:
▪ With Bogaerts, Eovaldi, Martinez, and Vázquez now with other teams, the Red Sox have lost 28 seasons and 2,695 games of experience with the franchise. Throw in 103 postseason games on top of that.
Rafael Devers is the only position player with more than three years of experience with the team. The longest-tenured player in the organization is Matt Barnes, who debuted in 2014. Then comes Chris Sale, who was obtained before the 2017 season but has been a ghost much of the last three seasons because of injuries. With the consent of the team, Sale spent nearly all of his time on the injured list in Fort Myers, Fla., so he could live at home in nearby Naples.
There will be a stark leadership void when the Sox gather for spring training. In a market like Boston or New York, that can make the difference. That aspect of the team is something manager Alex Cora will have to mold over time.
It won’t help that a number of key players have committed to the World Baseball Classic and will be out of camp. That includes Devers, Kiké Hernández, Trevor Story, and Alex Verdugo.
▪ It’s strange that Michael Wacha is still a free agent after posting a 11-2 record and 3.32 ERA over 23 starts last season.
But he was 10-16 with a 5.11 ERA the previous three seasons and the Sox and other teams are treating his ‘22 season as an outlier. Opposing hitters had a .260 batting average on balls in play, well below the league average of .290.
Projections aside, Wacha could provide the innings the Sox figure to need given all the uncertainties in their rotation.
▪ Kenley Jansen has averaged 38 saves in his last four full seasons. If he does that again, Jansen would be fifth place all time with 429.
Craig Kimbrel has three more career saves than Jansen. He signed with the Phillies, who don’t have an established closer.
▪ Hirokazu Sawamura, who had a 3.39 ERA in 104 relief appearances for the Sox the last two seasons, is looking for another opportunity in the majors instead of returning to Japan.
The righthander, who turns 35 in April, could merit a minor league deal.
Dodgers face Bauer deadline
The Dodgers have until Friday to add Trevor Bauer to their 40-man roster or release the righthander.
On Dec. 22, an arbitrator reduced Bauer’s 324-game suspension for domestic violence to 192 games and made him eligible for the coming season.
Bauer is entering the final year of a three-year, $102 million contract with the Dodgers. Los Angeles saved $37.5 million with the suspension — which will help allow it to get below the first luxury-tax threshold — but is responsible for $22.5 million this season.
That the Dodgers have not yet released Bauer suggests they are considering retaining him and are talking over the situation with their coaches and players.
If Bauer is released, another team could pick him up for the MLB minimum of $720,000. Bauer has not appeared in a game since June 28, 2021, but has maintained a throwing program.
Whether it’s the Dodgers or another team, adding Bauer to the roster would trigger immediate controversy given the nature of his suspension.
“A public relations nightmare,” one executive said. “But he only needs one team willing to put up with it.”
Bauer, at least, seems certain he will play. He is taking applications for a videographer to provide content for his website and social media channels during the season.
Roenis Elías appeared in four games for the Red Sox from 2016-17. The lefthander from Cuba has since played for the Mariners, Nationals, the Mariners again, and earlier this month signed a minor league deal with the Cubs. At 34, he may be on to something. Elias is 4-0 with a 0.92 ERA in seven starts for Aguilas in the Dominican League and has a streak of 37⅔ innings without an earned run. His teammates have included the now-37-year-old Melky Cabrera and Yoenis Céspedes, who is looking for another chance after two years out of the game . . . The Braves made a potentially valuable under-the-radar move when they traded two prospects to the Yankees for lefthander Lucas Luetge, who had been designated for assignment. Luetge had a 2.71 ERA the last two seasons for the Yankees and throws a baffling curveball. Luetge also went more than an inning in 16 of his 50 appearances last season . . . The Orioles turned 151 double plays last season, second in the American League. Their infield defense, particularly on the left side with shortstop Jorge Mateo and third baseman Ramón Urías, played a significant role in Baltimore winning 83 games. But the Orioles are planning to use 21-year-old Gunnar Henderson at third and signed Adam Frazier to play second. Urías, who won a Gold Glove this year, is projected as a utility player . . . Through Friday, lefthander Matt Moore was still on the free agent market. He had a 1.95 ERA in 63 appearances for Texas last season. Moore played for $2.5 million last season and is trying to land a better deal. At 33, that’s not unreasonable and the Red Sox are among the teams in need of another lefthander in the bullpen. Two notable former Yankees — Aroldis Chapman and Gary Sanchez — also are looking for spots. Chapman did not help his cause by essentially quitting on the Yankees at the end of last season after being left off the playoff roster for the Division Series. Sanchez has hit .195 with a .681 OPS the last three seasons . . . In the antithesis of how the Red Sox are approaching their roster, the Braves have outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr., second baseman Ozzie Albies, outfielder Michael Harris, catcher Sean Murphy, first baseman Matt Olson, third baseman Austin Riley, and righthander Spencer Strider under contract through at least 2027 . . . Happy birthday to Nick Hagadone, who is 37. The lefthander was a first-round pick of the Red Sox in 2007 out of the University of Washington, then was traded to Cleveland at the 2009 deadline for Victor Martinez. The Sox included righthanders Justin Masterson and Bryan Price in the deal. Hagadone made 143 relief appearances for Cleveland from 2011-15. Hagadone left pro ball after the 2017 season and has since dabbled in investing, owning a coffee company, and pitching instruction . . . Only the Red Sox would be presumptuous enough to name a poet laureate. But Dick Flavin, who died Wednesday at the age of 86, wore the mantle comfortably. His was a rich New England life, growing up in Quincy and becoming, among other things, a speechwriter and spokesman for political giants such as Ted Kennedy and Kevin White, a television journalist, and a satirist known for his commentaries on Channel 4 in the 1970s and ‘80s. Along the way he wrote a play about Tip O’Neill, taught at Harvard, and lent his time and efforts to many charities. I suspect his favorite endeavor was being a public address announcer at Fenway. Running across Dick at the ballpark always made the day better, especially when he would share a story about Ted Williams or Dom DiMaggio. Rare is a person who always leaves you smiling, but he was one. Condolences to his friends and family.
Peter Abraham can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.