APPLETON, Wis. (WFRV) — Each year the Red Smith banquet is held to raise money for local youth organizations and to honor those who have left a major impact on the world of sports.
One of the major awards of the evening is the Red Smith Award, given to a person who has excelled in sports from the state of Wisconsin. In 2020, the award was given to longtime MLB Umpire Gerry Davis.
“My professional career, no question, I grew up in the Fox Valley.”
Coming back to the Red Smith banquet seemed to be like coming home for Davis, who first attended the event 44 years ago. He lived in the Fox Valley for over 30 years, having moved away in 2009. As a longtime audience member, he said the 2020 banquet was truly a night to remember.
“That’s why it’s special for me here tonight in particular. Because many of the people in the audience are going to be people that have shared that ride with me.”
Davis began his major-league career in 1982, while he was still umping for the minors. He was at AAA in Wichita when he got the call saying he had to be in Montreal the following day for the game against the Cardinals. He said the moment was a dream come true.
“I’m originally from St. Louis so that made it even more special,” Davis remembers.
He became interested in becoming an umpire long before that, however, while he was playing for a traveling team in St. Louis. Each team would provide an umpire, and when Davis hurt his arm and couldn’t play, his manager volunteered him. After the game, he remembers his manager said he did well and told him he should consider umpire school.
Fast forward to the present day, and not only does Davis have a decades-long career of umpiring under his belt, but almost 2 dozen of his games were in the post-season.
Like any other sport, baseball fans can be passionate, and that grows exponentially during the playoffs and especially during the World Series. But Davis said he only felt the pressure before and after the game.
“You’re so focused on what your job is that it doesn’t affect you as it’s occurring as much.”
Still, he admits that he’s made mistakes in the past, but he adds that in umpiring, there’s a lot of self-evaluation. He says umpires are always looking back and questioning whether or not they made the right calls. He also adds that though he’s made mistakes, it wasn’t because he didn’t react quickly enough or because he allowed his attitude to get in the way of his judgment.
“One of the things that I’m most proud of is that they weren’t mistakes of attitude or hustle,” he says. “Any mistake I made was a legitimate mistake.”
Davis knows the fans have many and various opinions about calls made on the diamond, and the players have their say as well. But he learned early on in his career that you have to be able to separate the professional from the personal.
“You need to be able to separate if they are mad at you personally or if they’re made at the position or the call you made.”
As his career progressed, so did the sport of baseball, most notably with the addition of instant replay. Davis says the athletes themselves have also evolved, becoming more and more talented as time goes by.
“For years, the fan, from a baseball perspective, always felt that the greatest catch ever was that Willie Mays catch in the ’54 World Series,” says Davis, “And the truth is, we have 10 of those a night now.”