Ku Klux Klan, umpires and bowling: Why the minor leagues tossed out Jim Evans academy

David Brown

What do the Ku Klux Klan, bowling and aspiring baseball umpires have in common? No, those three seemingly incongruous elements aren't part of a forthcoming Coen Bros. sequel to "The Big Lebowski." Instead, they came together to ruin, most likely, what had been a respected umpire school.

The Jim Evans Academy for Professional Umpiring has sent graduates to the minors and majors since 1989. But it has been disgraced and discredited after some of the staff laughed it up at the school's annual bowling party by choosing a team name and wearing costumes that invoked the KKK. Domestic terrorism themes are never fun and festive, even if there's bowling.

Also unfunny: another team using slurs and offensive themes to denigrate Latinos. Hey, do these guys know how to roll, or what? If they had to do it over, maybe they choose cosmic bowling instead. Reporter Andrew Keh of the New York Times writes:

In the following days, one of the school's instructors, the lone black employee, expressed unease over the night to his superiors. He also circulated photographs of the evening to a colleague.

This week, the black employee's unease has led to this: the president of Minor League Baseball informed the Evans Academy that it would sever ties with the school and no longer accept its students into the professional ranks.

It's not simply that a few made racist acts (or, at the very least, took part in incredibly insensitive behavior) at a bowling party. It's also how Evans handled it. To him, it was just good ol' boys being good ol' boys.

Evans said Thursday that the actions of his employees that night were lamentable. But he said being effectively put out of business was too harsh a punishment for behavior — however offensive or misguided — that was conducted good-naturedly among friends.

"It was a bad joke that was not meant to hurt anyone," said Evans, who has 28 years of umpiring in the major leagues. "We're a close-knit family, and sometimes our closeness allows us to say things or do things that we wouldn't say to other people. But no question about it, it was in poor taste."

Tolerating allusions to the Klan? Can't do it. Can't have it. What must have been going through the mind of Anthony Johnson, the "lone black instructor" who played along at first, but later complained to Evans? It must have been intimidating at the party, no matter the so-called joking atmosphere.

[He] expressed his unease to Evans, who offered to procure an official apology from the employees involved.

Evans said he was confused by Johnson's reaction because he had previously expressed no concerns. Photographs from the event also show Johnson smiling with co-workers.

But Johnson resigned the next day.

Perhaps he simply grew tired of being Evans' boy.

Evans was a major league umpire for 28 seasons until 1999, when the umpires' union staged a mass resignation as part of a misguided power play against Major League Baseball. Some umpires were rehired, but Evans contract was terminated. His umpiring school has since become an even bigger part of his life. There's no way his business can continue as it did without a pipeline to the pros.

In the Times' story, Evans comes off as measured, and he tries to seem reasonable. And he has a point about a conflict of interest in the investigation. But there was a reason MLB kicked him out of the umpires ranks more than 10 years ago. And there's a reason the minor leagues don't want his help anymore, either. A good reason.

Big BLS h/t: Deadspin

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