Eric Gregg (1951-2006)
Gregg was a lifelong Philadelphia resident who grew up in the inner city ghetto and clawed his way into the National League, where he umpired for more than two decades while battling a craving for food and drink.
Gregg died of a stroke earlier this week. He was 55.
I first met Gregg at Geno's Steaks in South Philly (yes the very place in the earlier post) late one night in October 1993 after he had umpired the a thrilling Phillies win over the Altanta Braves in the National League Division Series championship. (I had earlier ridden an elevator to the press room at the old Veterans Stadium with Jane Fonda, then the wife of Braves owner Ted Turner, and her bodyguard, but they weren't in line that night at Geno's.)
Gregg, who stood 6-foot-3 and then weighed nearly 400 pounds, and I chatted while we waited for our orders. He was just as affable in person as he was when he did the occasional TV interview or visited Philadelphia schools where he encouraged kids about making something of their lives.
Gregg was the third black umpire in the majors and was known for having a generous strike zone. But he will be best remembered for his battles with obesity.
The [post-game] spreads in the umpires' rooms are fantastic. I'd be attacking them while I still had my uniform on. Five, six beers, snacks. Then it's time to go out and have a big meal. Four, five more beers, bottle of wine, more food, go to bed.
Gregg was among 22 umpires who lost their jobs after they quit during a contract dispute with Major League Baseball, which refused to rehire them. His last job was at a restaurant at the Vet, although he eventually received $400,000 in severance pay after years of arbitration.