Stow resident Joe Schratz has no trouble remembering the most dynamic moment of his memorable career in baseball.
The fact that he didn’t have a bat or glove in his hand did not bother the former Arizona State University player. He was living an umpire’s ultimate dream. "I was standing on the lip of the grass during the National Anthem and tears were running down my face," he said. "I was so happy I was crying – I was going to work a major-league game." The Pittsburgh native and former standout baseball player at South Hills Catholic High School was working a game in his hometown at Three Rivers Stadium.
Schratz worked 2 more games at Three Rivers Stadium as replacement umpire in April 1976 and 3 years later worked an additional 34 National League games in 1979 during a strike by umpires. Schratz first began umpiring during a 4-year stint playing ball in the United States Marine Corps’ Special Services division. He and other Corps players umpired games involving kids of all personnel at the camp.
That ignited a 44-year career in which Schratz, whose career was sidetracked by a knee injury suffered while playing in the service games, became recognized as one of the top collegiate umpires in the country. Schratz umpired on the highest levels of college baseball and in the professional ranks in the Eastern League from 1979 through 2005, retiring after undergoing 3 complete knee replacements and having both hips replaced. Schratz, who worked for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, capped his stellar 44-year umpiring career by umpiring nearly 40 Class AA professional games in 2005, with his final game at Canal Park.