From the archive, a local Jewish baseball legend
Continuing our series on local Jewish influences on the world of sports, today we bring you a story on Indiana baseball legend Barney Zoss.
When we think of baseball legends we usually think of players, but Barney Zoss’s influence on the game was as an umpire. Barney spent 53 years as an umpire for baseball and softball for high school games in Indiana and Michigan, as well as umpiring for the University of Notre Dame, the Indiana Amateur League, and the All American Girls Professional Baseball League (if you hadn’t guessed, Barney’s favorite movie was A League of Their Own).
In 1991, Barney was inducted into the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame. Click here to read a transcript of the speech introducing Barney Zoss as an inductee.
Before beginning his career as an umpire, he was a standout on his high school football and wrestling teams, water boy for the University of Notre Dame, as well as a competitor in the B’nai Brith national bowling tournament in Cleveland in 1948 (see photo at the end of this article).
A story printed in the Jewish Post on August 23, 1946 remembers Barney as the quintessential water boy:
Jack Lavelle was educated at Notre Dame and he made many friends in that city. Among his Jewish friends are the boys in the Zoss family. Abe Zoss once played center on the Notre Dame freshman eleven. Jack likes to tell of one of the brothers, Barney, who served as a water boy for the Fighting Irish grid teams. In fact, all the Zoss boys acted as water boys at one time or another. “Barney never let anything stop him in the pursuance of his duties,” Jack explains. “The boys used to huddle before the game saying their ‘Hail Mary’s’ but Barney didn’t stop working. He would just push his way through the kneeling players and mumble, ‘Look out, I’ve got to get to that water bucket.’ Yes, indeed, that Barney Zoss was quite a character.”
Barney was born in 1912 in South Bend, the son of a grocer. On July 17, 1937, he married Minnie Franklin. They had two daughters, known by their married names as Estelle Cook and Sandy Barton. At the time of his death in 1995, he and Minnie had 8 grandchildren and 19 great grandchildren. Aside from umpiring, he made his living selling Electrolux vacuums, as a salesman, a plumber’s assistant, and later worked for the City of South Bend.
According to one source, his biggest thrill was umpiring an exhibition game in St. Joseph, Michigan in which Babe Ruth played. Not only did he umpire the game, but he rode in “The Babe’s chauffeured limousine.” Afterwards, Barney realized that he’d forgotten to ask for Babe Ruth’s autograph!
When Barney was 67-years old, he was hit by a car while working for the South Bend Street Department. “I can remember when bases were 50 feet apart in softball and I was a little upset I didn’t get a ‘safe’ or ‘out’ call,” Barney quipped when he learned how far he’d been thrown in the accident in which he broke 13 ribs and a leg.
In 1990, South Bend Mayor Joe Kernan declared August 23 as “Barney Zoss Day” and the umpire’s room at Coveleski Stadium (now the home of the South Bend Cubs) was named the “Barney Zoss Umpire’s Room.” The softball field at the Jewish Federation of St. Joseph Valley is dedicated to him.
If you can identify any of the other members of Barney’s bowling team in the photo below, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.