Kenneth Kaiser

Obituary of Kenneth Kaiser

Kenneth John Kaiser, 72, of Rochester New York passed away August 8th 2017. “Kenny” Kaiser, son of Kenneth Sr. and Annette Kaiser, was a loving father, iconic Major League Baseball umpire and philanthropist who supported endowments for young people in need of homes, love and support. Kaiser, who recently fell ill, passed away peacefully at his home in the town of Greece. His long time companion Cheryl Bogner, daughter Lauren (Derek) Kaiser Nelson  and son John Kaiser survive him. His half-brother David Kaiser also survives him. For more information about Ken please visit

Ken Kaiser was a charismatic umpire who roughed it on the back roads of small-town America during a 13-season stretch in the minor leagues. His stint in the International League brought him to Puerto Rico, where the umps were often met with flying beer bottles from the grandstands before the start of the National Anthem. In 1977 Kaiser’s life long dream came true. He was called up to the big leagues and spent the next 23 years of a storied career working two World Series, an All-Star game and multiple American League championship series. Kaiser was regarded as one of the best ‘balls and strikes’ umpires of his era. For a decade straight, he hosted the Ken Kaiser Sports Celebrity Night.  This one of kind charity event brought the biggest baseball and pro wrestling stars of the 80's & 90's to Rochester, to help benefit the Villa of Hope, a shelter for children in need.  Nolan Ryan, Don Mattingly, Mike "Pags" Pagliarulo, George Brett, Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, Road Warriors, Hawk & Animal and Big John Studd were frequent headliners.


 The 1999 MLB season would be Kaiser’s last. He worked over 3000 games and always loved the comradery that he felt with fellow umpires especially, Ted Barrett, Eric Gregg & Bill Haller. In April of 2003 Kaiser published his autobiography, a classic baseball tale called, “Planet of the Umps.”  He also loved his corvette, which he drove to Lake George every summer.  Nothing made Kenny happier than traveling with Cheryl and spending time with his children.  He will be greatly missed by his family and friends and will always be remembered as the funniest guy in the room and a larger than life figure on the baseball diamond. The Kaiser family would like to thank the following caregivers, Dr. Mellissa A Mroz, Dr. Ronald Schwartz, Dr. Steven Wittlin.  


Ken’s visitation will be Sunday 12-5 PM at the Funeral Home, 1411 Vintage Lane, (Between 390 & Long Pond Rd.). His Funeral Mass will be Monday 9:30 AM at St. Lawrence Church, 1000 N. Greece Rd., immediately followed by his entombment in Riverside Cemetery. In lieu of flowers donations may be sent to UMPS Care Charity, 301 Holly Rd., Edgewater, MD 21037 or to B.A.T., 245 Park Ave., New York, NY 10167 in Ken’s memory.


Ken’s visitation will be Sunday 12-5 PM at the Funeral Home, 1411 Vintage Lane, (Between 390 & Long Pond Rd.). His Funeral Mass will be Monday 9:30 AM at St. Lawrence Church, 1000 N. Greece Rd., immediately followed by his entombment in Riverside Cemetery. In lieu of flowers donations may be sent to UMPS Care Charity, 301 Holly Rd., Edgewater, MD 21037 or to B.A.T., 245 Park Ave., New York, NY 10167 in Ken’s memory.


Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, August 9, 2017

Ken Kaiser, the Rochester native and colorful former Major League Baseball umpire who worked two World Series and an All-Star Game before being frozen out of the game following a mass resignation, died Tuesday at 72.

He had been in poor health recently, his longtime friend and lawyer, Tony Leonardo, said, and had coped with diabetes for decades.

Mr. Kaiser was an American League umpire for 23 years, from 1977 to 1999. He worked the 1987 and 1997 World Series, the 1991 All-Star Game and several playoff series.

A huge baseball fan while growing up on the corner of Arnett Boulevard and Genesee Street in the city's 19th Ward, the Gates Chili High School graduate never dreamed of becoming a man in blue. It was only after Ed O'Hara, an ex-boxer, stopped by the Kaiser family's television repair store and said he was going to umpiring school in Florida, that Kaiser decided to give it a try.

"It was being held in Daytona Beach, so I figured this would be a great way to go there cheap,'' Mr. Kaiser said in a 1998 interview. "I thought I was going there for a vacation. The vacation has lasted a long time.''

He began his career in the Florida State League in 1965 and faced his share of adventures on his way to the major leagues. In his second year, he and his partner were chased across the South Carolina state line by irate fans with a barrel of hot tar after blowing a pair of calls and punching out the third baseman and manager, to boot.

Mr. Kaiser supplemented his income in 1973 and 1974 by moonlighting as a professional wrestler, calling himself "The Hatchet." He kept his face covered to avoid being recognized, but gave it up after a performance in Philadelphia when his mask snapped and Eric Gregg, a fellow umpire, spotted him from the crowd.

"I always said, he's a hard guy to embarrass," Leonardo said.

Mr. Kaiser finally realized his big-league dream in 1977 and spent more than two decades at the pinnacle of his profession. He was selected to work the World Series in 1987 and 1997, and was the second base umpire in the 1991 All-Star Game in Toronto.

A Sporting News poll in 1986 named him the league's "most colorful umpire." That adjective was not always meant as a compliment — anonymous player polls in 1998 and 1999, his last two years in baseball, pegged him as one of the worst umpires in the American League.

"If I was so horse(bleep), I wouldn't be in the major leagues for 23 years, would I?" Mr. Kaiser responded at the time. "Who did they poll? A hundred guys who can't hit or pitch."

He faced particular criticism for his portly physique; Ron Luciano, a fellow umpire, described him as "like a barrel on which two arms had been stuck on backwards," and White Sox announcer Jimmy Piersall called him "a gutless, lazy whale."

While in the minor leagues, he once split his pants on the field and had to umpire the rest of the game with his underwear showing. The anonymous 1999 poll had him as the least fit umpire in the American League.

"I'll personally challenge any of those guys who ranked me last," he said. "I'll show them what condition I'm in."

Mr. Kaiser's career came to an abrupt halt in 1999, when he was among dozens of umpires to resign in protest during labor negotiations. Most were hired back after a contract was signed, but Kaiser was one of 13 who were not.

"My whole life is gone," he said at the time.

Bob Matthews, who knew Mr. Kaiser well from his long career as a Democrat and Chronicle and Times-Union sportswriter and columnist, said he thought the umpire bet wrong in resigning in the first place.

"He really missed baseball; it was the love of his life and his passion, and they took it away from him," he said. "But it was his own fault that he quit, and when push came to shove, he got shoved."

In the mid-1980s, he began hosting "The Ken Kaiser Celebrity Dinner," an annual fundraiser that annually drew baseball's biggest stars to Rochester.

"They were, without a doubt, the best baseball dinners in the country," Matthews said.

He recalled standing in a small room once with Kaiser and a few of the guests for that year's dinner: Nolan Ryan, Wade Boggs, Don Mattingly, Roger Clemens and Kirby Puckett, among others.

"I've never been in a room with so much money," Matthews said. "I didn't ask for autographs, but I was tempted."

Mr. Kaiser wrote a memoir in 2003 called "Planet of the Umps," recounting anecdotes from his years in baseball. Many of them are not fit for a family newspaper.

"He was very proud of his career, and he had a right to be," Leonardo said. "There aren't many (MLB umpires) and he was one of them."

After leaving baseball, Mr. Kaiser spent much of his time bowling, shooting pool and betting on horses at Finger Lakes Race Track.


Five Ken Kaiser one-liners

On Earl Weaver, the diminutive but fiery Baltimore Orioles manager: I'll never forget the time he came out there to argue, and he turned his hat around. I turned my hat around, too, and he said he wanted to punch me. I said, 'Go ahead you midget, you'll hit my knee.'

On life after baseball: Do I miss it? Absolutely. … Occasionally I’ll get to yell at one of my two kids, but it’s not the same thing. My kids have gone off on their own, so I can’t even eject them from the house.

On umpiring Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan in the minor leagues: Wild doesn’t even begin to describe him. When he pitched, people in the stands ducked. You could hear the fans screaming, ‘Women and children first!'

On the hazards of the job: I never minded people screaming insults at me — that just made me feel like I was home — but I did mind them throwing rocks, batteries, fruit and glass bottles. One of the greatest things that ever happened in the long history of umpiring was the invention of the plastic bottle.

On the time he challenged Hall of Famer Eddie Murray to a fight in the parking lot: I said, 'Eddie, you can even bring your bat with you, because the way you’re swinging this year, you couldn’t hit me with it anyway.'

by, Sean Lahman & Justine Murray, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle