Umpire Joe Latin is no average Joe. Not physically, athletically or temperamentally.
In his 75 years on earth, many of the people who have been lucky enough to know Latin have been as deeply impressed with the strength of his character as with the strength of his body. For those blessed with raw physical power and superior athletic talent, he valued the power of his personality more. Always a gentleman, Latin was an even-tempered role model for all of those around him, both as a player and umpire.
Latin was a fast pitch player in his younger days, equally well known for being a hard throwing pitcher and a tremendously powerful hitter. Raised on a farm near Prescott, Arkansas, Latin learned early to tackle hard work head on. It’s a lesson he’s never forgotten, and it is evident in everything he does on the softball field.
In his mid-40s, Latin still compared favorably to world heavyweight boxing champ Joe Frazier, with tremendous forearms and an almost identical build.
As his playing career started winding down in the mid-60s, Latin took to umpiring as a way of staying connected to the game. He preceded everyone in the present USSSA program, including longtime park supervisor, Bob Papich. Starting out as an ASA umpire, he moved to the USSSA in the early-70s and has been a fixture on the scene ever since.
“I love Joe Latin,” USSSA State Director Brenda Paulson said. “He’s a gentleman and one of the most consistent and even-tempered people I know. I could assign Joe to any game, any classification, anywhere and I knew he’d handle it.”
Bob Papich saw Latin umpire countless games and is equally complimentary.
“He’s the best, not only from the standpoint of longevity, but in his attitude towards the game and the players. He handles difficult situations extremely well and his ability to make the correct call is outstanding.”
Paying Latin perhaps the highest compliment and umpire can receive, Papich added, “He never cost anyone a ball game.”
The record reflects the USSSA’s faith in Joe Latin’s work ethic. He has umpired some 30 State Tournaments at every level, as well as 20 Worlds and NITs. Latin routinely traveled the state, covering tournaments wherever needed. Always showing up as scheduled, and always early so he’d be behind the plate when game time rolled around.
“From 8 a.m. to the last game if needed,” Papich said.
“He’s just a super person,” Forest Hill Diamond’s Director Ken Franzen said.
Along with Latin’s peaceful temperament, the longtime Rockford resident projected a sheer physical presence like few others.
“You didn’t argue with Joe,” Franzen said. “And all the players knew that.”
Franzen recalls the time an overwrought centerfielder took in on himself to rush in from centerfield to protest a call Latin had made at second base. As the young man approached, Latin calmly turned and asked him if he had a position to play in the game.
“Well, yes,” the man replied uncertainly.
“Fine,” Latin said. “I’m going to turn around and if you’re not standing there when I turn back around, you’re gone.”
The young many quickly retreated to his outfield post.
For all the people willing to sing Latin’s praises, Latin himself is not one of them. To him, doing a job well is simply part of accepting responsibility for that job.
“Anything I commit myself to, I do it,” Latin said matter-of-factly. “And I have fun doing it.”