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Eric Gregg, 55; umpire known for personality

PHILADELPHIA -- Former major league umpire Eric Gregg, known for his big personality, extra-wide strike zone, and oversized frame, died Monday night, a day after having a massive stroke. He was 55.

``I want him to be remembered as someone who loved the game of baseball, someone who was determined to make it no matter what," his son, Kevin , said .

Mr. Gregg, who had called his first game in 1975 and became a member of the National League staff in 1978, worked the 1989 World Series, four championship series, two division series, and one All-Star game.

He was left jobless in 1999 after union head Richie Phillips called for mass resignations as a way of forcing an early start to contract negotiations.

In 2004, Mr. Gregg and five other umpires whose resignations were accepted in 1999 received severance pay and health benefits for themselves and their families.

``It was his dream to be in baseball," Kevin Gregg said. ``When he realized he couldn't go back to work, it took a lot out of him. To this day, I think it was sometimes painful for him to watch games."

Kevin Gregg recalled a story about when his father was a high school catcher, a coach told him he was too big to play and wasn't going to be good enough. ``He had the mentality of, `Damn that, I'm still going to be involved," Kevin Gregg said.

He said his father saw a commercial for umpiring school and decided that's how he would make it to the major leagues.

``He was my friend, and I'll miss him," umpire Jerry Crawford, in tears, said before working the Marlins-Giants game in San Francisco. ``He was a very good umpire. He loved the game. He was a funny guy. He had a great time at it. He was a terrific partner. He loved his kids. I loved the guy."

Larry Bowa was a coach for the Phillies in the 1990s and remembered a steamy day in Florida when Lenny Dykstra became agitated. The leadoff man argued balls and strikes with Mr. Gregg, hoping an ejection would give him an extra day off.

``Eric said: `Lenny, I know exactly what you want me to do. You want me to run you out of this game.' And he says, `If I got to stay in this heat, you got to stay in this heat, so it doesn't matter what you call me, how many times you call me, I'm not running you out of this game,"' said Bowa.

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