It’s not unusual for John Tumpane to make split-second decisions in his line of work. The Major League Baseball umpire makes rulings — viewed through a wire mask and over in the blink of an eye — that can sway the course of a ballgame, a series, even a season. But the 34-year-old never expected to find himself making a call with someone’s life in the balance.
Yet Tumpane’s reaction Wednesday afternoon did just that, likely saving a woman from death or injury when he helped prevent her from leaping from the Roberto Clemente Bridge before a Pirates game he was scheduled to officiate that night at PNC Park.
Tumpane was walking across the bridge around 3 p.m., according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, when he witnessed the woman climb over a railing. He then asked a nearby couple what the woman was doing before moving toward her and grabbing her arm while he tried to calm her. He then told a passer-by to call 911.
“I was thinking, ‘God, this has got to be a good ending, not a bad ending,’ and held on for dear life,” Tumpane said. “She said, ‘You don’t care about me.’ I said, ‘I care.’ She said, ‘I just want to end it right now. I want to be in a better place.’ I said, ‘You’re going to be all right.’ ”
While Tumpane held on waiting for help, the umpire talked to the woman, as he recounted later to reporters:
“I just wanted to get a better look of the city from this side,” she said when asked what she was doing.
“Oh no,” Tumpane replied. “You don’t want to do that. It’s just as good over here. Let’s go grab some lunch and talk.”
“No, no, no,” she answered. “I’m better off on this side. Just let me go.”
“I’m not going to let you go,” he said. “Let’s talk this out. We’ll get you back over here.”
“No one wants to help me,” she repeated. “Just let me go.”
“No, we’re here to help you.”
“You’ll forget me tomorrow.”
“I’ll never forget you,” he said. “You can have my promise on that.”
According to the Post-Gazette, the woman became increasingly agitated and tried to break free from Tumpane’s grip as her feet dangled off the bridge’s edge. Tumpane did not let go and was eventually helped by others on the bridge, who grabbed onto her arms and ankles. Emergency personal then arrived to help, including a police boat and helicopter. The woman was handcuffed to the bridge and had a life preserver placed around her before eventually being lifted back over the railing.
Tumpane said he tried to comfort her while she waited for paramedics to take her in the ambulance, asking her for her first name and praying for her.
“I told her, ‘I didn’t forget her, and we’d be here, and she’s better off on this side than the other side.’ ” he said. “I just want her to know that.”
Shortly after, Tumpane was leaving his hotel room to head to the ballpark for the Pirates’ game against the Tampa Bay Rays.
“It’s a sad day, but it ended on a positive note,” he said. “Hopefully it’s an eye-opener for her as well, and it can help her get back on track.”
“I was just glad to help,” said Tumpane, who hopes to meet the woman again before he leaves town Thursday.