This expression seems to be pretty widespread, for example being in Wiktionary and Futurama. Does anyone know what the origin is? Also, what kind of dialect might I calls or I sees be?

  • 3
    Note that "I call them like I see them" is plain old umpirese, and unremarkable by itself. "Dressing it up" with dialect it likewise not all that remarkable, so it's not clear that you can reasonably expect to find an "origin" of the sentence.
    – Hot Licks
    Dec 31, 2015 at 20:08

5 Answers 5


I am not sure of the origin of the story, but the phrase comes from a story about an argument between three umpires. The first umpire says, "I calls 'em like I sees 'em." The second one says, "I calls 'em like they was." And the third one says, "They ain't nothin' till I calls 'em."

There are multiple interpretations of the story, and if you google it, you will find many mentions of it (so no official source). It seems to be a story about objectivity or perhaps perspective.

When it stands alone, it's a blustery statement about confidence in one's own view of the situation.

  • 1
    I would take your story to be a philosophical lesson constructed from an already-familiar saying.
    – Hot Licks
    Dec 31, 2015 at 20:07
  • I found a reference here. First reference seems to be by a professor named Harvey Cantril. August 1957, The American Journal of Psychiatry, “Perception and Interpersonal Relations” by Harvey Cantril, pg. 126
    – Rubenisme
    Nov 4, 2020 at 12:39

I believe it’s an Umpire (baseball) reference; the plate umpire has the job of “calling” the legality of a pitch (ball or strike).

Obviously this job requires the umpire to “see” the ball crossing in (or out) of the strike zone.

Finally, ’em is an elision of them.


This phrase seems to come entirely from baseball umpires. Also, the original wording of the expression is "I calls 'em as I see 'em".

The earliest instance I can find is 1912:

He calls 'em as he sees 'em, and he's pretty nearly right most of the time.
The Times Dispatch

Another early example is from 1917:

Rigler calls 'em as he sees 'em, but outside of that he is right.
The Evening World

Here's another one from 1937:

Umpire Helmore says “he calls ’em as he sees ’em with no appeal.”
Sausalito News

And from 1944:

"I'm the umpire," said the umpire, pushing back his little blue cap. "I calls 'em as I sees 'em. And I sees this ball as high and a little close. Now play ball!"
Casey Jones and locomotive no. 638: story - Issue 638


it seems like to me that I heard red skelton say that in one of his charactors say I calls em the way I sees,em boy. that was funny then.

  • Man, you're OLD!
    – Hot Licks
    Mar 12, 2018 at 1:47
  • Do you have an approximate date of when this was (or—better yet—an exact citation)?
    – Laurel
    Mar 12, 2018 at 2:02
  • @Laurel - Look up The Red Skelton Show on IMDB.
    – Hot Licks
    Mar 12, 2018 at 12:08
  • @HotLicks Thanks. The show ran from 1951-1971, so that at least puts an approximate date on it. (This answer would still be improved with an exact date...)
    – Laurel
    Mar 12, 2018 at 14:40
  • @Laurel - It's an ooolllddd baseball cliche, easily going back to the 1920s, and possibly the late 1800s.
    – Hot Licks
    Mar 12, 2018 at 16:52

The correct answer comes from the great Casey Stengel when he charged home plate in a series game when he managed the Yankees.

Stengel's batter, with 2 out and having a full count, did not swing on pitch number 7. The home plate umpire yelled "Strike 3!" Casey was furious, as were most of the Yankee fans. He charged the umpire and got in his face, screaming as only Casey could do. The umpire responded in a clearly Brooklyn accent of the period: "I calls 'em as I sees 'em." It was loud enough for a NY sports reporter to hear the words and write them down. Remember in those days before security, reporters, VIPs and such sat to the side of home plate or just a row or two up. The ump had to yell loud enough to drown out Casey.

Stengel arguing with an umpire

  • 1
    I think it safe to say that many users on EL&U are neither American, nor baseball fans. For example, I am one of those. :) So forgive me if I ask when did all this take place? And do you have any references which back up your claim? Thanks.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 19, 2014 at 16:47
  • According to my dictionary, he managed the Yankees 1949-1960. (An exact date would be better, but...)
    – Laurel
    Mar 12, 2018 at 14:32

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.