The right call
Umpire Doug Harvey One Step Away from Cooperstown
By CRAIG MUDER
November 16, 2009
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – He was so easily identifiable that no sleeve number was even necessary.
The silver hair, the methodical-yet-authoritative signals. A presence that earned him the nickname “god.”
|Doug Harvey is one of twenty finalists for election to the Hall of Fame Class of 2010 by the Veterans Committee. (National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)|
Tune in to a high-profile Major League Baseball game in the 1970s or 1980s, and No. 8 – Doug Harvey – was likely to be behind the plate. Now, Harvey is just one step away from Cooperstown.
“You always respected him because he came out to his job and (did it) with a lot of class,” said Dodgers manager Joe Torre, who – in Harvey’s rookie season of 1962 – became the first player ejected by Harvey. “He was very consistent, and that’s the highest compliment you can pay anybody.”
Harvey is one of 10 finalists on this year’s Veterans Committee managers/umpires ballot at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. The Veterans Committee will vote on Dec. 6 at baseball’s Winter Meetings in Indianapolis, and the results of the vote will be announced Dec. 7. The results of the Veterans Committee election for executives will also be announced on Dec. 7.
The 10 candidates on the managers/umpires ballot are: Charlie Grimm, Whitey Herzog, Davey Johnson, Tom Kelly, Billy Martin, Gene Mauch, Danny Murtaugh, Hank O’Day, Steve O’Neill and Harvey. Any candidate who receives at least 75 percent of all ballots cast will be enshrined in the Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2010.
Born March 13, 1930, in South Gate, Calif., Harvey did not umpire a game until he was 16 years old. But three years later, Harvey was asked by his father – an alternate umpire in the Class C Sunset League – if he wanted to work a series of games in Mexico. Thirteen years later, Harvey began a 31-year career in the National League when he worked third base in the Reds’ 6-3 win over Los Angeles at Dodger Stadium.
The home plate umpire that day, Al Barlick, is one of only eight men enshrined in the Hall of Fame as umpires – and a man Harvey sites as one of his biggest influences.
But it was another Hall of Fame umpire – Jocko Conlan – who made the biggest impression.
“I’ve got a photograph of Jocko Conlan working first base,” Harvey told writer Jerome Holtzman, the 1989 winner of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award. “Jocko’s arm was extended in the out call. But the runner was still short of the bag, and the ball was still in flight.
“In those days, it was common to anticipate the call. Everything was called too quickly.”
Harvey became a victim of the practice. Early in his career – in just his third big league game at home plate – Harvey struck out future Hall of Famer Stan Musial on a pitch from another future Hall of Famer, Don Drysdale. The pitch appeared to be a strike – until it darted four inches off the plate at the last second, a common path of Drysdale’s wicked deliveries.
Musial, who was just starting his 21st big league season, gently told Harvey to “calm down and slow down.” Harvey took the advice to heart.
He taught himself to slow down his calls, thus perfecting his deliberate style. That extra moment in time allowed Harvey to refine his craft.
“Doug Harvey was the model that every umpire should strive to be,” said Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan. “He was tolerant to a point, yet the players always knew he was in control.”
Harvey worked 4,670 games during his 31 years in the big leagues, including nine National League Championship Series, five World Series and six All-Star Games. He served as a crew chief in 18 of his seasons.
Though he disdained polls that rated umpires against one another, Harvey usually found himself on top of those lists. In 1974, Harvey was ranked as the best umpire in the National League by the Major League Baseball Players’ Association – the only ump to receive an “excellent” rating. But Harvey responded with an open letter to the MLBPA, asking for a public apology for criticizing the rest of the umpires.
“My only ambition,” said Harvey, “has been to improve the profession.”
An admirable goal – and one that might have seemed unlikely for the man who became the last umpire hired in the big leagues without having attended umpire school. But by the time Harvey had finished his big league career, no other umpire in baseball commanded more respect.
“This much is indisputable: Harvey is one of the best umpires the game has seen,” wrote USA Today’s Hal Bodley in the fall of 1992 – one of several national columnists to laud Harvey as he wrapped up his career.
Craig Muder is the director of communications at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.