The Right Call

Nine umpires have earned baseball’s ultimate honor in Cooperstown

February 29, 2012

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – They are the definition of “rare” – a club so unique that only a little more than one percent of all big league players have been admitted.

They are the members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame – 297 of the game’s most influential and successful heroes. But within Club 297 lies a subset even more unique: The nine umpires enshrined in Cooperstown.

By rule, Hall of Fame candidates must fall into one of four categories: Players, managers, executives/pioneers or umpires. And of the more than 350 men who have umpired a big league game since the start of the modern era in 1901, only nine – a little more than two percent – have been elected to the Hall of Fame.

“I look at this honor as an honor for all umpires and all officials,” said Doug Harvey, who became the most recent umpire elected to the Hall of Fame in 2010. “Without us, the game doesn’t go on.”

The first two umpires elected to the Hall of Fame were Tom Connolly and Bill Klem, who were both inducted in 1953. Klem umpired in the National League from 1905-41, bringing dignity and respect to the position. Connolly spent most of his career in the American League – the Manchester, England, native umpired in the first World Series in 1903.

Twenty years after Connolly and Klem were elected to the Hall of Fame, Billy Evans was enshrined in 1973 – a salute to an arbiter who was only 22 years old when he joined the AL umpiring staff in 106.

Jocko Conlan followed in 1974, capping a 24-year NL career from 1941-64 that actually began in the AL in 1935 when the White Sox outfielder was asked to fill in during a game against the Browns. Conlan is one of just 31 big league umpires who also played Major League Baseball – the most recent being Bill Kunkel, who pitched for the A’s and Yankees from 1961-63 before serving as an AL umpire from 1968-84.

Cal Hubbard was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1976 after a 16-year career in the AL from 1936-51. Hubbard, who was also a fine football player, remains the only man enshrined in both the Baseball and Football Halls of Fame.

Al Barlick was an NL umpire for 27 years before being elected to the Hall of Fame in 1989, and Bill McGowan – who was on the crew that worked the first All-Star Game in 1933 – was elected in 1992.

In 1999, Nestor Chylak became the eighth umpire elected to the Hall of Fame following a 25-year AL career that saw him work five World Series. Harvey, the game’s pre-eminent umpire during the 1970s and 80s, worked 4,673 games over a 31-year career in the NL.

“I just loved officiating,” Harvey said. “And I hope what I did helped make it better. That’s what I tell young umpires, you can have fun. I never spent a day where going out on a baseball field didn’t make me feel better.”

Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum