Doug Harvey remembered as umpire who changed the game

Written by: Craig Muder

Doug Harvey ejected 43 men from games during his 31-year big league career, and the result was always the same: A clean slate the following day.

“I don’t remember any of (the ejections),” Harvey said. “Because I never carried a grudge.”

That ability to focus on the present made Harvey one of baseball’s best umpires – and eventually took him to Cooperstown.

Harvey, 87, passed away on Saturday, Jan. 13. As a member of the Class of 2010, Harvey became just the ninth Hall of Fame umpire – the most exclusive category of any of the Hall of Famers.

“Doug Harvey demonstrated exceptional character during a distinguished umpiring career, and was universally respected in baseball," said Jane Forbes Clark, Chairman, National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. "All of us at the Hall of Fame thought highly of him, and we are deeply saddened by this loss. We send our sympathy and love to his wife, Joy, and their family.”

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 Hal – 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 nine other men enshrined in the Hall of Fame as umpires (Hank O’Day was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2013 after Harvey) and a man Harvey cited 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, 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 perfect his craft.

Doug Harvey addresses the crowd at Hall of Fame Weekend in 2010. (Milo Stewart Jr./National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum)

“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 4,673 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.

By the prime of his career, Harvey’s silver hair, methodical-yet-authoritative signals and his commanding presence had earned him the nickname “god.”

Doug Harvey (far left) sits beside Whitey Herzog and Andre Dawson (far right) during the Legends of the Roundtable event in 2010. (Milo Stewart Jr./National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum)

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.

The accolades, however, kept coming. In 1999, Harvey was ranked as the second greatest umpire in baseball history, behind only Hall of Famer Bill Klem.

“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.

Doug Harvey shares a laugh with columnist Hal Bodley during the 2009 Winter Meetings in Indianapolis following Harvey’s election to the Hall of Fame. (Photo courtesy of MLB)

But by the time Harvey had finished his big league career, no other umpire in baseball commanded more respect.

“Doug Harvey set the bar for future umpires," said Jeff Idelson, President of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. "He was revered for his calm demeanor, ability to control the game, knowledge of the strike zone and comprehension of the rules, leading many players to refer to him as ‘god.’ He umpired with integrity, heart and common sense for 31 seasons, including 18 as a crew chief, resulting in his richly deserved 2010 election into the Hall of Fame.”

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