Umpiring 'God' Has Plenty to Say as Hall of Fame Induction Approaches
SPRINGVILLE, Calif. -- Throat cancer and two strokes have diminished Doug Harvey's powerful voice. Occasionally, it grew raspy during a two-hour conversation about his approaching induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. And sometimes it roared back forcefully as Harvey, 80, reflected on what it took to become only the ninth umpire enshrined in Cooperstown, and the first since 1999.
"No fear!" Harvey said, loudly, raising and shaking his left fist. On one finger was a World Series ring with a bright diamond inside a baseball diamond. "You cannot have fear and officiate properly, believe me," Harvey said. "Absolutely fearless! That's what it takes -- among many other things. You have to show bravado whether you are feeling it inside or not."
Harvey said his induction speech will "knock their socks off." Should his voice falter that Sunday, July 25, he also has recorded his words. In a baseball season filled with umpiring issues -- Jim Joyce missing a call to spoil Armando Galarraga's perfect game, Joe West complaining about the length of games -- Harvey's induction is an historical salute to the sport's law-and-order personnel and to its top cop on the field from 1962-92.
Harvey has embraced the honor.
"The Hall of Fame is the most majestic -- oh, I'm not sure that's the right word," Harvey said.
Then he paused and looked away. Tears streamed from his eyes, not for the first time in this interview. He dabbed them with a handkerchief.
"It is awe-inspiring," Harvey said. "I loved baseball. I loved every minute of it. I'm so lucky to be alive. I'm so happy to be alive. God meant for me to be an umpire. No doubt in my mind."
Whitey Herzog, the former St. Louis manager who will be inducted alongside Harvey and Andre Dawson, said: "Doug always seemed very, very happy. He loved his job. And he probably kicked me out of more games than all the other umpires combined."
Herzog said Harvey stood out in a profession in which "some are lucky they only get two guesses." He recalled how young umpires learned from Harvey.
One was Bruce Froemming, now retired, who said Harvey advised him to sit back, watch, listen and learn. "He carried himself as a Hall of Famer," Froemming said.
"I remember his demeanor, his integrity and his hard work."
Both Herzog and Froemming noted how Harvey looked and acted the part of the man in charge. "I used to walk on the field and the feeling was `Bring it on, suckers!," Harvey said.
His hair was prematurely gray in his 30s and his first nickname was "Silver." He was tall, fit, energetic and confident. His eyebrows looked like Charlton Heston's and he carried himself like Clint Eastwood. Later in his career, players and managers called him "god," a nickname he approved after his minister said it was all right if people spelled it with a lower-case letter "g."
"I think there's a God," Harvey said in his home near a golf course in the fruit-farm countryside of central California. "My dream was to be the best umpire God put on Earth."
In Harvey's era, umpires worked either in the National League or the American. His vanity license plate still reads "NL UMP." Early in his career, Harvey also officiated basketball and football and plowed fields on a tractor. During his major league debut in 1962, at the opening of Dodger Stadium, the veteran crew chief Al Barlick asked the rookie for his impression of the new ballpark. "I could stack a lot of hay in here," Harvey told Barlick.
Harvey had baseball's rural-rooted habit of chewing tobacco. After working home plate, he would take it from his mouth and spike it on the plate with a flourish. When asked why, he said: "End of the game, period. Boom! I nailed it. Take it out -- Bam!"
After his cancer diagnosis, Harvey said he "promised God, when things were bad, 'Let me live and I'll speak to 100,000 young people about the dangers of spit tobacco.'" He recovered, spoke to far more than that and has gained back the 50 pounds he lost during radiation therapy.
Harvey said he takes 27 pills per day, but speaks with no self-pity or false humility, either. Harvey said he was the best official in the American Basketball Association. Before that, a high school player in San Diego tried to intimidate him by telling him he had a knife.
In baseball, he got a half-dozen threatening letters. "I wish I'd saved them," he said. But he measured his words about the recent call by Joyce against Galarraga of the Tigers. Replays showed Joyce wrongly ruling a runner safe on what would have been the last out.
Harvey said he still opposes video review ("No, no, no, no, no! Why don't we get a bunch of robots out there?"), but conceded that Joyce might have consulted with other crew members. As for West's complaints about long games -- especially between the Yankees and the Red Sox -- Harvey said"`He's right," and that batters should not step out of the box.
When Frank Robinson of the Reds refused to step in, Harvey said he called three strikes on him. Maury Wills, the former Dodger, said Harvey ejected him for cursing and then told him, "Aw, Maury, I thought we were better friends than that."
Wills said Harvey's gentle words stunned and stung him. "And I felt so small," Wills said. "I apologized and I walked away with my head down all the way to the dugout."
Harvey worked in the World Series five times. He worked third base in 1965 when Juan Marichal of the Giants hit catcher John Roseboro of the Dodgers over the head with his bat. A Giants' pitcher -- Harvey could not recall his name -- grabbed Marichal by the leg in the ensuing fight and shouted, "I've got him! I've got him!" and Harvey replied "Turn him loose, you crazy bastard!" because Marichal's metal spikes were gouging gashes into the chest of the peacemaking teammate.
One memory triggered the next and Harvey spoke almost in a stream of consciousness. He recalled a worried young umpire admitting, "Chief, I've lost my strike zone," and how they fixed the problem. He remembered a dispute in Sportsman's Park in St. Louis ending with fans throwing beer from above on the umpires. One of his worst memories, Harvey said, was of a girl in Pittsburgh's Forbes Field who was hit in the mouth by a foul line drive. It not only broke her teeth but also shattered her braces.
"I mean, oh, God, it was terrible," Harvey said with a visible shudder.
Compared to that, arguments were routine.
"Part of the game," Harvey said.
His first ejection was of Joe Torre, then a Milwaukee Braves player, in 1962. His last ejection also was of Torre, then managing the Cardinals, in 1992. Harvey said Torre came to home plate before the game at Shea Stadium saying, "Great day for baseball," and Harvey replied "It doesn't matter, Joe. You're not going to see the end of it," because he wanted Torre's ejections to bookend his umpiring career.
Torre, now managing the Dodgers, said once the game became one-sided, he had to remind Harvey of his desire to eject him by heckling. Eventually, Torre came onto the field and told Harvey, "Doug, this is the time."
When they began to argue, Harvey said, Harvey cursed, but Torre asked him to stop because Torre's sister, a nun, was sitting behind home plate.
Harvey said he complied with Torre's request by saying, "'OK, Joe, get the heck out!' And I ran him."