National News

Doug Harvey, Hall of Fame Umpire Whom Players Called God, Dies at 87

Posted January 14, 2018 11:14 p.m. EST

Doug Harvey, the Hall of Fame umpire who became a commanding presence and a symbol of excellence in a career spanning 31 National League seasons, died on Saturday in Visalia, California. He was 87.

His death was confirmed by his wife, Joy.

Harvey had silver hair, giving him something of a regal air, and he was very much in charge, whether calling balls and strikes or umpiring on the bases, prompting players to refer to him as God.

He was a crew chief for 18 years and worked in five World Series, nine National League Championship Series and six All-Star Games, handling 4,673 games overall. In 1974, the Major League Baseball Players Association ranked Harvey as the National League’s best umpire and the only one in the league worthy of its “excellent” rating.

“Doug Harvey was the model that every umpire should strive to be,” the Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan said on the Hall’s website before Harvey’s induction into Cooperstown in 2010. “He was tolerant to a point, yet the players always knew he was in control.”

Harvey was the ninth umpire selected for the Hall of Fame — and the first since Nestor Chylak in 1999 — after receiving 15 of 16 votes from the Veterans Committee.

He umpired his first major league game on April 10, 1962, and during his rookie year he learned a lesson he would never forget.

As he told it, he was in St. Louis, only his third game behind the plate, with Stan Musial at bat. It was the ninth inning, bases loaded, two outs and a full count. As the next pitch approached the plate, Harvey raised his right hand, signaling strike three. But the pitch broke outside by 3 inches.

“There I am standing with egg on my face,” Harvey remembered in a 1992 interview with Jerome Holtzman for Baseball Digest shortly after he retired. “Musial never looked at me. He asked the bat boy to bring him his glove. Then, without turning, he said, ‘Young fellow, I don’t know what league you came from, but we use the same plate. It’s 17 inches wide.'”

“That’s when I realized why they called him Stan the Man, and I learned not to anticipate the call. I introduced timing to umpiring. That’s my gift to baseball. My heritage. My legacy. Before, the umpires were always told: ‘Be quick! Be decisive!'”

When Harvey was chosen for Cooperstown, Tommy Lasorda, the former Los Angeles Dodgers manager, recalled how “you could see every time he was on the field, he gave every ounce of energy he had, and I can’t say that about a lot of guys.”

But Lasorda was not always thrilled with Harvey. One time, when Keith Hernandez, the New York Mets’ first baseman, was batting, Harvey’s calls of two balls and no strikes brought howls from Lasorda in the dugout. “Don’t let those guys intimidate you,” Hernandez told Harvey. His response: “Nobody’s ever intimidated me, son.”

Doug Harvey was born on March 13, 1930, in South Gate, California. He was a teenager when he decided he would become a sports official, figuring he could do better than those he saw. He got his start in professional baseball as a ticket taker and a bat boy for a minor league team in El Centro, California.

After attending San Diego State University, where he played basketball, football and baseball, Harvey began his umpiring career in 1958 in the California League, earning $350 a month.

Joy Harvey, in an interview with Lee Gutkind for his book on umpiring, “The Best Seat in Baseball: But You Have to Stand!,” remembered how, while her husband was umpiring in the low minors, “we scrimped and saved so he had enough money to drive up to San Francisco for a night and a day.”

“The first place we went was Candlestick Park. In all his years in baseball, Doug had never, up to that time, been in a major league stadium, so we went that morning and asked if we could go in and walk around.”

They sat in the top row of the stands in a silent and windy park, and then, said Joy Harvey: “It came right out of a Grade B movie, but I knew for all he was worth, Doug meant for it to come true. ‘Some day,’ he said, ‘I’m going to umpire in this stadium.'”

Harvey, who chewed tobacco during his umpiring years, was found to have oral cancer in 1997 and spoke out about the dangers of smokeless tobacco following his treatment. He is survived by his wife; his brother Nolan; his sons Scott and Todd; six grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren.

For all of his authoritative presence, Harvey once became embroiled in a controversy in which he came out second best.

On July 14, 1978, he ejected Don Sutton, the Dodgers’ star pitcher, after accusing him of throwing defaced baseballs in a game at St. Louis. The infraction carried a 10-day suspension, but Sutton, proclaiming his innocence, said he would sue the National League and Harvey for depriving him of a livelihood. The league president, Chub Feeney, never imposed the suspension.

Harvey’s reputation was evidently well earned, but there was at least one person besides the sometimes aggrieved ballplayer or manager who made sure he did not get carried away by his lofty aura.

One Christmas, Joy Harvey gave her husband a T-shirt that read: “We’ll Get Along Just Fine as Soon as You Realize I’m God.”