Doug Harvey, RIP: Timing

Doug Harvey (left) handing Roberto Clemente the ball Clemente hit for his final major league hit---number 3,000, in 1972.

Doug Harvey (left) handing Roberto Clemente the ball Clemente hit for his final major league hit—number 3,000, in 1972.

Doug Harvey, who died Saturday at 87, was a conscientious umpire who insisted on getting the calls right, not fast. He helped usher in the end of umpires anticipating calls after an incident in his rookie National League season, 1962, with Stan Musial at the plate and two outs.

Harvey called strike three on a pitch that looked like it would cross the plate but in fact broke wide of it. Musial didn’t flinch. He called for his glove from a Cardinals’ bat boy and, without turning around, chided Harvey, “Young fellow, I don’t know what league you came from, but we use the same plate. It’s seventeen inches wide.”

“That’s when I realised why they called him Stan the Man,” remembered the tenth umpire to be elected to the Hall of Fame. “And I learned not to anticipate the call. I introduced timing to umpiring. That’s my gift to baseball . . . Before, the umpires were always told, ‘Be quick! Be decisive!’”

Harvey also credited umpiring legend Jocko Conlan for a similar lesson. “I’ve got a photograph of Jocko Conlan working first base,” he once told Sports Illustrated. “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.”

At Cooperstown, when Harvey was inducted, longtime Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda praised Harvey’s commitment and energy, but Lasorda wasn’t always a Harvey fan. Once, Lasorda barked and howled from the dugout as Harvey called 2-0 on Mets first baseman Keith Hernandez. “Don’t let those guys intimidate you,” Hernandez said to the ump. “Nobody’s ever intimidated me, son,” Harvey replied.

Not that Harvey was immune to intimidating circumstances in his 31 years as an arbiter. (He was the first since Bill Klem to do his job for three decades or longer.) Four years after his eye-opening encounter with Musial, Harvey was behind the plate for the second game of a season-ending doubleheader between the Dodgers and the Phillies in Philadelphia, to call a game he wouldn’t forget for the rest of his life.

2 October 1966 began with the Dodgers needing a single win to clinch the pennant, with the Giants nipping at them and playing the Pirates, who’d hung in the race to the almost bitter end. Theoretically, the Giants in Pittsburgh could have forced a pennant playoff if they beat the Pirates while the Dodgers lost both ends of the Philadelphia twin bill.

Dick Stuart—once a formidable power hitter and a defender whose field performance earned him the nickname Dr. Strangeglove, but now a Dodger spare part—kept an earphone in his ear listening to the Pittsburgh action. Don Drysdale started the first game for the Dodgers. He didn’t get out of the third inning, faltering early with manager Walter Alston taking no chances.

Alston wanted the pennant clinched early so he could send Sandy Koufax out to open the World Series. But the Dodgers lost the opener, 4-3, with Philadelphia’s Chris Short picking up his 20th win by closing it out spotlessly. Harvey was the first base umpire for that first game. When it ended, the Dodger lead shrank to a game.

Koufax in the clubhouse didn’t have to be told what was possible for the Dodgers’ nightcap—he went out to the bullpen to warm up. Harvey in the umpires’ dressing room at Connie Mack Stadium asked a clubhouse attendant to turn off the radio that was airing the Giants-Pirates game; there was enough pressure in his ballpark.

When the Connie Mack Stadium public address system blared the news that Willie McCovey hit what proved the game-winning homer for the Giants off the Pirates’ Steve Blass, the possible became the imperative. Alston now had no choice but to start Koufax in the nightcap, just two days after Koufax beat the Cardinals with a thirteen-strikeout complete game ruined only by Curt Flood’s leadoff homer in the seventh.

“I’m in my fifth year,” Harvey would remember, “and believe me it’s a lot of pressure knowing that you’ve gotta go behind the plate and work the game.”

Koufax was exhausted from two seasons’ worth of pitching transdimensional baseball despite the arthritic elbow—the medical regimen to keep him pitching bordered on near-lethal—that would put paid to his career after the World Series. He had 26 wins in the 1966 book and 307 punchouts, not to mention an off-the-chart 1.72 ERA and 2.05 fielding-independent pitching average, when he took the mound for the nightcap.

"It was a privilege to call that game."---Harvey, on Koufax's 1966 season-ending pennant-clincher.

“It was a privilege to work that game.”—Harvey, on calling balls and strikes for  Koufax’s 1966 season-ending pennant-clincher.

Koufax faced another Hall of Famer, Jim Bunning. When the two squared off in a game earlier that season, it was the first time men who’d each pitched perfect games (Bunning in 1964, Koufax a year later) faced each other in a contest. Bunning both admired Koufax and shuddered at the medical regimen and the overwork applying to the Dodgers’ lefthander–not knowing Koufax had gone to Alston after the All-Star break, knowing the end was near, and told the manager to use him any way the boss saw fit.

Bunning and Koufax matched shutout innings until the top of the third, when Dick Schofield singled home Wes Parker and Willie Davis followed immediately with a two-run homer. An inning later, John Roseboro’s sacrifice fly made it 4-0, Dodgers. But after an inning and a third, Harvey remembered, Roseboro told him, “Sit back, kid. Koufax said he can’t get his curve over. He’s gonna go with the heater, the fastball.”

“That’s all he threw, the fastball, the rest of the game,” Harvey told Koufax’s biographer Jane Leavy. “He threw seven and two thirds innings with nothing but a fastball. And they knew what was coming. And he still won the game for them, and the pennant. It was the greatest exhibition of baseball I’ve ever seen in my life.”

Pretty heady for an umpire who grew up in California believing he could officiate sports events better than what he watched growing up, who told his wife, Joy, while working in the California League and they’d visited Candlestick Park, “Some day, I’m going to umpire in this stadium.”

Koufax finished the Phillies with ten strikeouts—including the dangerous Allen thrice—and a 6-3 pennant-clinching win, with two of the runs unearned. All it earned in the end was a chance to be swept by the Orioles in the World Series, in part because Drysdale faltered again, pitching and losing Game One (Orioles reliever Moe Drabowsky helped with eleven strikeouts in seven innings’ relief, still a Series record for relief pitchers), and in part because Koufax would be done in by three errors in the Game Two fifth, Alston lifting him anticipating starting him in a Game Five that never came.

Harvey would become an eighteen-year umpiring crew chief working five World Series, nine National League Championship Series, and six All-Star Games. Harvey’s career included being stationed at second base when Roberto Clemente collected his final major league hit—number 3,000.

He was behind the plate when three brothers—Jesus, Matty, and Felipe Alou—batted in succession for the 1963 Giants and when leg-hobbled Kirk Gibson ended Game One of the 1988 World Series with a pinch homer. He worked the field, too, when the Pirates opened Three Rivers Stadium in 1970, and when the Astros and Cubs once combined for three grand slams in a game in 1987.

Yet this regally down to earth man, whose career spanned the presidencies of John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush (Harvey retired in 1992 thanks to knee trouble), and who grew a silvery handlebar mustache a year before the Oakland Athletics decided to become the Mustache Gang, broke the unwritten custom of umpires “collecting memories, not memorabilia” (as Leavy phrased it) once, after his retirement.

He went to a memorabilia auction and bought an autographed photograph of Koufax, remembering especially that 1966 pennant clincher. ”I have as much respect for Sandy Koufax as for any man I’ve ever met in my life,” Harvey told Leavy. “It was a privilege to work that game.”

There were those who considered it a privilege to have Harvey work their games, too. “Doug Harvey,” says Hall of Famer Joe Morgan, “was the model that every umpire should strive to be.”

When Harvey was diagnosed with esophegeal cancer, it meant him having to pre-record his Hall of Fame induction speech. There he sat in Cooperstown listening in the light rain with the crowd and the Hall of Famers on the stage. Then the rain eased away and he grabbed the microphone for a moment.

“I’ll be quick,” said the umpire players called God (he called his memoir, They Called Me God), both for his exceptional knowledge of the real rules and for his presence, somewhat like a seasoned military commander. “I won’t hold you long. I want you to notice that I stopped the rain.”

I think the real God was doing Harvey a small favour that day.

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