When Dave Garcia strolls through the door to the umpire’s room in Petco Park, you can be sure that you are in the presence of the one living man who has been in baseball longer than any other. He playfully boasts that he has likely seen more ballplayers (and umpires) now than any living person. One would be hard pressed to find otherwise.
Dave relates to us that his eyes are not what they used to be – a condition known as macular degeneration, having slowly deteriorated them over the years. After a short time I realize his mind is razor sharp – perhaps just as keen and fierce as it was in 1939 during his first year in pro ball with the then Class D Evangeline Lake Charles Skippers.
He shakes my hand with a gentlemen’s firm grip and says, “I was a good friend of your Dad for a long time. I managed in the Class D Kitty League in 1955 when he was just starting out.” While in today’s modern game, a player might scarcely have learned an umpire’s name, back then managers and players knew each other well. It was undoubtedly a product of the blue collar spirit of those in the game during the era which would forever define our National Pastime.
Dave tells me that umpires were promoted and hired based on recommendations from managers. He phoned up the league president of the Northern League, who was looking to hire two umpires and recommended Lou Di Muro. He said, “I told your Dad that I recommended him for the job and joked with him, well Lou, I guess I can’t be wrong all the time.” The two would cross paths and share a friendly hello throughout the next 28 years both in the minor and major leagues.
He looks back on a career spanning more than 70 years and reminisces that he rarely bothered the umpires as a player, coach and manager. The position of the umpire, a mere few feet from the play, always trumped his position some 130 feet away in the dugout. While he did argue and was ejected occasionally (3 to be exact), he always demanded his players tell the truth in such situations. If he was going to take up for a player, quips Dave, “they sure as hell better be right.”
Dave fondly recalls playing baseball in Wisconsin with a young fellow named Dutch. Dutch was thinking of giving up the diamond and becoming an umpire. Concerned about his relatively short stature, he asked Dave if he thought he could cut it as one of the men in blue. Dave told him, “don’t let anyone tell you what you can and can’t do. If you want to be an umpire, then scrape up $500 and head down to the umpire school in Florida.” Dutch heeded his advice and a few years later, the two met in El Paso of the Texas League. Dave ran out onto the field to argue a steal play at second with Dutch, and he told him, “Dutch, I don’t even want to talk about that play, I just want to tell you that when I told you to go to umpire school a few years ago, that was the worst advice I could have given!” Dutch Rennert would later move on to become a longtime National League umpire.
Dave Garcia, now 90, is still currently a Major League scout and attends every Padre’s home game. Having the pleasure of visiting with him gives us a rare and invaluable glimpse into the spirit of a man who has dedicated his life to the game. A game which is, without question, far more enriched for having him in it.