Every year before the start of spring training, Major League Umpires, all 68 of them, are summoned to gather in the warmth of the Arizona sun to attend a pre-season training meeting. The week-long training involves undergoing rigorous physicals, attending numerous meetings and presentations to discuss the rules, field positioning, administrative tasks and duties, and to conduct video reviews.
The highlight of each meeting is a presentation by a specially chosen guest speaker. Each time, as the speaker made way to the podium, sometimes apprehensive, and as the umpires patiently awaited the speaker’s presentation, no doubt they all wondered what the stranger and the men who got yelled at for a living have in common.
As this year’s guest speaker makes his way down to the podium, the years finally slowing the once smooth and methodical gait, he is anything but a stranger to everyone in the room. He hugs every umpire he meets – be it the most seasoned Major League arbiter or a first-year Pony League man in blue. This year’s speaker, with his distinguished white hair, only slightly thinning, and eyes still gleaming with the passion that roamed the diamond for more than thirty years, is an icon. He is Doug Harvey, the only living umpire in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
In a sports era where bloated egos and carefully constructed personas dominate the spotlight, Doug Harvey stands tall as a true gentleman. Those that know him were not surprised that upon hearing of his selection into the Hall of Fame, when such self-accomplishments are expected to be celebrated, Doug Harvey thought of others:
“I am very touched by this honor. I accept this election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame on behalf of all umpires – from the Minor Leagues to the Major Leagues – and for those who umpire at every level. “
Speaking to a large group of his fellow umpires, Doug Harvey shared his own life stories and experiences. As an umpire, Harvey would never let anyone on his crew complain about the long schedules, strenuous travel, and extended absence away from home. He would simply tell them to “pack your bags and head home.” Harvey always believed and emphasized to everyone that we, the umpires, had “the greatest job in the world.” And, he often told Joy, his devoted wife of 50 years, “When it [umpiring] becomes work for me, then it is time to hang it up.”
Harvey spoke of umpiring as a brotherhood, and for having the character and integrity to do what is right, regardless of the situation and adversity. Harvey commanded and received the respect from everyone he met, on and off the baseball field, by simply being who he is – a gentleman in every sense.
As Doug Harvey’s inspirational speech came to an end, he joked how “he could talk and tell stories all night.” Then, when he ended, the room broke into a loud standing ovation, many choking with emotions and with tears in their eyes, but Harvey kindly gestured for everyone to sit down – still not wanting to be the center of attention even in the midst of his peers.
Many times umpires are asked to share their greatest or most memorable moments in baseball. And often times reflecting on this question, their minds take them back to the baseball fields, record setting and deciding games that they worked over the course of their careers. But I wonder now if many of them will answer that the special moment was not a World Series, a perfect or no-hit game, or another milestone achievement, but rather a warm January night in Arizona…. The night they were with Doug Harvey, Hall of Fame Umpire.
I know this umpire will…
Mike Di Muro is a 10 year Major League Umpire. He is the author of the official blog of UMPS CARE Charities. Please leave any questions or comments below.