BY Doug Harvey and Peter Golenbock
The Umpires. They are a class to themselves. They are a family, a Brotherhood, and in the words of former MLB Umpire, Al Clark, they are “The Third Team” on the baseball field.
Yet very little is known about the Umpires as they are the most secretive in all of baseball. They live by a creed of impartialness and fairness. Us as fans know very little about the Umpire’s world.
I read and reviewed Al Clark’s “Called Out, But Safe…A Baseball Umpires Journey,” earlier this year. Now I have read Doug Harvey’s “They Called Me God.”
Both books are a good read but so far apart in style. Al’s book reads like a descriptive portrait told by a good friend in a coffee shop somewhere, whereas Doug Harvey is the Professor giving a lecture in a College classroom.
Harvey was raised in California as a farm boy, a high school athlete who nevertheless knew what he really wanted was to become an unsung hero- a major league umpire. In his book, Harvey take us on his journey from the minors in the late 1950’s to his arrival in the big leagues in the National League in 1962. He earned 300 dollars a month and he survived about everything, even riots in stadiums in Puerto Rico when he was sent to umpire in the Puerto Rican leagues.
Harvey is quick to point out that he was the fastest rising star in umpire history, going from C ball to the majors in 4 years.
Giving into his nickname “God,” Harvey is extremely arrogant at times, distinguishing himself from the other umpires and players who hit the bars at night so that he could read and memorize the rule book of baseball. A real trooper and good guy Harvey tells us about himself.
His arrogance takes a back seat, when he was sent up to the big leagues, and his crew chief was the legendary umpire, Al, Barlick who tormented Harvey for years like a mean boss picking on the scared employee. Harvey does mention that Barlick made him sick at times and even said Barlick’s arrogance eclipsed his own by self- crowning himself the king. Throughout those dismal days when he wanted to quit because Barlick was so unbearable, Harvey said he learned the most under his leadership. From that starting point, Harvey’s journey would last 31 more years in the National League.
The most important things a reader takes away from the book is the advice and rules that Harvey lays out to the reader. For anyone interested in umpiring, Harvey’s advice on handling any given situation, arguing with a manager, keeping the calls real and fair, sticking to your calls, and knowing the rules are the cardinal rules of umpiring effectively.
Harvey’s journey in the National League places him close up with all the major stars you saw back in the day. His famous call in the 1968 World Series calling Lou Brock out and his call helping to turn the tide of the series to Detroit…or so Harvey claims is outlined in detail. His views on Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax, Frank Robinson, Casey Stengel, Joe Torre, Roberto Clemente, Don Drysdale, Johnny Keane, Lou Pinella, Dick Williams, Earl Weaver, Bill White, Pete Rose and Willie Mays (just to name a few) is analyzed by Harvey.
His health and physical ailments forced him to retire in 1992. For the last seventeen years, Harvey has fought cancer and has become the spokesman against chewing tobacco and the dangers of it.
Harvey does criticize the monetizing of baseball and rips Bud Selig for appealing to the owner’s views and leaving the Umpires behind, including firing many of them during the strike of 1999 when both leagues were merged into one for the umpires.
Harvey was elected to the Hall of Fame back in 2010, which he is very emotional about.
If you ca get by the arrogance of Harvey, his book is a fine ad enjoyable read. For the umpires, this book unlocks some quick peeks and insight into the third team that us, as fans, do not know.
Between Al Clark’s book and Harvey’s book, a need for a clearer understanding of the world inside the umpires is definitely needed.
The Umpires are the ones that control the game, keep themselves and everyone else level headed on the field, stop the games for weather or other factors, but most of all their job is to make the right call.
You will make the right call by reading Doug Harvey’s book. If you can get by and look away from Harvey’s arrogance, baseball through the eyes of the umpire is an enjoyable view of the sport we all love.