"A really good umpire you don't even notice. He's almost invisible." That was the mindset of Harry Wendelstedt.
One of baseballs most respected umpires passed away on March 9th. He was 73 years old and had been battling a brain tumor.
Harry spent 33 years as an ump in the National League. He was know for being pitcher-friendly as he had a wide strike zone. He officiated in more than 4,500 games, participated in five World Series, five All-Star Games and eleven Championship playoff games. He was honored five times as the Major League's top umpire and was named the best ball and strike umpire in the National League in a players poll done by Sports Illustrated. Harry also served as the President of the Major League Umpire Association for four terms.
Harry retired in 1998, getting to spend one year calling games with his son Hunter. Harry's lasting legacy, outside of some of the pivotal calls he made, is the Wendelstedt Umpire School in Florida. Harry devoted his professional life to being a fair umpire and helping to created more of the same.
One of Harry's most famous calls (or infamous, depending where your loyalties lie) was on May 31, 1968. It was his third year as a major league umpire and Dodgers legend Don Drysdale was working on his fifth consecutive shutout. The Dodgers were facing a bitter rival in the San Francisco Giants and catcher Dick Dietz was at the plate. It was the top of the 9th, the bases were loaded with no outs. Drysdale threw an inside pitch. It hit Dietz on the left elbow. The streak was seemingly over.
But then Wendelstedt did the unthinkable! He called the pitch ball three and wouldn't let Dietz take first base which would have let a run score. He said that the batter made no attempt to evade the pitch. The Dodgers went on to win the game. Drysdale went on to break Walter Johnson's record of 56 innings of shutout baseball. His 58 2/3 inning record stood until 1988 when it was broken by Orel Hershiser.
I listened to an interview with Hal Bodley and he pointed out an extremely eerie and disconcerting fact. In 1980, the Phillies and the Royals played in the World Series. Five men who were on the field for that series have died from brain tumors. Dan Quisenberry, Tug McGraw, Ken Brett and John Vukovich and now Harry Wendelstedt.
Here's a classic photo from 1964. I'll title it "A Legend Tossing A Legend". For the Phillies manager Gene Mauch it was a short day at the office..