A Few Words From God

October 18, 1998

When he retired in 1992 after 31 years in the National League,
Doug Harvey was one of the few umpires in the majors who had
never attended an umpiring school. His techniques, however, were
part of the curriculum wherever the craft was taught. So revered
was Harvey that players and managers called him God.

"I set out to be the best umpire of my time," says the
68-year-old Harvey, who lives with his wife, Joy, in the Sierra
Nevada foothills northeast of Bakersfield, Calif. "But I don't
know what it takes to be great."

If he doesn't know what it takes, Harvey knew from whom to take
it. His mentors included his father, Hal, who umpired high
school and junior college games in the 1940s, as well as the
three umps who taught him the ropes: Al Barlick, Jocko Conlan
and Shag Crawford. Barlick, who was known for his encyclopedic
knowledge of the rule book, told the young ump, "If you're going
to preach the game, you'd better know the bible." Conlan "showed
me how much fun umpiring could be," Harvey says. Crawford
"taught me that 100 percent isn't enough. He broke his back on
every play."

A composite of Barlick, Conlan and Crawford would be unerring on
the rules, stern yet playful and compassionate. Add a dash of
Cal Ripken Jr.--Harvey worked more than 4,000 consecutive games
from 1962 to '88--and you've got a heavenly combination. (Once,
when the Philadelphia Phillies' Lenny Dykstra came to the plate
and Harvey said hello, Dykstra replied, "Hi, God.")

You've also got a loner. Harvey's obsession with officiating--he
spent off-seasons working as a basketball referee--left little
time for drinking with the guys. He swears he wasn't lonely,
though. As a youth he spent long days on a farm tractor in the
Imperial Valley and learned to love solitude. "Sitting on a
tractor made me a better umpire," he says. "It gave me patience."

That virtue would come in handy. "I was a great base umpire, but
I was the most mediocre plate umpire to ever come into the major
leagues," he says. Determined to improve his plate skills, he
broke the job down to the fundamentals now taught at umpiring
academies. Harvey pioneered the practice of waiting a full
second after a pitch before making his call. "That way," he
says, "you can replay the pitch in your mind." Most umps now
employ that slight delay, leading Harvey to suggest as his
epitaph, He never held a grudge, and he introduced timing to the
major leagues.

These days Harvey's voice is an octave lower than it used to be.
He has spent a year fighting throat cancer and is winning the
battle so far. The ump emeritus thinks the state of the old
craft is "better than ever. There's more schooling now." He
rails at broadcasters who "talk like they're all rules
geniuses." Harvey disliked seeing ump Ted Hendry get hammered
for last week's noncall on Indians base runner Travis Fryman in
the ALCS. "It looked to me like his foot hit the bag at about
the same time the ball hit him. If the runner and the ball reach
the bag at the same time, there's no interference," says Harvey.
He hated hearing fellow umpires second-guessing Hendry. Members
of the blue fraternity "owe the vocation" more than that, he
believes.

"Umpiring was more important than my religion and just as
important as my family," he says, echoing legendary ump Bill
Klem. Asked if he miscalled many pitches--"kicked 'em," in
umpires' parlance--he says that no ump ever had a perfect game.

"The old-time umpires said, 'Twelve a side,'" Harvey notes with
amusement, referring to the belief that a couple dozen missed
calls would even out in the course of a game. "If I ever kicked
that many, I would have quit."

--John Garrity

COLOR PHOTO: NICK CARDILLICCHIO Yer outta line! Harvey wishes umps could be safe from the criticism of angry fans, petulant players and know-it-all broadcasters. [Doug Harvey making umpire's ejection gesture]

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)