The respect of Doug Harvey as an umpire is underscored by the fact he earned the nickname “God,” and nobody questioned it.
It wasn’t that he never made a mistake. But they were few and far between, and he learned from the ones he made. Harvey, who died at a Visalia, Calif., hospice on at the age of 87 on Jan. 13, earned a reputation for the meticulous manner in which he made a call, and he would explain over the years that it went back to 1962, his rookie season in the National League.
With the bases loaded in the ninth inning, two outs and a full count on Cardinals’ Hall of Famer Stan Musial, Harvey, in a style that was a part of umpiring back then, raised his right hand as the pitch neared home plate to signal a third strike only to see the curveball break three inches outside.
“There I was, standing with egg on my face,” Harvey later told baseball writer Jerome Holtzman. “Musial never looked at me. He asked the bat boy to bring him his glove. Then, without turning, he said, ‘Young fellow, I don’t know what league you came from, but we use the same plate. It’s 17 inches wide.’ ”
Harvey said he never again anticipated a call.
“I introduced timing to umpiring,” he said. “That was my fit. My heritage. My legacy. Before, the umpires were always told, ‘Be quick! Be decisive!’ ”
While he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in 1997, his death was attributed to natural causes.
During a 32-year big league career, he worked five World Series, including being behind the plate for Game One in 1988 when the Dodgers’ Kirk Gibson hit the dramatic pinch-hit, walk-off home run.
He also worked seven All-Star Games and nine NL Championship Series. He worked 4,673 games, which ranks fifth all-time.
Harvey will be forever known for his role in baseball. One of 10 umpires enshrined in the Hall of Fame, he was born in the Los Angeles suburub of South Gate but grew up in rural El Centro, near the Mexico border.
He was a product of an era before baseball had the modern umpiring schools.
After working in the concession stands and as a ticket taker for a professional team in El Centro, Harvey got his first chance to umpire at the age of 16, earning $3 for working fast-pitch softball games. His father, an amateur umpire, eventually helped him get the opportunity to work in a semi-pro league in northern Mexico.
In 1958, Harvey’s path to the big leagues began. He umpired in the California League for three years (1958-60) and the Pacific Coast League for one year (1961) before beginning his 31-year career in the NL.
“Doug Harvey was the model that every umpire should strive to be,” Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan said. He came up short in Hall voting the first three times he was considered by the Veterans Committee, but in 2010 he was finally inducted.
“You could see every time he was on the field he gave every ounce of energy he had,” said Hall of Fame manager Tommy Lasorda. “I can’t say that about a lot of guys.”
And every time he was on the field he was in charge.
There was an incident Harvey recalled when Mets first baseman Keith Hernandez was hitting, and after Harvey called ball two on the second pitch of the at-bat, Lasorda was screaming from the Dodgers dugout.
Hernandez said he told Harvey, “Don’t let those guys intimidate you,” to which Harvey replied, “Nobody’s ever intimidated me, son.”
Harvey always had the final word—on the field.
At home, however, his wife Joy made her presence felt, including a Christmas when she gave her husband a T-shirt that read: “We’ll Get Along Just Fine As Soon As You Realize I’m God.”