Friday, March 9, 2012

Harry Wendelstedt, Former NL Umpire who "Lived for Baseball," Dead at 73

Harry Wendelstedt, former big league umpire and father of current MLB umpire Hunter Wendelstedt, died Friday in Ormond Beach, Florida. He was 73 years old.

Peter Newcomb/Getty Images
It is a sad truth in our world and especially in a profession, such as umpiring, in which education, mentorship and experience is held in such high regard that the most respected amongst us, those who precede us on the field, will invariably precede us out of this world.

Wendelstedt's career spanned 33 years and included three National League Division Series, seven NL Championship Series, five World Series (two as crew chief) and four All-Star games until his 1998 retirement. He umpired five no-hitters, an NL record shared by Hall of Famer Bill Klem.

Wendelstedt also served four terms as President of the Major League Umpires Association and recently won support for his National Baseball Hall of Fame candidacy, receiving a nomination from baseball writer Dr. John McCollister and a second from Hall of Fame manager and Dodgers great Tommy Lasorda, who today declared, "He deserves it."

Harry Wendelstedt worked with his son Hunter (Harry Hunter III) in the National League during the senior Wendelstedt's final big league season in 1998. When the two leagues merged in 1999, Hunter honored his father by selecting uniform No. 21, which he still wears to this day.

The two Wendelstedts additionally have operated the Harry Wendelstedt Umpire School—formerly the Al Somers Umpire School—since the 1970s.

Accordingly, Harry was trained by Somers and lived baseball until the very end. According to Hunter, his father, "lived for baseball. He lived for umpiring. When we were getting him into the ambulance [Friday morning], he had MLB [Network] on. That's all he would watch."
Former big league catcher Jim Campanis described Harry as "fair," while Lasorda reflected on a famous sequence between Wendelstedt and Dick Dietz on May 31, 1968 in Los Angeles.

With the bases loaded and Dodgers pitcher Don Drysdale's then-record 58.2 scoreless innings streak on the line, San Francisco's Dick Dietz took a 2-2 pitch on the elbow and headed down to first base for the hit by pitch.

Not so fast, said Wendelstedt, who ruled Dietz didn't try to get out of the way and after stepping back to the plate, flied out, preserving the Drysdale streak and shutout. "I'd never seen that call before in the big leagues," said Lasorda, "Never had seen anyone make it."

Father Harry and son Hunter were on the field together for, as Hunter described it, "a couple of different situations that were amazing."

On Aug. 29, 1998, home plate umpire Sam Holbrook called a strike against slugger Mark McGwire—a call McGwire did not like one bit during his pursuit of what would become a then-record 70 home run season.

Holbrook and Hunter were both new to the MLB stage at that time and had both been assigned to the veteran Wendelstedt's crew.

Sensing trouble, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa ran out of the dugout and was ejected. Next up was the pitching coach who was also tossed and finally, having failed to take the hint, McGwire was kicked out.

While fans littered the field with bottles and other debris, the senior Wendelstedt gathered his crew and refocused his fellow umpires: "'Listen. I'm going to handle everything else. I need a couple of things ... Rich [Rieker], Hunter, after every half inning, you're going to meet me right behind second base. No one has that good of an arm. If they want to throw stuff at us, they're not going to reach us beyond second.'"

Turning his attention to Holbrook—who had just ejected three prominent Cardinals personnel—Wendelstedt said, "'Sammy, I've worked with you all year. You’re one of the better young umpires in the big leagues. I need you to bear down now for the next eight innings and do the job that I’ve seen all year long. Block it out. Every pitch that you call, right or wrong, they’re going to scream at you. Don’t worry, go out there and do the job I know you can.'"

Now that's a crew chief.

As is customary upon the passing of an esteemed fellow umpire, MLB umpires are expected to wear a patch or symbol in Harry Wendelstedt's honor early this season.

Video: "Comments about Harry Wendelstedt" from Umpires: The Integrity of the Game

News: Ex-umpire Harry Wendelstedt dies


Bill said...

Having grown up and umpired in Daytona Beach, Harry was as good a community citizen as he was an umpire...a true role model on and off the field. God Bless and God Speed, Harry.

Anonymous said...

Like many umpires, Harry had that tough exterior at first glance, but getting to know his teaching style you really got an appreciation for the warmth the man had. He loved baseball, he loved umpiring and he did everything he could to help each and every single person out there - baseball or not. If you were an umpire or student at his school, camp or otherwise, he wanted you to be the best you could be. Doesn't surprise me to hear what he said to Holbrook during that game in 1998, for me, that's typical Harry. I'm glad everyone got to hear that story though.

Jim said...

Tom Lasorda always shakes hands with the umpires before Dodgers games, so I'm not surprised to hear he supports Harry going to the Hall of Fame, and that is a high profile HOF guy to be supporting someone's Cooprstown bid. You know, in the wake of the Jim Evans Academy fiasco, a life like Harry Wendelstedt's should be celebrated. If the memorial or funeral is public, they'll need to rent out one of those spring training stadiums, there would be that many people.

As you said, Harry did things the right way and he will be missed.

Jack said...

I also want to wish the best to the Wendelstedt family and remember Harry for his great contributions to the sport of baseball. It's always sad when we lose one of our own, be it 2012 or 1912. I would always see Harry Wendelstedt (later umpire crew chief Harry Wendelstedt) in the box score and know that game was done right. If someone was ejected, Harry would have let them had their say before dumping 'em. He was old school, could be very calm under pressure and worked day in and day out, most importantly, just made sure things were done right. He was an umpire you really wanted to see working a big game for that reason and his legacy will live on through everyone who went to his school, worked with him or called him a friend.

Bill said...

My son writes for a baseball blog called "3 Up, 3 Down". He has a post about the passing of Harry.

I am stunned and speechless...

Anonymous said...

Was watching SportsCenter Friday night... nothing. Tuned into MLB Tonight... nothing. Am happy to see that Harry received mention here.

Anonymous said...

I had the pleasure of attending the Wendelstedt School in 2009 and 2010 and am now currently in Ind. Pro Baseball. Harry was a wise man of wisdom and to be part of his school, i can never thank him enough and all of the great staff. Harry Was an amazing man and so is his son Hunter. I was deeply saddened the other day when i got that text. My prayers go out

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