Earlier this month, Bleacher Report had an exclusive opportunity to speak with former major league umpire and Hall of Fame inductee Doug Harvey.
After earning a reputation as one of the best umpires to ever live, Harvey—along with The New York Times bestselling author Peter Golenbock—recently penned They Called Me God, chronicling his path to the game, his greatest moments in baseball and what separated him from his peers.
I had the opportunity to represent Bleacher Report in a wide-ranging conversation with Harvey that touched on instant replay, the new collision rule and a legendary career that spanned 4,673 total games, including some of the most seminal moments in baseball history.
B/R: Is instant replay good for the game? How would you have handled or reacted to its inclusion if you were still umpiring?
Harvey: Instant replay ought to be thrown out. Period. It's a game of imperfections. Why is that so bad for the game? Really, I think they are trying to make the game perfect. I'll tell you what: It will never, ever be perfect. Sure, instant replay can help to an extent, but the game was meant to give excitement in the moment, not based on a replay in a booth somewhere.
B/R: What problems do you have with the system?
Harvey: From that perspective—the actual implementing of the replay on a day-to-day basis—I don't have an issue. My problem is using it in the first place, but I expect it to be used well and efficiently now that we've arrived at this stage and there's no turning back. It will be tremendous in terms of correcting calls and making sure mistakes are rectified.
But baseball is meant to be played at a certain pace. This will change that pace. I don't believe true baseball purists will love it.
B/R: What fears do you have about where this is headed? Are umpires being phased out in terms of impact and performance?
Harvey: To some extent, but there are certain things they can't and won't take away from umpires even as technology grows. Balls and strikes are the basic tenet to everything in baseball. From the perspective of hitting, pitching, offense and defense, it's all about the strike zone and how the battle is waged there between the pitcher and hitter. As long as they don't mess with that, umpires will still be very important.
Is baseball's instant replay system good for the game?
B/R: What are one or two critical calls that you witnessed that you wish replay was available for?
Harvey: None (chuckles). At all! Error is part of the game. I never, ever second-guessed myself on a call and don't believe good umpires ever should. Now, it's inevitable. A fallback option is there for them to use to make sure a call is right.
The part of the game that fans will soon miss: the argument between manager and umpire! There was something special about watching a manger and umpire both convinced they were totally right, but knowing that one had to be wrong. As an ump, those moments made my job fun and getting "nose-to-nose" was part of my job description.
Now? Now they'll throw a flag or challenge. Forget the excitement. It's been phased out.
B/R: How do you feel about the change in home-plate collisions? Should that still be part of the game, or is health paramount?
Harvey: It's part of the game, but not at the expense of health. Unlike replay, I understand and believe in what baseball is trying to accomplish here. We know far too much about injuries and head trauma now to allow unnecessary collisions in these games.
B/R: Do you believe human error is part of the game and should be embraced? Do you look back and regret any calls during your career?
Harvey: Every call I made was the right call for that moment. I truly believed that then, and I truly believe that now as we talk! I was correct in every call I made, regardless of what managers, players or replay may have said. To me, that's the reason I'm in the Hall of Fame. If I didn't umpire with conviction, I wouldn't have made it for long.
Here's a story for you: One time, a manager came out three times during a game to tell me how and why I was wrong about something. He told me that he would look at the replay after the game to prove his point and wanted an apology the next day. I told him that I was better than any machine he could find a replay on.
The next day, that manager apologized because he was wrong about the call.
B/R: You umpired in over 4,600 games. During those games, some of baseball's greatest players took the field, and special moments (Roberto Clemente's 3,000th hit, Kirk Gibson's World Series home run, the 1968 World Series) took place. Did you realize you were witnessing great moments as they occurred?
Harvey: To be honest, no. When you're in between the white lines, the game face is on. I was only focused on the task at hand—out, safe, ball, strike—leaving little time to think about how special a player, moment or game happened to be.
It's funny. Cooperstown asked me for pictures from my career. I didn't have many at all! Some players, coaches or umpires would take pictures with greats, especially as their career winded down. Memories to cherish. I never thought like that. Some of those games were great, but it was hard to realize it when there's a job to do.
B/R: Who was the most difficult manager to argue with?
Harvey: Ah, that's easy! Fred Hutchinson. That guy was a son of a gun! He would blister me. I mean, really! He would let me hear it all the time. Screaming, yelling and doing anything he could for his team, regardless of what it made him look or sound like to the crowd.
That's the stuff we'll miss now. Replay is a safety net. The days of Hutchinson vs. Harvey are over.
B/R: Describe what it was like to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Harvey: Very, very emotional for me. Not just from the perspective of achievement, but I've had health issues. I had cancer and strokes before the ceremony, so I needed help just to make it to Cooperstown and be part of anything planned. But nothing could stop me from going. Nothing could stop me from that honor. Baseball gave me everything. I gave baseball everything I had. That will never change.
Final Thoughts and an Excerpt from They Called Me God
When it comes to umpiring, few can speak with more conviction than Harvey. After a career that spanned the time period from John F. Kennedy's presidency to the end of George H. W. Bush's era in the White House, Harvey umpired more baseball than most fans can imagine watching in a lifetime.
Although he was against the movement toward instant replay and taking the spontaneity out of baseball, the Hall of Famer thinks replay will work and that protecting catchers from unnecessary collisions is the right move for the game.
The following in an excerpt from They Called Me God:
One of the most important lessons I learned as an umpire occurred during my rookie season. Gene Mauch was the manager of the Philadelphia Phillies, and he fancied himself a genius with the rules.
It was a night game, and I was umpiring at third, and there was a close play. Don Hoak, whom the Phils had acquired from Pittsburgh toward the end of his career, got the ball in time ahead of the sliding runner. He put his glove down, and when the runner came within two feet of him he pulled the glove back, missing the tag, and I called the runner safe. Mauch came running out to raise hell with me, so I had to run him, and I had to run Hoak as well.
At the end of the evening I had a sore throat from all the hollering. Mauch and I must have stood there for twenty minutes hollering at each other. Finally Al Barlick came over, took charge, and got Mauch to leave the field.
Sitting in a bar that night, I asked myself, I wonder what would happen if I refused to argue with him?
The next night I was at second base. There was a slide play there. Phillies second baseman Cookie Rojas caught the ball in time, but I called the runner safe, and out came Mauch again.
This time I stood there with my arms crossed and stared at him. I started counting to twenty to myself—one, two, three, four . . . until I got to eighteen, nineteen, twenty, and when Mauch started repeating himself, I said to him, “Gene, I’ve listened to you. Why don’t you listen to me?”
Mauch shut up.
“Cookie had the ball in time,” I said, “but he had a slow glove and missed the tag.”
Gene turned toward Rojas—I was wondering what Cookie was going to say—and with his Spanish accent Rojas said, “He’s right, skeeper.”
I turned and saw Mauch loping across the infield back to the dugout. He jumped over the foul line and went into the dugout, and that was the last argument I ever had with him.
He accepted the fact that I knew what I was doing. I understand that years later, when Mauch was managing Montreal, he got in a big fight on the field and told the umpiring crew, “I’ll trade one Doug Harvey for all of you.”
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