All-Star Game at Washington

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

"They Called Me God"

I recently finished the first autobiography of an umpire I have ever read, and it was by Doug Harvey (with Peter Golenbock) called "They Called Me God."

Doug Harvey was the legendary umpire who worked in the National League from 1962-1992, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame, just the ninth umpire so honored. Harvey is now 84 years old, and has been suffering from cancer, and hooked up with Golenbock to tell his life story.

One thing you have to say about Harvey is is that he was a man who was confident in his abilities, and had an incredible ego. (The book is subtitled "The Best Umpire Who Ever Lived." That, of course, is a subject for debate. But he was the best ump of his generation.) Harvey is very blunt in this book, and doesn't beat around the bush as far who he likes and doesn't care for.

And there's plenty of salty language mixed in as well.

It's clear Harvey had an incredible passion for the game of baseball and his profession. And as an umpire, he always let the players know who was in charge. ("You refer to me as "sir" or "Mr. Umpire" he told young players.) He rose quickly through the ranks of the minor leagues and became a National League ump in 1962. He gives his take on players, managers, coaches, his fellow umpires, and baseball commissioners. (Bud Selig probably won't care much for this book.)

Harvey claims to have never made a mistake in his 31 years of umpiring. While I find that hard to believe, I did find his take on some of the controversial plays he was involved with interesting. He was the third base ump when Johnny Roseboro was attacked by Juan Marichal in the bat incident in 1965, and was the home plate ump who called Lou Brock out at home in Game 5 of the 1968 World Series that turned the tide of that series in the Detroit Tigers favor.

Whenever a read a baseball history/biography book like this, I always look for factual errors, and I found a few here. Golenbock, who co-wrote that sloppy Johnny Damon book "Idiot" in 2005 (which had numerous embarrassing errors in it), made few here. The ones that jump out are when he wrote that the Mets won the 1969 NLCS in five games, when in fact they won in a three-game sweep; said that Doc Gooden faced Pete Rose when Pete was in Philadelphia, which is not possible, as Gooden came up to the Mets in 1984, and Rose was playing for the Expos that year; and stated that Jocko Conlan was the home plate ump for Don Larsen's prefect game in 1956, when it was in fact Babe Pinelli, who was umping his final game.

The book comes off as a series of loosely written anecdotes, without a meaningful structure. Harvey has certainly lived an interesting life as an ump in a crucial period of baseball history, but comes off as a bit of an egomaniac. He clearly wanted to air out some old grudges, with a few axes to grind with many he dealt with in the game.

If you are a fan of MLB in the 1960s, '70s and '80s, I'm sure you will find something to like in "They Called Me God." Doug Harvey lets the world know in no uncertain terms who he liked and didn't care much for. He probably wouldn't have wanted to do it any other way.

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