Doug Harvey died yesterday. He was an icon in Major League Baseball and the ninth umpire selected for the Hall of Fame. Not only was he one of my favorite umpires to watch when I was a kid, because of his cool, professional demeanor, standing up in the (sometimes literal) face of some of the hottest hotheads in the game, he was also one of my inspirations when I wrote The Call.
As I educated myself about umpiring and what it takes to make it, I fell in love with this Harvey quote, which I felt summed up the profession that to some can look like such a thankless pursuit. I ended up opening the novel with it.
“When asked what he was fighting for, General Washington, in writing to General Thomas, said the object was ‘neither glory nor extent of territory, but a defense of all that is dear and valuable in life.’ He must have been an umpire. That’s what umpiring is about.”
Harvey also inspired the young umpires in the story. Margie admires his classy, in-command style and wants to emulate him. She’s never told anyone that before, and when a fellow rookie makes the comparison, she’s thrilled. (I’ve included an excerpt below.)
Thank you, Mr. Harvey, for all you’ve given baseball, and for inspiring generations to come.
As Margie rounded the right-field corner, Wes Osterhaus fell in beside her. His wiry limbs matched her stride, his pale, freckled cheeks pinking from the exertion and the Florida sun. In their morning classes, Wes sat Catholic-school-straight in the chair in front of hers, bobbing his head at the instructor. He always had the right answers, and a hundred other questions. The instructors had been patient with him, but more and more they said, “Let’s talk during lunch,” or told him to go look it up in the academy’s library. The “library” was a dingy, cinderblock-walled equipment room that smelled of sweat and old coffee and contained two metal folding chairs, an old TV, and an erector-set bookshelf of manuals and videotapes. Sometimes Margie passed the room on her way to Big Al’s office and Wes would be sitting there alone, staring at the screen, scribbling notes on his pad. She felt bad for the guy. He was smart, that much was clear, and he was one of the few people in camp who would talk to her. She overheard a couple of trainees calling him “Oster-cize,” and she wanted to kick them.
“Nice day for a run, huh?” Margie said.
“Technically, no.” Wes said some stuff about dew point and relative humidity that left Margie’s head spinning. Then he trailed off, and on the left-center warning track he said, “Forty-eight.”
“Excuse me?” Margie wiped the sweat off her brow with the back of her hand.
“Sixteen percent of three hundred.” He nodded toward the group of guys practicing on the field. “That’s how many candidates will get recommended for evaluation after we’re done. Fewer still will get minor-league assignments.”
She smirked. “I think you’re gonna do fine.”
He nodded toward Rocky Anderson, who was berating some guy until he hung his head. “But that instructor is lowering our chances. He’s doing it all wrong.”
Her eyebrows hopped up. “Whaddya mean, wrong?”
“Positive reinforcement has been shown to help long-term learning better than negative reinforcement.”
“You got English for that?”
“Okay, right,” he muttered, as if giving himself a reminder to dumb-down his vocabulary for the masses. “Your strike fist. If he said, ‘nice job’ when you tucked your thumb in, instead of making you do laps when you get it wrong, research says you’d learn better.”
“What, you saying I’m never gonna learn?”
“No, Margie, I believe you will.” He paused a moment and added, “Because you remind me of Doug Harvey. He’s the best umpire in the game.”
She grinned. “Really? Doug Harvey?”
“Yes. The way you make your calls. The way you know the rules.”
Damn. “You wanna race?”
She knocked an elbow into his arm. “Aw, come on. Race me to the on-deck circle. Loser picks up the beer tonight.”
“That’s negative reinforcement. And besides, I don’t drink.”
“Okay. Winner gets to pick the game tape in the library later.”
“See? Now I’ll do it,” he said. “Because you’re offering me a learning opportunity.”
He took off. She took off after him. For the first time in Margie’s life, a boy beat her in a footrace. Probably because she let him.