I don’t know how many of you watch sporting events because of the officials. I’m sure the number can be counted on no hands. I’ve often said that the sign of a good official is that no one notices him. Sometimes however, a call needs to be made and no matter how you call it, half the fans and participants won’t be happy, no matter what the ruling is. As much as no one likes it, the fact is that officiating can and often does change the outcome of sporting events. Game officials are a huge part of sports, there’s just no way around it.
Factually speaking their are three teams on the playing field in a team sporting event, and one of them is the officiating team. I’m certain that every one of you can think of a call made by an official that went against popular opinion (in many cases, hard cold factual evidence) that changed the outcome of a sporting event.
Baseball umpires are perhaps the most scrutinized officials in all of sport. It’s by no means the hardest game to officiate, in fact, it’s probably the easiest. But, because of the number of MLB games, the fact that MLB allows them to square off with managers and go at it on occasion and the TV airtime these guys get, some umpires become household names.
Harry Hunter Wendelstedt, Jr. died Friday at Florida Hospital Memorial Medical Center in Daytona Beach, Fla., near the umpiring school he ran for more than three decades in Ormond Beach. He had been diagnosed several years ago with a brain tumor. He was 73.
Umpiring games from 1966-1998, harry was an umpire for more than the first 30 years of my life and integral part of many of my memories of the game of professional baseball. Harry worked in the National League from 1966 to 1998 umpiring in the World Series in 1973, 1980, 1986, 1991 and 1995, serving as crew chief in 1980 and 1995. He also officiated in seven National League Championship Series (1970, 1972, 1977, 1981, 1982, 1988, 1990) and four All-Star games (1968, 1976, 1983, 1992), calling balls and strikes in 1976. He umpired in the National League Division Series in 1995, 1996 and 1997. He wore uniform number 21.
Wendelstedt called balls and strikes in 5 no-hitters, tying an NL record held by Bill Klem. As a home plate umpire, Wendelstedt was known for keeping a wide strike zone. When a batter struck out swinging, he flailed his right arm straight up in the air. When a batter struck out looking, he applied the notorious “chainsaw” move.
Perhaps Wendelstedt’s most famous call came in just his third hear in the league when on May 31, 1968, Wendelstedt made a famous call that preserved Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Don Drysdale’s consecutive shutouts and scoreless innings streaks. Giants catcher Dick Dietz came to the plate in the top of the 9th inning with the bases loaded and no outs. On a 2-2 count, Drysdale hit Dietz on the elbow, apparently forcing in a run that would have ended the streaks. However, Wendelstedt ruled that Dietz made no attempt to avoid being struck by the pitch, and called him back. Drysdale retired Dietz on a short fly ball and got out of the inning without yielding a run, earning his fifth (of six) consecutive shutouts.
Wendelstedt’s son, Harry Hunter Wendelstedt III, followed in his father’s footsteps and is a current major league umpire. The younger Wendelstedt goes by his middle name of “Hunter” professionally. To honor his father, Hunter also wears uniform number 21.
So long Harry. I never met you, but you were such a big part of my life, I thought you should be acknowledged. RIP Harry Hunter Wendelstedt, Jr.