God Is Not Great

January 20, 2016

What can I say, I have no belief in God whatsoever, but (you may be pleased to learn) this column will concern Doug Harvey’s autobiography entitled They Called Me God. And if you think he’s kidding, or being funny, or ironical, or anything like that, the subtitle is "The Best Umpire Who Ever Lived," and he means at least 11 of those 12 pompous, self-important syllables. (I’m giving him a pass on "The.")  There have been numerous sports autobiographies written by egomaniacs, habitual braggarts, BS artists, and all sorts of delusional fabricators, it’s practically a requirement of the genre, but I assume that some of that just goes with the territory: in order to succeed at the very top levels in competitive fields populated by people brimming with confidence (or, worse, faking it), sports figures must be driven to believe in their own natural superiority. But They Called Me God takes that drive down roads I’ve never seen before.

This ludicrous (but sometimes unintentionally informative) memoir of Harvey’s long umpiring career is absolutely loaded with iterations and reiterations of that theme: "I don’t believe I ever made a wrong call," appears on page one, and is endlessly rephrased throughout the book. I am not going to run down Harvey’s anecdotes and run tracers on them here, but I did want to use this book as a corrective to something I wrote in my column tracing whoppers in Bill Veeck’s autobiography, which I praised for its modesty.

Harvey’s book is just about the least modest autobiography ever written, this side of Mein Kampf, which I had trouble finishing, so much so that as you read it, you think, "He simply must be kidding here, he’s making fun of himself, isn’t he? No one could be half as full of himself  as Harvey is here, and here, and here, and here…" but no, very soon, you realize that he is NOT kidding, that he really does think this highly of his own fairness, his own integrity, his own eyesight, his own judgment.  After a short while, however, you come to understand that not only is this level of umpiring flawlessness impossible, but Harvey is himself  providing all the evidence you could need to show it isn’t so.

He self-righteously provides anecdotes, for example, that detail his deliberate miscalling of balls-and-strikes, many times in his career, sometimes to teach some smart-ass ballplayer a lesson in manners, sometimes to get back at misbehaving managers, or fans, or league officials, or his fellow umpires, and it’s as if he doesn’t see how these incidents all disprove his central thesis, that his abilities are Godlike and his dispassionate delivery of justice is swift and eternal. It’s hard to read this book and not at least wonder if God is entirely right in the head. (Two brief examples, both from his accounts of major league games: "…on the first pitch, which was outside, I called ‘Strike one,’" from page 161, and "The pitch crossed the plate outside the strike zone. What could I do? I couldn’t change the call. I’d already called strike three. It was the third out. The Dodgers trotted off the field," from page 124.  Both calls stood. This sort of thing is very hard to reconcile with "I don’t believe I ever made a wrong call.")

Or maybe he’s not a crazed Supreme Being, just a sloppy proofreader. The reason I gave up so soon on doing a few tracers was that my first attempt was about a story Harvey tells that I knew, without looking at a single reference book, was years away from being accurate. Harvey first umpired in MLB in 1962 and he describes Joe Torre as the first player he ever ejected. Fair enough, Torre was playing MLB by 1962, but the ejection Harvey describes has Torre playing for the Cardinals, a team he didn’t play for until 1969. I gave up on tracing Harvey’s errors at that point—it would be as easy, and as unnecessary, and as mean-spirited, as drowning a kitten in a bucket. (It was an actual error, incidentally, not just an innocent proofreading lapse--he wrote "Cardinals" or "in St. Louis" three times on page 158. He also has this late-season game taking place vs. the Pirates, whom Torre last played against in 1962 on the 10th of June. Turns out the late-season game took place on May the 9th, in Milwaukee, where Torre’s Braves played, of course, not in St. Louis.) But I wanted to describe this book to add something I got wrong in praising Veeck’s modesty.

I wrote that Veeck didn’t write a word about his wartime service in the Marines that cost him half of his right leg, but I hadn’t quite finished re-reading the book, and when I got up to the final chapters where Veeck does describe those events, it would have been a verbose distraction to go back and include in that column the fact that Veeck was less modest than I’d made him out to be. My point still holds: Veeck’s book, even including the description of his amputated leg, overwhelmingly gives credit to other people in a way that Harvey’s book, for example, does not begin to. I credit Veeck with delaying those gory details until long after a reader has gotten the correct impression of him as a man who enjoys giving others credit for helping him along in his career.

Harvey’s lack of credit to others, on the other hand, seems practically sociopathic. (To be fair, Harvey does credit the man who first hired him to umpire, the man who promoted him to MLB, the woman who married him, but all are credited for doing the right thing in recognizing his unparalleled skills. Even when he writes about people he admired, he will utterly vilify their characters. Of Al Barlick, his crew chief, he says, "Though I hated him, Al Barlick taught me so much about my craft…". And he means he hated Barlick, no question. Not for a day, not for a season, but simply detested him. And this was one of his closest friends in baseball.) But you probably work alongside people who have trouble recognizing their own faults, or the virtues of those around them. If they’re not actually sociopathic, and they’re probably not (unless you’re very unlucky), they are certainly angry, mean-spirited, toxic personalities at best.  That’s the range Doug Harvey falls into, by his own admission—somewhere between terrifying hostility and actual sociopathy.

But he had some people who liked him, to judge by the book’s back cover: Nolan Ryan, Ozzie Smith, Tommy John, all have nice things to say about him, though if you read them carefully enough, they don’t actually praise Harvey unambiguously. Ryan’s quote, for example, reads "For me there wasn’t a better umpire in the National League," which could easily imply that for hundreds of other National Leaguers, Harvey was a terrible umpire, or Smith’s just says "Doug Harvey was the ultimate umpire." I wonder if you quizzed Ozzie closely about that, he might not smile and say, "Yeah, well, umpires are assholes."

Harvey is clear, very clear, on who he admired (practically no one) and who he didn’t get along with (the rest of humanity), but the surprising part is who goes on each list.  The most interesting sections of this memoir are the behind-the-scenes stuff, about what the umpires and managers are saying when they argue (a lot of serious swearing), or what the umpires’ lives are like after the games (a lot of serious drinking). If I give you two lists, one of Harvey’s NG list, and the other Harvey’s OK list, do you want to guess which list is which?

Don Drysdale

Connie Hawkins               

Del Crandall

Earl Weaver

Casey Stengel   

Cookie Rojas

Bobby Bragan

Steve Carlton

Bob Gibson

John Wooden

Warren Spahn

Sandy Alderson

Cliff Hagan

Fred Hutchinson

Red Schoendienst

Johnny Keane

 

Which is the list of Good Guys and which the list of Bad Guys? While you mull that over, I’ll tell you why there are basketball players on the lists: Harvey used to supplement his income by reffing pro and college basketball games, and despite not really knowing the rules of basketball (he was mailed a rulebook two days before he reffed his first game in the ABL) Harvey did OK, mostly because his stock in trade wasn’t knowing the rules as much as it was about projecting authority.  He writes about allowing certain basketball players to beat the living crap out of other players while he, Harvey, looked the other way, as a way to administer justice, a method I’m pretty sure is not in The Referees’ Guidebook.   OK, the Good Guys are on the left, and the Bad Guys are on the right.

No, sorry, the Good Guys are on the right, and the Bad Guys are on the left. Either way, it’s awful hard to tell, just based on the impressions we have of their personalities, which ones Harvey admired and which ones he detested, isn’t it? That’s the part I found so interesting, Harvey’s anecdotes about his run-ins with particular players and managers, and how freely they lost their tempers with him, and he with them, and which ones accepted Harvey’s authority (the key to getting along with him) and which ones resisted it (the key to eternal damnation.)  And btw, I was messing with you—the Good Guys ARE on the left.

That’s the truth, but if you want to check it out for sure, read the book. You’ll never be able to tell which list is which just by applying your pre-conceptions, that’s for sure.  Harvey very simply divided the planet into those who surrendered their will to his, and those who insisted on defying him at times. Very Manichaean.

Of course, that’s not only a crazy stance to take in regard to one’s fellow human beings, but it’s also a sensible and practical approach to umpiring, that I can sort of see, if I hold my head like this ;), all twisted around to the side, and squint.  It makes sense, in a twisted sort of way, to concede, once you get on a baseball field, that there’s no point in arguing with umpires, it all evens out eventually, they’re trying their best, even if they aren’t perfect, and you could be the one who saw the play wrong, not him. Maybe the strongest part of this line of thought is that arguments unquestionably have the effect of slowing down the game, and no one thinks the fans pay to watch discussions of fine points in the rule book for extended periods.

Harvey adds to this position one other element: most arguments, in his view, derive from players and managers seeking to game the system, to gain an edge by arguing with umpires so relentlessly, so ceaselessly, so nastily, that the umpires’ only defense against this tedious and unpleasant experience is to concede a couple of close calls to the side that he knows will scream the loudest and the longest about it. Harvey terms this, correctly, "trying to intimidate the ump" and he refuses to give in to intimidation.  His response to someone questioning his judgment is to grind his heels into the ground and refuse to budge. If the argument goes on too long, he tells the would-be intimidator to shut up or get tossed from the game, having wasted his own time and energy while never having won a single advantage. That, Harvey reasons, is their lesson: don’t waste time arguing, you’ll never get anywhere. Never ever ever. Ever.

That’s also the reason players and managers of Harvey’s day did genuinely dislike umps. From their point of view, the umps did make calls wrong—maybe it’s only a tiny fraction of the time, but it’s still got to be more often than "Never," yet umpires used to concede they made a mistake exactly that often: Never. What colossal, arrogant, stubborn jerks!

Now, of course, the use of instant replay, and its grateful acceptance by players, umpires, managers and fans (Harvey’s book came out in 2014, so it was written just as replay was being approved) contradicts Harvey’s silly assertion that no umpire must ever admit making a wrong call. I personally think instant replay is the greatest technological innovation in baseball since anti-fungal powder was invented, and it dispenses justice far more fairly than the most omniscient of umpires ever could.  But I don’t think Harvey’s attitude, however loopy, was totally wrong.

It was necessary, just to keep going out there thousands and thousands of times (Harvey umped 4,673 games by his own count) with confidence and authority. Harvey makes a fascinating judgment when he says that "Umpires are there to keep the players from cheating."  If no one pays money to watch two men having an inaudible argument two hundred feet away, then no one pays money, either, to watch ballgames won by the side with the most skillful cheaters either, and since it’s not cheating if you get away with it, that’s the function that umpires serve first and foremost: to keep the game honest.

So Harvey’s bluster and his braggadocio about the greatness of his skills, knowledge and eyesight just represent his need to project himself as the ultimate authority, not to make an objective analysis of those physical and mental attributes. He draws a fine distinction: "Umpires don’t ask for respect, they demand it."  It’s almost literally like the Old Testament God informing people "I am the Lord your God." Um, OK, cool, did someone say you weren’t? The first thing that you establish (or, if you prefer, that You establish) is who’s in charge, because without that, you got nothing except endless arguments with people who sometimes are liars and cheaters and other times are, like Earl Weaver, even worse.

(The reason Harvey approved of Weaver, btw, was that, as an NL ump, he had almost no contact with him, but the one time he did deal with him, Weaver conceded after a day’s consultation with the rule book that Harvey was 100% correct in his ruling, and that he, Weaver, was 100% wrong. WTG, Earl! Found the secret to getting on Harvey’s good side first shot out of the box!)

To keep the game moving along at a swift clip, to prevent managers from succeeding at gaming the system, umpires of Harvey’s pre-replay day needed to project authority, and maybe even to believe themselves in their infallibility (in order to project it: "It’s not a lie," as George Costanza reminded us, "if you believe it").  So this autobiography is a very useful documentation of the mindset before instant replay came along. Of course, Harvey hates the concept, but that’s okay. He’s representing a mindset, the old-fashioned mindset that hates instant replay. As an historical articulation of how people used to think on this subject, you’ll never find a clearer one than Doug Harvey.

He also gets some stuff dead-right: his five rules of umpiring are pretty useful. Listen to the ball hitting the glove. Stop running before you try to judge how an outfielder’s glove does or doesn’t meet up with the ball. If you really can’t tell if a ball over the first- or third-base bag is fair or foul, call it fair. Before you call the tie going to the runner, make sure it’s actually a tie. And finally, the black is not a part of the plate—the plate itself is white.

Now you might disagree with any of those judgments, or with all of them, but that’s not the point. Harvey’s point is that these rules force him to rule consistently, and ruling consistently is better than ruling correctly.  At least that’s how I take it—Harvey doesn’t quite express it that way, but I think that’s what made ballplayers call him "God." (That, and the white hair.)  He was consistent, you knew what you were getting, so you could adjust your game to meet Harvey’s standards, and that’s all ballplayers want from umpires, a consistent standard that doesn’t vary depending on the umpire’s mood that day.  Harvey always was in same mood: stubborn, arrogant, and dictatorial, and the ballplayers appreciated that consistency.

That consistency is curiously inconsistent, incidentally. Harvey is very big on telling every player and manager who deals with him what his simple rules are for how they may address him. There are very few things he will allow someone to call him. He names them explicitly, and tells them in advance that any name other that these few will mean an instant ejection. Okay?

Now it’s a small thing, but those very few names are listed several times throughout They Called Me God. ("God," btw, is NOT one of the names he lists, though when Lenny Dykstra greets him with "Hello, God," he let Lenny stay in the ballgame.)  And each time Harvey enumerates those names it’s a slightly different list: Sparky Anderson gets told he can call Harvey "sir" or "Mr. Umpire" or "Mr. Harvey" (p. 218); on page 158 that list appears as "sir," "Mr. Umpire," or "Doug"; on page 203 the list becomes "Mr. Harvey," "sir," and "ump." On page 194 he writes "Al Barlick taught us that they were to call us sir or Mr. Umpire and if they called us anything else we were to eject them."  On page 180, the list gets rendered as just "umpire" (no "Mr.") and "sir." It’s a small point, but you’d think if you’re going to repeat a two- or three-item list, any variance from which means an ejection, you’d want to render it consistently, but no.  And, despite his lists, calling him just plain "Harvey" and "Harv" was ok too, because dialogue with Tony La Russa, Dick Williams, Lou Piniella, Walter Alston and others uses that form of address and God lets it go. Oh, well, there are certain textual inconsistencies in the Old Testament, too, that doesn’t seem to bother too much those who believe in it, either.  

The book’s mood is itself curious: it’s a sort of deathbed confession, though Harvey is still with us and reasonably healthy for a man who was diagnosed with fatal throat cancer and given two months to live in 1997. But even that grim information, which is given very early in the book and casts a long shadow over most of what follows, illustrates his stubbornness. Embarking on his umpiring career, the young (but already graying) Harvey was given two pieces of advice by the big-league scout who first noticed his umpiring talent: dye your hair and stop chewing tobacco. Harvey, naturally, refused. "If they don’t want a gray-haired, tobacco-chewing umpire, they’re not getting me."

That advice would have prevented him from getting cancer. (Well, maybe not the hair-dye part.) He quotes his doctor:  "Nothing else" besides chewing tobacco gave him throat cancer. And to his credit, after being diagnosed with a death sentence, Harvey went around the country counselling young people never to start chewing tobacco. What he doesn’t do, and which I found a little odd, is to re-visit his initial response to the man who first advised him, and whom he first ignored, about chewing tobacco.  There’s not a word of regret for blowing off that sound advice, not a word of self-recrimination for his stubbornness, not a word of belated apology to the scout who told him not to chew tobacco in the first place, just lots of words on how hard he worked spreading the word to junior-high school students about avoiding his fatal error.

This is not a biography of the examined life, to say the least. Doug Harvey is about as unself-reflective as it gets, but the book is nonetheless valuable to understand how someone gets to be that way, and to stay that way, for his entire life. Just never admit to making a single mistake, ever, and you, too, can become the best umpire who ever lived.

 
 

COMMENTS (26 Comments, most recent shown first)

dmbbmartin10
list too easy...everybody loves Casey
4:49 PM Jan 29th
 
Steven Goldleaf
OK, I thought maybe it just didn't translate into English very well.
6:55 AM Jan 27th
 
steve161
I started it years ago but gave it up. The prose is turgid beyond imagining; it makes Richard Wagner's seem fluid. And the contents make Donald Trump seem nuanced.
5:11 PM Jan 26th
 
Steven Goldleaf
Just curious, Steve, if YOU have ever read Mein Kampf, or tried to. You're one of the few people I know fluent in German who might have taken a look, out of curiosity.
1:39 PM Jan 25th
 
Steven Goldleaf
I agree that having someone guessing where a pitch is, technician or ump, is unreliable, but the technology of putting sensors on every uniform (all the way around the body) at the letters and the knees is child's play. Even someone trained in the humanities could do that. The other part, measuring a 3-dimensional plate, seems fairly simple as well. This is one of those "If we can put a man on the moon" type questions--if baseball wanted it, it could be done by next Thursday. Baseball doesn't want it, but I don't think the technology is the barrier.
8:02 AM Jan 25th
 
steve161
I will agree with you as soon as your hypothetical sensors that define the top and bottom of the strike zone become reality. Right now that decision is made by a technician sitting in front of a computer screen, watching a two-dimensional representation of a three-dimensional event. Why would you think he is any more consistent than a trained umpire?

I do find it amusing that a man who has spent his professional life in the humanities is more sanguine about technology than a man who spent his professional life programming computers.
6:21 AM Jan 25th
 
Steven Goldleaf
My issue with you there is that I believe machines--even if they're far more prone to mis-call strikes and balls, which I don't think they are--are 100% consistent. Humans are maybe 95% consistent, 97%, something like that. If a pitcher finds a way to game a machine, finds a corner that's really a ball but the machine for some reason calls a strike, it will be a strike 100% of the time, and the batter should be able to adjust his game to that reality.
5:35 PM Jan 24th
 
steve161
Steven, I don't disagree that, when the technology is ripe, automating the strike zone will bring an improvement in consistency and accuracy. I'm simply pointing out that the technology is not ripe, not by a long shot. Of course umpires miss pitches, though if you watch a game with mlb.tv's PitchF/X widget enabled, you might well conclude that they don't miss any more than the technology does. And forget about the alleged strike zone that they show you on network TV.

I'm guessing that, assuming effort is expended on improving it, the technology might be an improvement over human umpires in about five years. That probably means that MLB will introduce it in three.
3:50 PM Jan 24th
 
Steven Goldleaf
Thanks for the reminder, flyingfish. I've gotten about half of that written (and about three others--that's just how I work, 19 projects at once, including BJOL articles). I realized at some early point that piece had to be bigger than just rooting for teams: it was threatening to turn into a sociological examination of rooting for all sorts of "tribes" to which we belong and, last I looked, I was trying to rope it in a little and bring it back to baseball. But I waste very little material, so you should be seeing that piece, if not sooner then a little bit later than I planned. But thanks for your interest and for the reminder.
7:52 AM Jan 24th
 
flyingfish
Steven: This from you reminded me of something else: "I was really hoping to start a discussion here about umping in general, and how instant replay has affected what we think of umps--maybe that's a more general subject for a future column." The something else, if I remember correctly, was a "future column" you promised (perhaps "promised" is too strong) on why we root for teams. I said then that I eagerly looked forward to that column, and I still do. While I wait for it, I'll look forward to your column on umpiring.
9:39 PM Jan 23rd
 
Steven Goldleaf
You have to remember, Steve (well, you don't HAVE to, but I do) that umpires can miss pitches, too--it's not as if humans are perfect, or could be, and the machines are error-prone. Without even going into how a sophisticated program might catch the plate's surface precisely, and how batter's uniforms could be equipped with sensors at precisely the points dictated by the rule books, even if we assume that the machine system will be prone to error, at least the errors will be consistent, which is better than being correct. If batters and pitchers understand exactly what will and won't be called a strike, they're probably happier than they are with a system that changes pitch to pitch, ump to ump, day to day, and often makes mistakes on the closest pitches.
5:28 PM Jan 23rd
 
steve161
Electronic balls and strikes will only be an improvement when PitchF/X or whatever is used takes the entire strike zone into account, and not just the front plane. I watch a lot of games on mlb.tv and sometimes turn on the PitchF/X widget. It frequently calls balls on pitches that are breaking toward the plate and may well catch an edge behind the front plane--or that break down into the zone even though they miss the top of the plane by a couple of inches.

And then there's this: to determine the top and bottom of the zone, somebody has to be sitting in front of a computer adjusting for every batter's stance, possibly from pitch to pitch. Would you rather beef at the guy you can see behind the plate, or at some invisible technician who may or may not have been trained to the specifics of the job?
4:10 PM Jan 23rd
 
Steven Goldleaf
I can remember, from one of the last "serious" games I played, I think it was the last I played with an ump in a grad-school league, I was pitching and giving the ump a very hard time. I think I felt that was required of me, that I would lose all the close calls if I didn't keep on the guy's ass all game long, that it was a part of my "job," and I could see I was getting to the ump, poor guy. In retrospect, I think the game would have been more enjoyable for everyone, including me, if I knew that mouthing off, even when I knew I was right, would get me thrown out of the game. In that sense, I think Harvey was 100% right, for his circumstances, though replay makes for a much faster, cleaner, more honest game. Electronic balls and strikes is going to be another great leap forward, and I can't wait for it.
7:15 AM Jan 23rd
 
MWeddell
I think some of us predicted that, once umpires could clearly see that more replays (and eventually more automation) won't eliminate their jobs, that the consensus among umpires would shift to be in favor of replay rather quickly. I think that has generally been true, that most of todays umpires, unlike Harvey, are in favor of replay. They don't want a repeat of things like Armando Galarraga losing a perfect game when all the television viewers and everyone in the stands with a smart phone can see slow-motion replays but the umpires can't use or even see them.
8:26 PM Jan 22nd
 
MWeddell
Steven,

I tend to post reviews on Amazon infrequently, pretty much only when there are few reviews for a book or when I have a different take than the consensus. I was certainly aware that others didn't rate Harvey's book as highly as I did.

However, even in a 5-star review of the book, I still managed to call the author "egocentric" and a "blowhard," which certainly supports your take.
8:21 PM Jan 22nd
 
Steven Goldleaf
Yes, I read your review, MWeddell, on the Amazon site while I was trolling for some of the more over-the-top terrible reviews, didn't catch your name at the time. Appreciate your take. It's funny, the split between readers who were able to shrug off the tone I complained so vehemently about, and those who weren't. If you could get past that, it was a pretty good book. One thing someone caught that I didn't was that he mentions his fellow umpire Jocko Conlan (who I had no idea was such a heavy drinker) umping Don Larsen's perfect game, when it was actually Babe Pinelli. I was really hoping to start a discussion here about umping in general, and how instant replay has affected what we think of umps--maybe that's a more general subject for a future column.
10:16 AM Jan 22nd
 
steve161
John Wooden wasn't as over the top as, say, Bobby Knight, but he was no less of a ref-baiter. And he did it with an air of sanctimonious self-righteousness that might well have been more annoying to a ref than a face full of spittle.
3:26 PM Jan 21st
 
MWeddell
Thanks for the fine article, Steven.

For what it's worth, I posted a 5-star (out of 5 possible) review on Amazon.com a couple years ago. I'll cut & paste it here:

They Called Me God is a quick, enjoyable book to read that I would recommend to other baseball fans.

Doug Harvey was a major league professional umpire from 1962-92. Harvey co-authored this autobiography in 2013, at the age of 83 and in poor health, 3 years after being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The book was enjoyable to me for several reasons.
(1) Harvey has a more interesting life story that one would expect. The book spends time exploring much of his life before he debuted in the majors, including his time as a professional basketball official, childhood medical trauma, how he began to enjoy umpiring, his two marriages, etc.
(2) The MLB portion of the book is light and breezy, fitting in as many stories as he could. He only really goes into depth in his relationships with other umpires.
(3) The book sounds like it is written in Harvey’s own voice. Other reviewers have remarked at how egocentric he is, which there is no denying. (Page 226 – When players called him God, Harvey felt like “they didn’t miss by much.”) This might have bothered me if it was a longer book, but it was fine for a short autobiography. Sometimes blowhards tell the best stories. Harvey is direct and determined, and telling it as he saw it helps make more believable how quickly he rose through the minor league umpiring system based on his knowledge of the rulebook and ability to control the game.
2:45 PM Jan 21st
 
Steven Goldleaf
Gibson was on his "evil" side because he was (famous for) always complaining about every call; Harvey's issue with Wooden concerned the same sort of thing--Wooden kept harping on how Bill Walton was getting fouled and Harvey wasn't calling it, and Harvey stopped the game to scold Wooden "the same way I would point at a high school kid not to do something....that was the last thing he said to me that evening." Kind of hard to picture, I know.
5:52 AM Jan 21st
 
dburba
I gave up on trying to figure out who were the good guys and who were the bad when Bob Gibson and John Wooden were on the same side.
3:00 AM Jan 21st
 
mrbryan
I really enjoyed reading this piece! I can't say that I'm rushing out to read Harvey's book, though.

Autobiographies are a tricky business. I think of them as basically falling into two types: famous people and their exploits / achievements, and writers writing about themselves. The problem with the former is that these are rarely people whose talents extend to self-expression. The latter, meanwhile, often have little to talk about. When they come together, it can be wonderful. When they don't... you get stuff like this.

It's possible that Harvey isn't an egomaniac, or an asshole, or even unpleasant, but simply fails to accurately express his personality on paper. Or he has a ghostwriter that he really pissed off.
10:27 PM Jan 20th
 
hotstatrat
Hey, 77Royals: A) Comparing something about something as similiar to something about Hitler is not the same as saying something is as bad as Hitler. It is attention getting, though, and apparently causes people to have irrational reactions to whatever is being said. B) Suggesting that someone is "whack-a-doodle" for this effort is outright cruel and discourages us from attempting boldly written efforts.​
7:51 PM Jan 20th
 
wilbur
I remember dozens of umpires by name, but very few can I still picture in my mind. Doug Harvey was one, for the unique way he consistently called Strike One, then Strike Two differently and Strike Three still another way. Just google the Sandberg game, where Harvey worked the plate, to get an idea.

Others were Al Barlick and Dutch Rehnert, both for their booming strike calls.

Thanks for the effort, Steve.
7:34 PM Jan 20th
 
Steven Goldleaf
Actually, 77Royals, I kinda enjoyed the book, and learned a lot from it, especially when I considered the implications of some of his authoritarian policies. I actually agree (as I noted) that an umpire needs to project authority, though it's regrettable what projecting that authority seemed to do to Harvey's personality. But in case you think I'm the only reader to take exception to the ridiculous tone of this book, take a look at a small selection of quotations from readers on Amazon's website, which of course are interspersed with praise from those commenting on the book's positive features. I was pretty gentle in comparison, I think, with these folks who REALLY ripped Harvey a few new bodily orifices:

"This is about how good Doug is, how good Doug thinks he is and making sure everyone else knows he's as God-like as he's convinced he is."

"It's too bad, had he put his ego aside, concentrated on the inside stories (and invested in a proof reader) this would have had potential. As it is it's just a poorly written vanity project ."

"Oh yeah, and a reminder every 4 pages that he was the greatest umpire that ever lived. Harvey struck out with me."

"Permeated with stale clichés and loaded with self aggrandizement, it’s painfully bad."

"Have you ever been on a long cross-country flight and the guy sitting next to you is prattling on about his unparalleled talent, integrity, and all-around greatness? And you can't shut him up? And it gets to the point where you're seriously considering jumping out of the plane? If so, there's a good chance the guy was Doug Harvey."

"it was tough to read about him bragging about his ability. To say he never missed a call in 30 years is a bit much. Hearing that he and his brother were the best basketball officials in the PAC 10 is not necessary. His inflated ego his hard to take"

"it is the perfect title for a Harvey bio, no doubt about it. Objectivity? Kind of like his strike zone, none existent."

"I've never been more disappointed in a book that could of had good inside baseball material. But all you get is you page after page of being told that Doug Harvey is the most perfect umpire of all time. For sure he is the most conceited of all time."

"He may be the best umpire that ever lived but this is close to the worse book ever written. Most people who have to brag about themselves in 274 pages are likely not too impressive."

"What an ego. Mr. Harvey wants to convince us that he is God-like, and that other people are a--holes if they do not agree with him. He seems to love naming names to make them look bad. There is very little in the book that informs about the inside of the game, because it's all about how great he is."

"Terribly self promoting. Nauseating. As a former Umpire I was embarrassed. And on the field bothersome that he acted more important than the game. Nobody pays to see the umpire work."

And on and on and on.... I wish I'd had some memories of Harvey ruling against my team from 30 years ago--I would have included them in my comments.
4:06 PM Jan 20th
 
agcohen
As a fan, I remember Harvey as one of the most respected umpires within the industry. He is one of the few umpires I remember for their umpiring, as he was one of the "best" plate umpires I remember watching on TV. He seemed remarkably accurate and consistent. He also seemed to avoid getting into gratuitous arguments with players and managers. And so I found his book's tone surprising when I skimmed through it in a book store last year, and am shocked by the further details in this review. If this is the mindset of one of the "best" umpires, what are the ones who come off as arrogant a-holes really like?
12:56 PM Jan 20th
 
77royals
Wow. Did he make a bad call against your favorite team in a meaningless game 30 years ago?

Comparing someone to Hitler just because you don't like umpires seems a little .... whack-a-doodle?​
12:16 PM Jan 20th
 
 
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