Sometimes certain personalities in the game of Baseball come along and leave an indelible, and permanent imprint on your mind. You never forget them. Such can be said for legendary umpire and crew chief Harry Hunter Wendelstedt Jr. who passed away today at the age of 73. According to the associated press, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and passed away from complications from illnesses. He passed away in Ormand beach, Florida.
Wendelstedt was an umpire like none other. When you think of the perfect umpire mold, Harry broke that. Harry Wendelstedt was a National League umpire for 32 years from 1966-1998. Wendelstedt called balls and strikes in five no-hitters. This tied a major league record previously set by Bill Klem.
Wendelstedt was often a home plate umpire, and crew chief. He called his games with an iron-fist like authority. For instance on May 31, 1968, he was involved in a play that helped extend Dodger legend Don Drysdale’s record 58 consecutive scoreless inning streak, by ruling a batter had not tried to get out of the way of a pitch. Drysdale was trying for his fifth of six shutouts, and Wendelstedt was working home plate. The Dodgers were playing the Giants, and their catcher Dick Dietz came up to the plate with the base loaded, and nobody out in the top of the 9th inning. Dietz was hit on the elbow by a Drysdale pitch. This would have forced in a run, but Wendelstedt ruled that Dietz made no attempt to get out of the way of the pitch, and sent him back. Drysdale would retire Dietz on the fly ball, and get out of the inning, preserving the streak.
Wendelstedt was known for his emphatic chainsaw punch-outs. When a batter struck out looking, he would raise his hand very high in the air, and then go right to the chainsaw call-out. His trademark chainsaw move was straight out of the umpiring textbook. A perfect punch-out call. Wendelstedt also called four all-star games, seven National League Championship Series, and three Division Series. He was also know for having a very wide strike zone. His uniform number was number 21. Wendelstedt also ran an umpiring school in Ormand Beach, Florida.
Wendelstedt’s son Harry the third, is also a Major League Umpire. His son also goes by the name of Hunter, in honor of his father. Wendelstedt and his son once umpired a Major League game together. Wendelstedt remembered that day by saying…..
“As I grew in stature, the National League used to assign all rookie umpires to me. My bonus was that Hunter (his son) was assigned to me. We were the first father-son team to umpire a Major League game.”
“Decisions could be crucial. I always took my time and gave 100%. When I stepped onto the field, it was all business.”
I am against the expansion of instant replay. I respect and admire the umpires on the field. They don’t have the benefit of watching plays in instant replay, they have to call the plays as they happen in real time. It is a lot harder than you think it is. Don’t get me wrong I want the plays to be called correctly, but I feel that by expanding instant replay they are taking away part of the mystique of the game. Isn’t that what makes the game great? Controversial calls have been a part of the game since the beginning. Was he safe? Or was he out? That is an age old Baseball question that should be never taken away. I think we should put our trust in the umpires. Most of the time they do a great job, like Harry Wendelstedt did.
My thoughts and condolences go out to the Wendelstedt family. Harry Hunter Wendelstedt, we at Lasorda’s Lair salute you! A true blue umpire in time.