Recalling A Great Umpire, Great Friend
By Tom Knight
Brooklyn Baseball Historian
Bang the drum slowly for my dear friend Harry Wendelstedt, who was an outstanding National League umpire for 33 years. He died on Friday, March 9, in Daytona Beach, Fla., at age 73. He ran a school for umpires at which he taught hundreds of aspiring men in blue (many made the majors) in nearby Ormand Beach where he lived.
Harry Hunter Wendelstedt Jr. was born in Baltimore, Md., on July 27, 1938. His father was a truck driver and his mother Elizabeth was a homemaker. He attended Baltimore public schools and had two years of college before joining the Marines. He was mulling whether to re-enlist when he attended the Al Somers Umpire School in Ormand Beach. The rest, as they say, is history. After only four seasons in the minor leagues, he was promoted to the National League.
I first met Harry during his first season in 1966, when he joined the crew of another good friend and great umpire, the late “Shag” Crawford, and we were friends all these years. Crawford’s son Jerry replaced him and had an outstanding career as an umpire for 26 years!
Harry’s son Hunter followed in his dad’s footsteps as well. In fact, Hunter joined his father’s crew in 1998 for several games. They were the only father-and-son umpires to work together in major league history!
Harry umpired in five World Series, four All-Star games, seven National League championship series and three divisional series. He retired in 1998, two seasons before umpires began working in both leagues.
Harry returned to teach at the Somers School every year. In 1977, he took over the school from Somers, who died 20 years later.
Only one umpire, Silk O’Loghlin, who worked in the early 20th century, was behind the plate for more no-hitters than Wendelstedt, who called balls and strikes for five of them, including those thrown by Hall of Famers Gaylord Perry and Bob Gibson.
Perry’s no-no for the San Francisco Giants against the St. Louis Cardinals in September 1968 was the second for Wendelstedt that season. The first was thrown in July against the Philadelphia Phillies by the Cincinnati Reds’ George Culver.
It was perhaps Wendelstedt’s most eventful season. On May 31, he made one of baseball’s most remarkable calls. In the ninth inning of a game in Los Angeles between the Giants and the Dodgers, Don Drysdale was working on his fifth-straight shutout when, with the bases loaded, he hit the Giants’ Dick Dietz on the elbow. The pitch would have sent Dietz to first and forced in a run, ending Drysdale’s scoreless innings streak, but Wendelstedt, invoking a rarely applied rule, declared that Dietz had not tried to avoid the pitch and that he must remain at bat. Drysdale retired Dietz and completed the shutout.
The call allowed Drysdale’s streak to continue and he went on to pass Walter Johnson’s record of 55 2/3 innings, set in 1913. Drysdale ended with 58 1/3, a mark broken by Orel Hershiser 20 years later.
Harry Wendelstedt was a good friend and a great umpire.