The tweet came across my timeline from MLB Public Relations.
Condolences to the family of longtime NL Umpire Harry Wendelstedt, who passed away today at age 73. He worked 7 NLCS & 5 World Series.
Harry Wendelstedt died? No way. The first thing I did was text my father. “Harry Wendelstedt passed away at 73, I’m sorry” Many kids that watch baseball idolize the players. Mines were Ken Griffey Jr., Chipper Jones, and Tom Glavine. However, in my house we also idolized the umpires. There on my bedroom shelf were baseballs signed by umpires my father grew up with, but on every ball there was Harry Wendelstedt. We lived in Daytona Beach, FL the same town as Wendelstedt’s famed umpire school. My dad had attended the school in the 80’s and went on to become an umpire for junior colleges and high schools in the area. Umpiring was my father’s passion and there was no one he admired more than Wendelstedt.
In 1992, we went on a family vacation with stops in Nashville and then Atlanta on our way back to Daytona Beach. I was the little kid with thick glasses that wouldn’t stay up on my nose as we drove past Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. I remember asking if we could go to a game, because the Braves were my favorite team. I was told “we’re not sure if the Braves are in town.” We had dinner and went back towards the stadium and there were people everywhere, I remember crying, begging if we could go to the game. My parents already had tickets waiting to be picked up at will call. I couldn’t remember being so happy in my 8 year-old life. As we went in the stadium, I marveled at everything, as my Dad said hurry up, you’re gonna miss it. Everyone was lining up to get an autograph of Deion Sanders or John Smoltz. Instead, we snuck over to the opening where the umpires were coming out. Dana DeMuth, Gary Darling, Randy Marsh, and of course Harry Wendelstedt all stopped and talked to me, my dad, and my brother and signed our baseball. The first autograph I ever got. Other details of that game are iffy, I remember the Braves lost to the Mets and I thought Ron Gant had hit a home run, apparently it was Lonnie Smith. What I remembered though is that was the night I met Harry Wendelstedt.
When my little league playing days were over, my father was still umpiring. He was known as the loud umpire, always giving the clearest strike call that could be heard at the next field over. (This is probably where I get my loudness from.) He also taught each spring a new crop of teenage umpires that would work little league games in Norwalk, CT. Thinking back on taking those classes, I realize that my father probably emulated Harry as much he could to help them be the best umpires they could. This meant that I was his Hunter, the name of Harry’s son that followed his Major League umpiring footsteps. I can remember calling championship games with my dad and having the league officials say “we’re in good hands, we’ve got Harry and Hunter here today.” It really was among the best times of my childhood, the sport I loved, plus spending time with my dad. I’ve got Harry Wendelstedt to thank for that.
Wendelstedt was one of the most respected umpires in the history of the game. He umpired for 33 years, while calling five World Series, seven NLCS’, and four All-Star games. He was the crew chief for the 1995 World Series, which my favorite team won. Wendelstedt was the home plate umpire for a National League record five no-hitters. I’d have to believe what meant more to him was in 1998, his last season in MLB and Hunter’s first traveling and umpiring with him.
There are eight MLB umpires in the Hall of Fame, I can’t think of a better candidate to be ninth. Thank you Harry for everything. My thoughts and prayers are with your family, friends, umpiring brotherhood, and of course, my father.