Not too many umpires have made it into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Just 10, in fact.
One was Doug Harvey, who had some strong Bakersfield connections.
When he died Jan. 13 in Visalia at the age of 87, the world lost a great man.
Harvey was one of the most respected umpires in the game. He was a crew chief for much of his career, and he worked many playoff and World Series games. Perhaps most memorable was Game One of the 1988 World Series, when Kirk Gibson, barely able to walk, hit his famous pinch-hit, walk-off homer to beat future Hall of Famer closer Dennis Eckersley and pave the way for the Los Angeles Dodgers' 4-games-to-1 triumph over the favored Oakland Athletics. Harvey worked home plate that game.
What was even more remarkable about Harvey was his demeanor off the field.
I met Doug Harvey at age 7. He married my friend's older sister, who lived across the street from our house in Bakersfield. Doug met his future wife Joy while umpiring in the Cal League at Sam Lynn Ballpark right here in Bakersfield. Joy worked in the concession stands, and their summer romance turned out to last a lifetime.
Doug would visit his in-laws in the offseason and all the neighborhood kids would show up to see him. He always seemed happy to see us. He would hit baseballs to us and give pointers on fielding and hitting. He never talked down to us; he was always positive. He was a great role model for me growing up.
He would give us used game balls all of the time. Unfortunately, most of them ended up going over the neighbor's fence, never to be seen again. I did manage to hang on to one — a Juan Marichal game ball. I still have it.
Years later, a friend of mine texted me that Doug was going to be inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame. I called to congratulate him. He was so humble and nice. I later asked him to speak at my Rotary Club. The mayor gave him the key to the city. He talked about his days at Sam Lynn Ballpark and how much he loved his career in baseball.
A few years ago I attended an awards ceremony at Sam Lynn Ballpark. The season's top Cal League umpires now receive the Doug Harvey Award. Doug personally gave out the awards that day, right before the game.
There's Doug, pumping these guys up, pushing them on to the next level. That's how he was, always pushing to get to the next level, always positive.
We talked a lot about CSU Bakersfield going to Division I baseball and what it meant to the community. I invited Doug and Joy to a game at Hardt Field. He was introduced by the game announcer as "Baseball Hall of Fame umpire Doug Harvey." It was a great moment.
Nice guys really can finish first. There was no one nicer than Doug Harvey.
Jim Darling runs a public relations firm in Bakersfield. The opinions expressed are his own.