NEW YORK — Longtime umpire Harry Wendelstedt, who worked five World Series and made a call involving Don Drysdale that became one of baseball’s most disputed plays in the late 1960s, died Friday. He was 73.
Wendelstedt died at Florida Hospital Memorial Medical Center in Daytona Beach, Fla., near the umpiring school he ran for more than three decades in Ormond Beach. He had been diagnosed several years ago with a brain tumor.
Wendelstedt called seven NL championship series and four All-Star games, and was behind the plate for five no-hitters. He was on the major league umpiring staff from 1966-98.
His son, Hunter, is a big league umpire and wears the same No. 21 that his father wore. The Wendelstedts worked games together in 1998 — it was Hunter’s first year in the majors and Harry’s last season.
Hall of Fame manager Tom Lasorda has championed Wendelstedt for enshrinement in Cooperstown.
“He’s got as good a chance as anybody. He deserves it,” Lasorda told The Associated Press after learning of Wendelstedt’s death.
Lasorda said he was scouting for Los Angeles and was in the stands when Wendelstedt made his most notable call on May 31, 1968, at Dodger Stadium.
Drysdale was trying for his fifth straight shutout — and was heading toward setting a then-record of 58 2-3 scoreless innings — when San Francisco loaded the bases with no outs in the ninth inning.
Drysdale threw a 2-2 pitch that struck Dick Dietz on the elbow, and the shutout streak seemed to be over. But Wendelstedt, the plate umpire, immediately ruled that Dietz didn’t try to get out of the way. Wendelstedt called the pitch a ball and told Dietz to get back in the batter’s box.
“I’d never seen that call before in the big leagues,” Lasorda recalled. “Never had seen anyone make it.”
After a heated argument, the game resumed. On a full-count pitch, Dietz flied out and Drysdale wound up pitching a shutout. Orel Hershiser set the shutout record of 59 innings in 1988, pitching under Lasorda.
“Harry had a wide strike zone, he liked to see hitters swing the bat,” Lasorda said, laughing. “Dick Dietz. Harry, he got him out. And the streak continued.”
Later in that 1968 season, Wendelstedt called balls-and-strikes when Gaylord Perry of the Giants pitched a no-hitter against St. Louis. The next day, on Sept. 18, Wendelstedt was at third base when Ray Washburn of the Cardinals no-hit San Francisco.
Not that all of Wendelstedt’s contested calls went in favor of pitchers. In the 1988 NLCS, Wendelstedt confiscated the glove of Dodgers reliever Jay Howell after it was found to have pine tar. Wendelstedt ejected Howell, drawing some lip from Lasorda, and the reliever was subsequently suspended.
“We got along pretty well,” Lasorda remembered. “Nothing too bad.”
Harry Hunter Wendelstedt Jr. spent well over half his life in the umpiring field. Even after his retirement, his umpiring school kept producing many young umpires who wound up working in professional baseball.