More frail now, Hall-bound Harvey stands tall

BY foxsports • December 12, 2009

Supremely self-assured every time he stepped onto a ballfield, umpire Doug Harvey developed a stubborn habit: After the final out, he would take his wad of chewing tobacco and throw it on home plate.

``I never did have any doubt in my mind,'' he said. ``The only thing in my mind was, 'Bring it on, suckers!'''

That strong, authoritative tone he commanded games with for more than three decades is diminished. The man called ``God'' by players and managers alike now walks slowly, with assistance. He needed a bit of help putting on his Hall of Fame jersey Tuesday.

Yet his spirit remains unbroken. That's despite the barrage of radiation treatments, the feeding tube, the seizure and the stroke he endured - medical problems that began after he was diagnosed with oral cancer in 1997.

``He's always so positive,'' said his wife, Joy, a tear welling up in her eye.

A day after he became only the ninth umpire elected to the Hall, the 79-year-old Harvey came to the baseball winter meetings for an introductory news conference. He was joined on the dais by the other new Hall of Fame member, longtime manager Whitey Herzog.

``I just hope he doesn't kick me out of Cooperstown,'' Herzog said.

At 78, Herzog seemed as robust as ever, slapping the backs of Tom Lasorda and other cronies, bounding up the stairs to the podium and telling loud, animated stories. Harvey mostly sat back, listened and smiled, a Hall cap covering his silver-white hair.

Harvey retired after the 1992 season, having worked 4,670 games, five World Series and six All-Star games. Always confident, he chuckled when asked whether he'd ever missed a call.

``Oh, sure,'' he said. ``But I remember one year I went until Aug. 28 till I kicked a play at second base.''

Any plans for an easy retirement, however, were shattered by the onset of cancer. Twice-a-day radiation treatments for six weeks followed. He lost a lot of weight and needed a cane and walker to get around.

``They gave him a 30 percent chance of living,'' Joy said. ``But he's a fighter.''

Together, the Harveys took their message about the dangers of smokeless tobacco to players, coaches and managers. Little Leaguers, major leaguers, anyone who would listen. It's a cause they continue to support.

They've been married 49 years, having met when he was an umpire in the old C league. Near the end of his big league career, Harvey and his wife finished a season in Pittsburgh, then drove to upstate New York for a vacation.

Along the way, they stopped in Cooperstown. Among the artifacts they saw: One of Harvey's umpiring uniforms.

``We just bought a ticket and poked around. No one knew who we were,'' Joy said.

``I kind of thought it might be nice to come back here someday,'' he said.

Regarded by many as one of the game's great umpires, Harvey had once been considered a shoo-in for induction. He missed by one vote in the previous Veterans Committee election.

``It hurt me,'' he said. ``I downplayed it.''

That changed Monday. The Harveys were visiting one of their sons when the call came, and they boarded a plane in San Diego. Right before taking off, Harvey signed an autograph for his longtime business associate and, for the first time, added three significant letters to his signature: ``HoF.''

The new Hall of Famer and his wife plan a return to Cooperstown next summer for the induction ceremonies July 25.

``I'm sure it'll be so emotional,'' Joy said. ``I was hoping he'd get this while he was still alive.''

share story