Last week, former umpire Harry Wendlestedt died at age 73. He was one of the longest-serving umpires in baseball history, arriving in the majors in 1966 and staying until the end of 1998. Along the way, he served in exactly 4,500 regular season games, 74 postseason ones, and a quartet of All-Star contests.
When someone notable in the baseball world passes, one thing I like to do here at THT is recount his career highlights, the greatest and most important games the guy served in and the memorable occasions he was on hand for. Umpires are, of course, part of the story, and a long-time umpire like Wendlestedt can end up serving in a remarkable and unusual number of memorable games. For instance, he personally worked home plate for five different no-hitters.
Thusm the list below, though long, is still but a smattering of the games Wendelstedt arbitrated.
April 13, 1966: Wendlestedt makes his big-league debut at third base as the Cardinals host the Phillies. As a result, Wendlestedt is on duty for the last Opening Day in the lengthy history of Sportsman’s Park. Alas, for an umpire (who wants nothing more than a short game), the game lasts 12 innings before the Phillies earn the victory, and it takes three hours and 40 minutes. In other news, the next day Greg Maddux is born.
April 16, 1966: The fourth game of the year is Wendlestedt’s debut behind the plate. Cincinnati’s Jim Maloney fans 13 and walks to in a complete-game shutout of the Phillies for a 4-0 win.
Sept. 11, 1966: Wendlestedt is again behind the plate when a young pitcher makes his big-league debut: Nolan Ryan of the Mets. Ryan pitches two innings in relief and fans three, including the first batter he faces, opposing pitcher Pat Jarvis. Thus, Wendlestedt is the first umpire to call strike three for the Ryan Express.
April 13, 1967: Again, Wendlestedt is on hand for the debut of a promising young Mets arm. This time he’s at second base when Tom Seaver gets a no-decision in the Mets’ 3-2 win over the Pirates.
May 15, 1967: With Wendlestedt at third base, Roberto Clemente stages one of the great one-man performances of the era. He goes 4-for-5 with a double and three homers for seven total RBIs, but the Pirates loses anyway, 8-7 in 10 innings.
May 31, 1968: The single most memorable moment in Wendlestedt’s umpiring career comes on this day. It’s the ninth inning of a Dodgers-Giants game, and ace Los Angeles pitcher Don Drysdale is nearing closer to history. He’s on the verge of his fifth consecutive shutout. If he gets through the inning unscathed, he’ll have 46 straight scoreless innings.
It looks like Drysdale’s number is up, though, as he loads the bases with no outs and then hits the Giants’ Dick Dietz with a 2-2 pitch to force in a run. Well, normally that’s what would happen.
Here’s where Wendlestedt enters the story. He invokes a seldom-enforced rule and said that since Dietz didn’t try to get out of harm’s way, he doesn’t get the base. Drysdale gets out of the jam, and the scoreless streak survives, courtesy of Mr. Wendlestedt.
June 4, 1968: Would you believe that the next time Wendlestedt works the plate, Don Drysdale is again the pitcher? It’s true, and with his favorite umpire working, Drysdale records consecutive shutout No. 6. In his next outing, he’ll finally be tagged for a run, but by then he’ll have 58 straight innings without a run.
July 9, 1968: In only his third year, Wendlestedt makes his first All-Star Game. It’s a nice one, as the NL wins, 1-0, over the AL. Wendlestedt is in right field for the 130-minute game.
July 29, 1968: Wendlestedt umps the first of his five no-hitters from behind the plate. Today, George Culver of the Reds no-hits the Phillies in a 6-1 win as Culver walks five while fanning four.
Sept. 17, 1968: It truly is the year of the pitcher. For the second time this year, Wendlestedt is the home-plate umpire for a no-hitter. This time, Gaylord Perry no-hits the Cardinals, walking two while fanning nine in a 1-0 Giants win.
July 25, 1969: It might be the best pitchers duel he ever sees behind the plate. Bob Gibson pitches 13 innings and gets the win, allowing just one run while fanning 11. His Game Score is 100 against San Francisco. Opposing starting Gaylord Perry matches Gibson for 12 frames before a reliever blows it in the 13th for the 2-1 final.
Aug. 3, 1969: It’s the wildest game Wendlestedt ever works. Thanks to a 10-run fifth inning, the Reds top the Phillies, 19-17. Wendlestedt is at second base.
April 22, 1970: It’s not a no-hitter, but it still might be the greatest pitching performance Wendlestedt ever sees when he works the plate. Against the hapless San Diego offense, Tom Seaver fans 19, including the last 10 batters of the game. He allows two hits and one run in a 2-1 win.
May 12, 1970: With Wendlestedt at third base, Mr. Cub Ernie Banks makes history by belting his 500th career home run.
June 12, 1970: Wendlestedt is at third base in the first game of a Pirate-Padres double-hearder that proves to be one of the most memorable no-hitters of all-time. On that day, Pirates star hurler Dock Ellis tosses a no-hitter despite tripping on LSD the entire time.
Oct. 1, 1970: It’s the last game ever in baseball’s first real stadium. Shibe Park, by this time called Connie Mack Stadium, hosts its final game as the Phillies top the Expos, 2-1, in 10 innings. Wendlestedt is at first base during the game, and is in the umpires’ dressing room afterwards as the fans riot on the field.
Aug. 1, 1971: Wendlestedt is the man behind the plate in a game that ends in one of the strangest ways possible, and the circumstances directly involve Wendlestedt. The Reds lose to the Dodgers, 5-4 in 11 innings, with the winning run scoring on a walk-off catcher’s interference call. There’s one you don’t see too often. Manny Mota tried to steal home, and Reds catcher Johnny Bench came out to block the plate, causing Wendlestedt’s call. The Reds, as you can imagine, didn’t like it.
Aug. 14, 1971: For the third time in his career, Wendlestedt gets to work the plate in a no-hitter. Bob Gibson blanks the Pirates in an 11-0 win. He fans ten while walking three.
Sept. 16, 1972: Wendlestedt is at third when a young third baseman named Mike Schmidt hits the first home run of his career.
Oct. 11, 1972: NLCS Game Five: It’s the first great postseason game Wendlestedt is on-hand for. He’s at second base when the Reds rally for a pair in the bottom of the ninth for a 3-2 win and the NL pennant. It’s also the last game Roberto Clemente (and Bill Mazeroski) ever appear in.
May 8, 1973: Wendlestedt is at third base when Willie Stargell doesn’t just hit one over the fence at Dodger Stadium but out of the stadium outright. He did it once before, but no one else has ever done it.
Oct. 14, 1973: World Series Game Two: The A’s and Mets stage an exciting, though poorly played game. New York wins, 10-7, in extra innings. The poor play dominates the memory of it, though, as Oakland second baseman’s Mike Andrews’ pair of errors will cause team owner Charles Finley to force him from the game on a bogus medical report. Mets outfielder Willie Mays also stumbles around in the contest. Wendlestedt is in left field during the game.
April 9, 1974: Wendlestedt is at second base near the end of a seemingly forgettable Padres home loss to the Astros when the wildly unexpected happens. Padres team owner Ray Kroc gets on the PA to blast his team before the Opening Day crowd of 39,083.
Sept. 4, 1974: Umps typically get booed, but they don’t normally have the local city council pass a resolution denouncing their work. That happens in Cincinnati because of what happens on this day, though. With Wendlestedt at second, home plate umpire Jerry Dale calls Joe Morgan out at the plate in the seventh, and the Reds lose by one. The Cincinnati city council officially calls it an “atrocious call.”
Oct. 2, 1974: It’s Hank Aaron’s last game as a Brave, and he goes out with a doozy, belting a home run in his final at-bat in the NL. As the second-base umpire, Wendlestedt is probably the guy who signaled it was a homer.
May 4, 1975: MLB has promised new watches to the umpiring crew that works the game the millionth run is scored in, and for a few seconds it looks like Wendlestedt and his crewmates will be the ones. 999,999 runs are in, and Dave Concepcion is rounding the bases after hitting a home run. However, elsewhere Bob Watson beats Concepcion by a few seconds.
Sept. 22, 1975: Wendlestedt is behind the plate for the most one-sided shutout of the 20th century, as the Pirates torch the Cubs, 22-0. Infielder Rennie Stennett makes history, going 7-for-7 in the game.
July 13, 1976: Wendlestedt is given quite an honor: Home plate during the All-Star Game. The game itself is a snooze, as the NL romps easily.
Aug. 16, 1976: Harry Wendlestedt works 39 different 1-0 games behind the plate in his career, but none are as special as this one. Today, Mets infielder Bud Harrelson gets married, comes to the park, and hits a homer for the game’s only run.
Oct. 7, 1977: NLCS Game Three: Wendlestedt is behind the plate when the Phillies stage an impressive rally. They score three in the top of the ninth to win, 6-5, over the Dodgers. But LA will have the last laugh, claiming the pennant the next day.
April 7, 1978: On Opening Day, Wendlestedt is at first base when the Padres debut their new shortstop, a young defensive whiz named Ozzie Smith.
April 16, 1978: Wendlestedt is again at first base when St. Louis pitcher Bob Forsch does something his brother Ken had previously done—throw a no-hitter. He walks two and fans three in a 5-0 win over the Phillies.
June 14, 1978: As the first-base ump, it’s Wendlestedt’s job to call Pete Rose safe when he singles twice. This will begin Rose’s 44-game hitting streak, the longest in NL history.
May 17, 1979: Wendlestedt umpires his first game of the year as the umpires have just won their strike. From now on, he’ll get a two-week vacation every summer.
Aug. 13, 1979: Wendlestedt is at third base when Lou Brock legs out an infield single in the fourth inning for career hit No. 3,000.
July 6, 1980: There’s nothing umps hate worse than a long game, so of the 1,124 regular-season games Wendlestedt works the plate, this is probably his least favorite. The Pirates need 20 innings to top the Cubs, 5-4. The contest took 331 minutes.
Oct. 14, 1980: World Series Game One: As honors go, it’s a nice one. Wendlestedt umps home plate during the first game of the Fall Classic, which the Phillies win, 7-6, over the Royals.
Oct. 19, 1981: NLCS Game Five: Wendlestedt’s home-plate assignment today becomes a dark day for Montreal fans. In the winner-take-all contest, Rick Monday homers in the ninth for a 2-1 Dodger win and the pennant—“Blue Monday” as it becomes known.
Oct. 1, 1982: It’s one of the best pitchers’ duels of the decade, and Wendlestedt is at first base for it. The Mets top the Phillies, 1-0, in 10 innings in a game featuring three hits. The winning hit came off reliever Porfi Altamirano. Starters Randy Lerch and John Denny combined to allow two hits (one each) in 19 IP.
July 6, 1983: Wendlestedt is at first base for what’s arguably the last real All-Star Game. The AL hasn’t won in forever and a half, and so the players really care about it. That said, paced by Fred Lynn’s grand slam, the AL handily wins, 13-3. In the blowout, players from every team get in the game, an All-Star first. Thus, this game is transitional, away from caring about the results and towards getting everyone in.
Sept. 26, 1983: He has already worked one game in which Bob Forsch threw a no-hitter in, but today Wendlestedt is the home plate umpire when Forsch no-hits the Expos, 3-0. It’s the fourth no-hitter he’s worked from behind the plate.
July 29, 1984: Wendlestedt is at second base when Orel Hershiser tosses his fourth complete-game shutout in his last five starts in this two-hitter against the Reds. It’s the second straight day the Dodgers top Cincinnati by a score of 1-0.
April 28, 1985: It’s an endurance contest of a game. With Wendlestedt at first base, the Mets duel the Pirates for 18 innings before finally topping them. The Mets are stretched so thin that they need to use aging pinch-hitter Rusty Staub in the outfield for the final frames. They keep switching him from left to right, wherever they feel he’ll do the least damage depending on the handedness of the batter.
June 5, 1985: According to research by Larry Granillo, today’s Cubs-Braves game at Wrigley Field is the Ferris Bueller Game. While Ferris has the day off, Wendlestedt works second base.
July 22, 1986: It’s another all-time great pitchers’ duel. With Wendlestedt stationed at first base, there are hardly any runners for him to talk to. Through nine innings, Montreal’s Floyd Youmans has allowed just two hits, which is still one more than Houston’s Nolan Ryan has surrendered in a scoreless tie. Both pitchers run into trouble into the 10th, but Ryan’s bullpen bails him out, while the third hit Youmans allows ends the game as a 1-0 Houston win.
Oct. 25, 1986: World Series Game Six: It may very well be the most famous game Wendlestedt ever umpires. He’s the umpire at third base when the Red Sox blow a seemingly sure victory (that would’ve given them a World Series title) in what is forever known as the Bill Buckner Game.
Aug. 17, 1987: With Wendlestedt at first base, a new Braves pitcher makes his debut on the mound: Tom Glavine. Houston torches him en route to an 11-2 win.
Sept. 27, 1987: Wendlestedt is again at first base on a special day in the history of Braves pitchers. Phil Niekro makes his last big-league appearance but is no more effective than Glavine was in his debut, as the Braves fall, 15-6, to the Giants.
Aug. 30, 1988: Fittingly, the umpire who helped Don Drysdale set a new scoreless inning streak is behind the plate when Orel Hershiser starts the streak that will break Drysdale’s record. Hershiser allows two runs in the fifth, but then holds Montreal scoreless for the next four innings. Two weeks later, Wendlestedt will be at third base when Hershiser notches his third consecutive shutout in the streak.
Sept. 24, 1988: In a rain-shortened game, Expos pitcher Melido Perez tosses five perfect innings before the game ends. Wendlestedt is at third base throughout.
Oct. 4, 1988: NLCS Game One: Wendlestedt was there when Hershiser’s scoreless streak began, so it’s fitting he’s at the plate here when it (sort of) ends. After eight scoreless frames, Hershiser allows the Mets to score two in the top of the ninth for a 2-1 Mets win. Officially, it doesn’t end the streak because it’s a postseason game, and the streak is a regular-season thing, but it’s the first runs Hershiser has allowed since Aug. 30.
Oct. 9, 1988: NLCS Game Four: Wendlestedt is at third base when the Dodgers top the Mets, 5-4, in 12 innings. LA is so desperate for pitching that at the end they bring Hershiser out of the bullpen to finish things off.
Aug. 29, 1989: The Cubs set a franchise record for the greatest comeback when they turn a 9-0 deficit against the Astros into a 10-9 win in extra innings. Wendlestedt sees it from his vantage point at second base.
July 5, 1990: Wendlestedt works home plate as the Cardinals top the Padres, 4-1. It turns out to be Whitey Herzog’s last stand, as he resigns as manager after the game.
Oct. 12, 1990: NLCS Game Six: Wendlestedt is at first base when the Reds clinch the NL pennant in style, holding the Pirates to just one hit in a hard-fought, 2-1 win.
Aug. 9, 1991: It’s a weird one for Wendlestedt when he works the plate in today’s Dodgers-Giants game. The game is scoreless until the 13th inning when the Giants win on the rare walk-off hit-by-pitch as Kevin Gross accidentally plunks Kevin Mitchell with the bases loaded. It’s the first time any scoreless game, let alone a scoreless extra-inning game, ends on a walk-off HBP since the 1970s.
Sept. 11, 1991: For the fifth and final time in his career, Wendlestedt is the home plate umpire during a no-hitter. He sees Braves starting pitcher Kent Mercker and his bullpen shut down the Padres in a 1-0 victory.
Oct. 27, 1991: World Series Game Seven: This is possibly the greatest World Series of all-time, so I could possibly put in every single game. But for the sake of brevity, I’ll just note that Wendlestedt was one of the umpires on duty during it. He was at first base in this, the 1-0, ten-inning Jack Morris Game. In Game Six, he was at second base during Kirby Puckett’s walk-off homer. He served behind the plate in Game Two, which Minnesota won 3-2.
Sept. 24, 1992: Wendlestedt is at third base in today’s odd extra-inning game. The Mets and Cardinals are scoreless through 13 innings, but rookie Jeff Kent pops a three-run homer in the top of the 14th to seemingly cinch things for New York. Instead, the Mets bullpen melts down, and the Cardinals win, 4-3, in 14 innings.
April 4, 1993: Wendlestedt is the man behind the plate when the Colorado Rockies make their debut. They lose on the road to the Mets, 3-0.
Sept. 17, 1993: A back-and-forth slugfest is fun for the fans in the stands but probably less so for home plate umpire Wendlestedt. The Reds top the Cardinals, 14-13, in a topsy-turvy 221 minute contest that sees the Cardinals score seven in the top of the eighth to take a four-run lead and then blow their cushion in the last inning and a half.
Aug. 12, 1995: Catcher’s interference might be the rarest umpire call of them all, yet today Wendlestedt is on the field for the second walk-off catcher’s interference call his crew has ever been a part of. The Dodgers top the Pirates, 11-10, in 11 innings. The final run scores when catcher Angelo Encarnacion tried to scoop up the ball with his mask, and that is flatly against the rules.
Oct. 13, 1995: NLDS Game One: It’s the first year of the three-round playoff format (well, first year not counting the 1981 strike season), and Wendlestedt is one of the umps working the first round. Atlanta beats Colorado, 5-4, with Wendlestedt in the outfield. Wendlestedt will work the NLDS in each year from 1995 to 1997, but all his series will be forgettable sweeps.
Oct. 21, 1995: World Series Game One: Wendlestedt has been called to umpire home plate in the first game of the World Series. It’s a closely fought game in which both teams have as many hits as they have runs: Atlanta 3, Cleveland 2. Atlanta will win it all in one of the most underrated World Series of all time.
Sept. 17, 1997: Since 1919, no starting pitcher has ever allowed more than eight runs while recording zero outs. The 8 R, 0 IP start has happened a few times, though, including today when Bobby J. Jones of the Mets does it. In his defense, four of the runs were unearned. Wendlestedt is at third base during the disaster.
March 31, 1998: Wendlestedt’s final season begins with him working the plate in his only March game. It’s also memorable because St. Louis slugger Mark McGwire unloads the first of his 70 homers on the year. Two days later, Wendlestedt will be at third when McGwire hits a three-run, walk-off homer in the 12th inning.
June 5, 1998: Though 1997 began interleague play, the ill and aging Wendlestedt missed half of that season. Today becomes his first interleague game, and it’s a very nice one. The Cubs top the White Sox, 6-5, in Chicago’s Crosstown Classic on a walk-off homer in the 12th inning by Brant Brown.
Sept. 26, 1998: For the final time, Wendlestedt works home plate. It’s a memorable game to go out on, as the Marlins top the Phillies, 1-0, in a 13-inning pitchers duel. Alex Gonzalez homers for the game’s only run.
Sept. 27, 1998: Harry Wendlestedt’s career comes to an end. It’s actually an annoying way to end his career as the Marlins and Phillies have a doubleheader today, and they had another just yesterday. In his final game, the Phillies win, 7-3, to end Wendlestedt’s umpiring career.