Book Review: They Called Me God by Doug Harvey


Doug Harvey was never supposed to be in the Baseball Hall of Fame. He wasn’t expected to live after being diagnosed with an awful kidney infection called nephritis when he was four years old.
Image courtesy of Gallery Books
But he did live and then he got awfully lucky. Working a semipro game, he was supposed to be umpiring the bases but the ump working the plate decided to fake an injury. This led to Harvey getting the call to work in the professional baseball leagues.

Harvey’s memoir, They Called Me God, was released today from Gallery Books. It’s a great read for baseball fans wanting to know more about one of the men in blue.

Like minor league ballplayers, he started out low–working the California League for three seasons from 1958 to 1960. It was while umpiring a game in Bakersfield that he met the love of his life, Joy, who he later married in 1960.

Harvey was spotted by a scout while umping in the California League that wanted to give him a raise and have him move to North Carolina. The problem? Harvey’s mom lived in California and he didn’t want to move cross country. It paid off. While working the Instructional League sometime after getting married, a Pacific Coast League executive saw him work a game and decided to give him a much-deserved promotion. Harvey jumped from Class D all the way up to AAA!

When all was said and done, Harvey would work as a Major League Baseball umpire for 31 years and 4,673 games, including five World Series and many All-Star Games. The Baseball Hall of Fame came calling in 2010 and made Harvey only the tenth umpire to be inducted.

Co-written with Peter Golenbock, this book is a collection of Harvey’s thoughts and reflections on his legendary career in baseball. It also takes us behind the plate, a place where many umpires didn’t want to be but Harvey always relished the opportunity to call balls and strikes. Harvey was behind the plate calling the balls and strikes for Hall of Fame pitchers such as Warren Spahn, Bob Gibson, Don Drysdale, Juan Marichal, Steve Carlton, Nolan Ryan, Greg Maddux, Sandy Koufax, Don Sutton, Gaylord Perry, and Phil Niekro.

During his first season as an umpire in the big leagues, Harvey was behind the plate when Gibson threw a pitch that went past the catcher–breaking two of Harvey’s teeth. Harvey would keep working the game and put off the dentist.

Umpires and managers go hand in hand. Harvey was always in control. Earl Weaver got into it with him over a dropped ball that was called an infield fly. The rule was changed because of Joe DiMaggio–something I never new until reading Harvey’s book. Managers came out to argue with him such as Leo Durocher, Fred Hutchinson, Red Schoendienst, Tommy Lasorda. Tony LaRussa, Chuck Tanner, Whitey Herzog, and many, many more. Any loudmouths were shortly ejected.

There’s a Who’s Who of the National League, be it Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Stan Musial, Pete Rose, Roberto Clemente, Billy Williams, and Willie Stargell, to name a few.