Harry Wendelstedt, a retired 33-year major league umpire who also nurtured a new generation of the game’s arbiters for more than 30 years, died March 9 at a hospital in Daytona Beach, Fla. He was 73 and had brain cancer.
Mr. Wendelstedt, who officiated more than 4,500 games, worked five World Series — two as crew chief — as well as seven National League Championship Series and four all-star games.
Former Dodgers manager Tom Lasorda is among those leading the campaign for Mr. Wendelstedt’s election into baseball’s Hall of Fame.
Paul Runge, who is also a former veteran umpire crew chief, said that in addition to being “one of the premier umpires in the game,” Mr. Wendelstedt left a powerful legacy by devoting his efforts to teaching the craft at his Wendelstedt Umpire School.
“Harry spent his whole life helping and creating umpires,” Runge said. “It’s amazing when you think about the number of people Harry’s school influenced — guys working college, high school, Little League, sandlot games.”
Mr. Wendelstedt was born July 27, 1938, in Baltimore. He started umpiring minor league games in 1962 and reached the major league level in 1966.
One of his most notable calls came in 1968, when Dodgers pitcher Don Drysdale preserved what became a then-record-breaking string of 582 / 3 scoreless innings.
On the night of May 31, 1968, Drysdale was in danger of finishing one inning short of a fifth consecutive shutout when the rival San Francisco Giants loaded the bases in the ninth with no outs and sent catcher Dick Dietz to the plate.
Drysdale threw an inside pitch that hit Dietz on the left elbow, which should have caused a run to score and stopped the big right-hander’s pursuit of Hall of Famer Walter Johnson’s record 55-plus innings of shutout ball.
Mr. Wendelstedt, however, called the pitch ball three and wouldn’t let Dietz take first base, ruling that the batter made no attempt to evade the pitch.
Los Angeles Times columnist Jim Murray wrote, “The Giants, to a man, behaved as if Wendelstedt had just dropped a match into a baby carriage.”
Giants Manager Herman Franks was so upset at Mr. Wendelstedt’s decision to enforce the rule that he told the Times: “It was the worst call I’ve ever seen. If Drysdale breaks the record now, he and Wendelstedt should share it. . . . Put Wendelstedt’s name on the trophy first.”
Drysdale’s record was ultimately broken by Dodgers pitcher Orel Hershiser in 1988 — when Mr. Wendelstedt was still umpiring.
It was fitting for Mr. Wendelstedt to be involved in Drysdale’s record because the umpire was known for having a pitching-friendly wide strike zone.
Mr. Wendelstedt, who retired in 1998, tied a record by calling balls and strikes for five no-hitters.
He displayed signature moves, flailing his right arm upward on swinging strikeouts and delivering a “chain saw” move in calling a third strike.
“We were all a little bit more individuals back then,” Runge said. “Everyone had a style, was more charismatic.”
“The way Harry handled situations and his consistency is what stood out,” Runge said. “From the first to the ninth inning, every day, it’s hard to be so consistent. It was a job, but he loved going out there.”
Mr. Wendelstedt’s survivors include his son, Hunter, a major league umpire since 1999, and his daughter, Amy.