After 26 Years Harvey Friedman Says Goodbye to Umpiring in Somers
So many Great Harvey Stories
Harvey Friedman has umpired in the Mens Softball League since 1993. Finally hanging up his clicker, there’s been a lot of calls, and good standing usually depends on one factor. Who won and who lost. But there probably is one thing that can be agreed upon in regards to this affable man in blue. There are more stories told about Harvey than anyone involved in the league, and there’s no better framework to describe him.
My first Harvey Story involved an unusual play at the plate where two runners came in simultaneously. “I remember,” the Yonkers native assured.
The throw offline had the catcher lunging to make the first tag, and with the catcher still off balance, the second tag also was also in doubt. So if Friedman called both out or both safe, I wouldn’t have disagreed. Of course there was a third option - and believe it or not - the least likely.
Nonetheless, Friedman split the baby. “You’re out,” he pointed to the first runner, “and you’re safe,” he fingered loudly again.
How could any of us argue.
Friedman began keeping a lid on such moments upon moving here. He inquired with the Rec Department, was invited to call a few innings and hired the next week.
He had done some umpiring, but his main experience was a lifetime around the game and playing softball into his 50s. The early 90s also had Friedman taking a buy out from Ciba-Geigy, which left the IT Project Manager minus his normal authority. But the blue uniform gave him back that empowering feeling.
However, his new perch didn’t mean players had no recourse. So humor became his device to diffuse. “Check with the pitcher, he’s pretty sure you were out, and by the way, so does the first basemen,” Friedman relayed a favorite.
On any disputed call, though, Friedman simply did math. “My 50% approval rating is higher than the President,” he joked.
That’s not entirely true, and another Harvey Story does the honors. We were facing a second and third, nobody out, and the batter hit a short fly to center. Appearing out of reach, “Jake” unexpectedly made the catch.
The runner at second left in a lurch, it was unclear to me whether he tagged. He took off nonetheless, and the runner on third followed suit.
The throw came into second and third subsequently, and Harvey signaled a triple play. All on hand were dumbfounded, and I assured Harvey at his Heritage Hills home that he could not have seen both tags.
Once again, Harvey rose to the occasion and revealed a beauty. “You could umpire a long time and never get to call a triple play,” he said devilishly. “This was my opportunity.”
There still was a rationale, though. “Sometimes you have to look how far along the runner is at the time and say, ‘no way did he tag,’” Friedman implored.
Fair enough, but at 82, bad knees admittedly kept him from getting out from behind the plate to make calls. “You don’t like to be told you’re doing a bad job,” he lamented.
Even so, the less apt Friedman still had most players welcoming the mainstay. Frequent questions about his health and life provided the proof and never went unnoticed. “I’m very emotional that way when people are concerned,” Friedman said.
At the same time, Friedman demonstrated how talking a good game can be just as important as playing one. In the box, he’d ask about your mom, question your softball fashion sense or wonder why you were still a Jet fan.
Of course, the pitcher wasn’t always amused so humor was at the ready. “I can talk and see if the ball hits the mat - throw the ball,” Friedman conveyed his approach.
Friedman also loved chatting up the wives and kids. “All the talk - that’s what he’s really going to miss,” said his wife Sheila.
But miss definitely applies to my very personal Harvey story. Beating the right fielder, I rounded the bases, and coming home, the throw came in ahead of me. But I eluded the catcher, ran past the plate and slide back into home.
Thinking I was home free, I should have known. “You’re out,” Friedman boomed.
Bouncing up to argue, my sarcastic tone carried the usual affection, and the amore didn’t change with corroboration. “Your hand hit the plate, then I slapped your back and heard Harvey’s call,” their catcher told me.
It doesn’t end there either. A few games later, I brought the intel to Harvey, and his interpretation changed in kind. “You can’t run past the plate and then dive back in,” he informed me.
We again exchanged sarcasms, and now five years later, Friedman had another explanation. No matter the details, the shifting sands doesn’t diminish, and the downplay shows why we will miss him.
In a league where we all sometimes take ourselves too seriously, he brought us down to earth. So we have nothing but thanks.
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