CALL ME, MISTER BLUE!
The Umpires of Lovett Park
For two small, somewhat unrespected leagues, the Georgia State League (1948-1956) and the Georgia-Florida League (1957-1963) produced four outstanding major league umpires. Two of them are listed among the greatest umpires in major league baseball’s history. This is the story of four men. Damned and cursed by players and fans of both teams wherever they played, these men in their dark suits and small-billed caps were and are deserving of the title, Mr. Blue.
During most of the years when minor league baseball was played in Dublin from 1949 through 1956 and in 1958 and 1962, many of the umpires of the Georgia State and Georgia-Florida leagues lived in Dublin, calling games here in Lovett Park and around South Georgia.
Calvin “Cal” Drummond was born in 96th District of South Carolina on June 29, 1917. At the age of thirty one, Cal began calling professional games in the Alabama State League. After a three year absence from the game, Cal resumed his career in the Georgia State League. In the years of 1952 and 1953, Drummond called games between Dublin, Sandersville, Eastman Statesboro, Vidalia, Hazelhurst, Baxley, Douglas, Fitzgerald and Jessup.
Drummond’s outstanding work earned him a promotion to the South Atlantic League, where he called games from 1954 to 1956. Another promotion came in 1957, when he was hired to work games in the prestigious Class AAA International League. Drummond’s major league career spanned the entire decade of the 1960s.
The highlight of Cal’s career came in 1966, when he umpired the World Series, which was played between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Baltimore Orioles. In 1961, just in his second year in the league, Cal was named to call the All Star game, which was played in San Francisco. In one of the more unusual calls in baseball history, Drummond’s crew was faced with an unusual dilemma. It seems the Candlestick Park winds were unusually strong that day. When Giant pitcher Stu Miller was blown of the pitching rubber by a gust of wind, someone yelled “balk.” The umpires conferred and indeed ruled that Miller’s unusual move, though unintentional, was deceiving to the runner. The call played no outcome in the game because the National League went on to win the game and Miller was named the game’s winning pitcher.
In 1969, Drummond was struck in the head by a ball. After extensive brain surgery, Cal fell into a coma for two weeks. He worked his way back to health during spring training. On May 2, while calling a game between the Iowa Cubs and Oklahoma City 89ers, Drummond took himself out the game when he felt dizzy. He returned to work the next day, hoping to make it back to the American League the next afternoon. By the end of the 7th inning, Cal felt dizzy again. He walked to the dugout, collapsed, and died a few hours later in a Des Moines hospital. Though he had not made it back to the majors, Drummond became one of the rare fatalities among big league umpires.
Russell Goetz, a 25-year-old native of Pennsylvania, joined the Georgia State League in 1955. Russ called games until the end of the league in1956. He spend two years in the Carolina League, three years in the South Atlantic League, and six years in the Pacific Coast League. In 1968, Goetz joined the umpiring crews of the American League, in which he officiated some sixteen years until he retired in 1983.
Goetz was named to the umpiring crews for the 1970 and 1975 All Star games. His career highlights came in 1973 and in 1979 when he was named to the six-man crew calling the World Series.
John Kibler debuted as a 30-year-old rookie umpire in 1958 in the Georgia-Florida League. During that season, Kibler had at least one run-in with one of the game’s greatest antagonists of umpires, Earl Weaver. Weaver played second base and managed the Dublin Orioles in their only year of existence. Kibler quickly climbed the latter from Class D minor league baseball to the major leagues. Kibler told a SI reporter of those days, “The environs were decidedly unfriendly to outstiders and the league president forbade the umpires to travel at night. I got $250 to $285 a month and one free lunch at a Tifton café once a week.
After a year in the Pioneer Association and two years in the South Atlantic League, Kibler made it to AAA ball with the American Association in 1962 and the International League in 1963. John made the show in the fall of 1963 when he was called up to the major leagues. For the next twenty five seasons, John Kibler, was known as one the National’s best umpires.
Kibler was named to call the World Series championship four times in 1971, 1978, 1982 and the infamous 1986 series when Bill Buckner’s boot of a ground ball giving the Met’s a surprising victory allowing them to stave off defeat, tie the series and go on to win in the decisive 7th game. John Kibler was named to call the 1965 All Star game in Minneapolis in just his second full season in the majors. Kibler went on to call the 1974, 1980 and 1985 all star games.
In 1983, John Kibler suffered a heart attack at the age of fifty-five. But the New York native was not about to quit. He returned the game. In 1989, Kibler retired as the game’s oldest umpire.
Harry Wendelstedt, at 23, was the youngest of Lovett’s Park major league umpires when he began calling games in 1962, the last year Dublin had a minor league ball team, the Dublin Braves, in the Georgia Florida League. The league had teams in Brunswick, Thomasville, Albany, and Moultrie. After a single season in Northwest and Texas Leagues, Harry went to the AAA International League in 1965. After three seasons of minor league ball, Harry Wendlestedt was promoted to the National League.
During his twenty-three-year hall of fame like career, Harry umpired the World Series in 1973, 1980, 1986, 1991 and 1995. In 1980 and 1985, he was named chief of the crew, the penultimate honor for any baseball umpire. Seven times from 1970 to 1990, Harry was chosen to call the National League Championship games. He called four all star games in 1968, 1976, 1983, and 1992. In the 1986 World Series, Harry Wendlestedt and John Kibler became the only Lovett Park umpires to jointly call a World Series or All Star game. Harry retired at the top of his game in 1998.
If you have never umpired a baseball game, or any game for that matter, you can never appreciate the thankless life of an umpire. I did it once and it changed my mind at the way I look at baseball. They don’t always make the right call, but never the less, it is the call, except when.....