More Umpires of Lovett Park
From 1949 to 1956 and again in 1958 and in 1962, Dublin fielded a team in the Class D Georgia State and Georgia-Florida Leagues. For many of those ten seasons, the leagues’ umpires were based in Dublin. Eight umpires, who called games in Dublin and around South Georgia, combined for 123 seasons in the major leagues. Seven of the “Men in Blue” umpired 19 World Series and 18 All Star games. From 1961 through 1986, only three times (1963, 1964 and 1984) were none of these men on the field for either the World Series or the All Star Game.
You may have read about Harry Wendlestedt and John Kibler, who are potential inductees into the National Baseball Hall of Fame after iconic careers spanning a third and a quarter of a century respectively. There was also 15-year-veteran Russ Goetz and Cal Drummond, who died during a minor league game one game before his return to the majors. Now, I will tell the stories of four other “blues,” who made it to the big show.
William Haller, brother of Major League catcher Tom Haller, broke into umpiring in the Georgia-Florida League in 1958. It didn’t take long for Haller to run into his main nemeses, Earl Weaver, the player-manager of the Dublin Orioles. Haller joined the American League in 1963 after working the New York - Penn, Northwest, Pacific Coast and International leagues. When Weaver was named the manager of the Baltimore Orioles in 1968, Haller and Weaver frequently went head to head, nose to nose and toe to toe in several of the most heated, foul mouthed arguments ever seen in a major league game. (Check it out on You Tube) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fkcElfDQafo
Haller officiated 3,068 regular season games in the American League from 1961 and from 1963–1982. He also worked 15 American League Championship Series games in four series (1970, 1973, 1976 and 1980), 27 World Series contests in four different years (1968 -Tigers/Cardinals,1972-Athletics/Reds,1978-Yankees/Dodgers, and 1982- Brewers/Cardinals) and four All-Star games (1963, 1970, 1975 and 1981.) Haller was the home plate umpire when Carl Yastrzemski got his 3000th major league hit on September 12, 1979.
Anthony “The Pope” Venzon came to the Georgia State League from Thurber, Texas. Venzon, who spent four years in the U.S. Army during World War II, played a little ball before the war. In his first season in the minors, Venzon called several games featuring the Dublin Green Sox.
After one season in the league, Venzon moved up the ladder first to the Provincial League and the Eastern League, before winding up his minor league career with three seasons under his belt. (1954-1956.) Venzon was selected as an umpire in the National League in 1956.
Over his 15 years in the majors, Venzon was honored to call World Series games in 1963-Yankees/Dodgers, 1965-Twins/Dodgers, and 1970-Orioles/ Mets. Venzon called All Star games in 1959, 1962 and 1969. Four times during his career, Venzon drew the assignment to call from behind home plate no-hit games (Don Cardwell-Cubs-1960, Jim Maloney-Reds, 1965, Earl Wilson-Astros-1969, and Dock Ellis-Pirates-1970, which puts him tied for fourth place in major league history for behind the plate no-hitters.
Tony Venzon, who called 2,226 games during his career, died at the age of 56 near the end of the 1971 season, after missing the entire year because of cardiac health problems.
Henry “Hank Morgenweck’s first appearance as a professional umpire came in the Georgia State League during the 1954 season when the Dublin Irishmen, a newly affiliated team in the Pirates organization, enjoyed one of their better seasons.
After one season in the Georgia State League, Hank worked in the Carolina and South Atlantic Leagues, before voluntarily retiring after the 1960 season. Morgenweck returned to the game after more than a dozen year absence when he joined the American League. In an inauspicious Major League debut in the first game of the 1970 National League Championship Series, Morgenweck was a part of a minor league crew asked to call the first game of the series when the regular umpires staged a strike against Major League Baseball.
In his five-year stint in the majors, one of Hank Morgenweck’s biggest moments behind the plate came on June 1, 1975 at Anaheim Stadium. Calling the game from behind the plate, Hank watched history in the making. For nine innings, the Baltimore Orioles, managed by former Dublin Oriole manager, Earl Weaver, made it to first base only four times, each time on walks. The Angel pitcher struck out one of three batters in a close 1-0 victory. The California pitcher, who set the American League career record for no-hitters with four and tied Sandy Koufax’s National League record, was the great Nolan Ryan, who retired with seven no-hitters in his career. It was Hank’s second n0-no, his first one coming on July 19, 1974 when Dick Bosman of the Cleveland Indians no hit the defending World Champion Athletics.
Hank Morgenweck ended his career on a high note as a member of the umpiring crew working the 1975 American League Championship series. He died in 2007.
One long time National League Umpire, Paul Pryor played for three days as a member of the Baxley Cardinals of the Georgia State League in 1949. From 1961 to 1981, Pryor umpired almost 3,100 games. He umpired in three World Series (1967, 1973 and 1980), four League Championship Series (1970, 1974, 1977 and 1981) and three All-Star Games (1963, 1971 and 1978).
Ed Vargo, a National League umpire from 1960 to 1983, was assigned to the Georgia Florida League from 1954-1956. Jerry Neudecker, who worked the Georgia-Florida League in 1950, worked thousands of games in the National League from 1966 to 1985.
Theodore Max Howe, who called games in the Georgia State League in 1952, came close to making it to the big leagues, finishing his career with three seasons in the AAA Pacific Coast League.
Two of the most famous umpires to call in a baseball game here were not really umpires at all. In an exhibition game between the St. Louis Cardinals and Oglethorpe University, two members of St. Louis’ “Gas House Gang,” Dizzy Dean (right) and “Pepper” Martin (left) were asked to help officiate the game. The game, played at the old 12th District Fairgrounds in the early spring of 1933, was part of Dublin’s Homecoming Day.
So, as we kick off yet another baseball season, here’s to you, the eleven “Men In Blue,” who, in their early years in baseball, called “America’s Greatest Pastime,” right here on our own “Fields of Dreams.”