Hirschbeck’s retirement on hold
By Greg Gulas
Last Tuesday in San Francisco, the Giants were clinging to a 5-2 lead in Game 4 of their NLDS series against the Cubs. With one inning remaining, umpire John Hirschbeck fully expected to head back to Chicago where he would work the plate in the deciding game of the series.
The Cubs, however, rallied to score four runs in the ninth inning for a 6-5 victory. Hirschbeck saw it as an earlier-than-expected retirement gift, his exit from the game he had so brilliantly served over the past 34 years.
But in the back of his mind, he wasn’t sure it was over. Hirschbeck knew that there was an outside chance that he might be chosen to work the World Series even though he feels there are 23 other “more than qualified” umpires who were also deserving.
Saturday night, Hirschbeck learned his career is not yet complete. He’s one of the seven umpires selected to work this year’s World Series.
“I didn’t expect it because it’s one of those things that you simply cannot control,” Hirschbeck said Sunday. “[MLB executives] Joe Torre and Peter Woodfork run the final list by Commissioner Rob Manfred and when Joe called me Saturday evening with the news, I was absolutely humbled.
“I had to smile because what better way to retire from the game than after working the World Series.”
For Hirschbeck, it will mark his fifth World Series assignment and the third time that he will serve as crew chief. He previously has worked the 1995, 2006, 2010 and 2013 Fall Classics.
Also selected were Joe West, Tony Randazzo, Larry Vanover, Chris Guccione, Sam Holbrook and Marvin Hudson.
“I worked with Sam in 2010 and most recently with Larry and Marvin in the NLDS,” Hirschbeck said. “It will be the first World Series assignments for both Larry and Marvin.
“For three umpires from the same crew to be selected, that’s also kind of nice.”
Hirschbeck said that each World Series was special, albeit for different reasons.
His first assignment in 1995 featured the Atlanta Braves defeating the Cleveland Indians, 4-2.
“The first one of anything that you do is always very special and that first World Series was for me,” Hirschbeck said. “Everyone around here was excited because it was the Indians.
“My trash collectors even left a soiled piece of cardboard sticking out of my garbage can, wishing me good luck,” he said. “I had that cardboard framed and still have it today.”
The note also gave him a heads up as he prepared.
“On the cardboard was a ‘Good Luck at the Show’ and a P.S. that said ‘Lofton likes to steal third base,’” Hirschbeck said. “Well, I am working third base in that first game and sure enough, Lofton tries to steal third in the very first inning.
“That piece of advice had me thinking and I made sure that I was in perfect position in order to make the call,” Hirschbeck said. “What if I had missed it? I credit my trash men for the keen advice.”
In 2006, St. Louis defeated Detroit, 4-1 as he worked with his late partner and Austintown native Wally Bell.
“It was just a very special time,” Hirschbeck said. “He’s someone that I miss dearly.”
Bell died in 2013.
In 2010, the Giants defeated Texas 4-1 while in 2013, the Red Sox beat St. Louis, 4-2.
“In 2010, that was the first time that I was a crew chief and it was just the added pressure of another World Series,” Hirschbeck said. “In 2013, I had the plate in the first game, we had a call that was reversed in the very first inning and I had to explain it to both managers.
“It was the last time a six-man crew worked. Had we not gotten the call right, the seven man crew probably would have started a year earlier.”
This year’s assignment will be bittersweet for the entire Hirschbeck family.
“The sad part is that it brings back memories of my son, Michael,” said Hirschbeck of his son who died in 2014. “My wife, Denise and I talked the other day about how if he was living, just how much he would have enjoyed this.
“Should Cleveland get to the World Series this year, I will have started my World Series career and ended it with the Indians in it,” Hirschbeck said. “Denise and I smile about that because who knows, Michael might have been Cleveland’s bat boy.
“The nice part though, is that we have our daughters, Erin and Megan and they are just as excited as we are this year.”
The World Series begins this year on Oct. 25 in the American League team’s ballpark.