At 71, this amateur baseball umpire still has lot on his plate

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 29, 2011 - 10:34 PM

Larry Gallagher stays busy, working about 150 games a year for the past 20 years.

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Larry Gallagher is a 71 year-old baseball umpire who has worked high school, Legion, college and town ball games since 1961. “Unless there’s an important family obligation, I’ll work a game every night, if possible,” Gallagher said. “I enjoy the challenge of making decisions.”

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Larry Gallagher was working as a one-man umpiring crew for Sunday's town team game in Chanhassen. The Arlington A's were the opponents for the Red Birds.

There was a play early in the game where a center fielder snared the ball on an extra-short hop. Gallagher hustled from behind the plate and, from 200 feet, quickly made a safe sign.

Later, there was a similar play in left. The Arlington outfielder caught the ball with his glove turned toward the grass, rather than with a scoop. Again, Gallagher signaled safe, to the dismay of the A's.

"How can you make that call?" one player shouted from the dugout. "Come on, Larry."

You know an umpire has been around for a while when the players complain on a first-name basis.

In the case of Gallagher, 71, he worked his first area college game in 1961, and added high school, American Legion and state amateur games to his schedule over the next couple of years.

Larry was also playing amateur ball and, in 1966, was the catcher and manager for the Dick's Place juggernaut in Columbia Heights.

Sounds like a hectic summer of baseball, right?

That is no less the case today, when Larry has a game to umpire almost every day of the week. "For the last 20 years, I've worked about 150 games a year," he said.

This was on Tuesday, and Gallagher was getting ready to work the plate for a Legion game between Champlin Park and Westphal Post 251 at Armstrong High School.

"Unless there's an important family obligation, I'll work a game every night, if possible," Gallagher said. "I enjoy the challenge of making decisions.

"A good umpire doesn't care who the player might be ... doesn't care who he pleases and who he displeases. He calls every pitch and play to the best of his ability."

Gallagher had occasion to irritate Milt Wilcox, a 119-game winner in the major leagues, on May 4, 1979, at Met Stadium. This was during the major league umpires strike that lasted for the first seven weeks of the season.

Larry was in one of two local crews that worked Twins home games. His local partners were Gene Kelly and Billy Hafner, and on this night, strike-breaker Derryl Cousins was in charge.

"Wilcox threw a pitch to Rob Wilfong at the middle of the thigh and I called it a ball," Gallagher said. "I missed it and Wilfong walked. Wilcox was coming after me."

Gallagher said he was spared a face-to-face altercation by Detroit catcher Lance Parrish. "He was a big man and thought he had blocked my view of the pitch," Larry said. "He calmed down Wilcox."

The Twins wound up scoring three runs with two-out hits from Mike Cubbage and Roy Smalley.

"The final score was 7-6 for the Twins," Gallagher said. "You do your best. Sometimes you are wrong."

The popular view is that calling balls and strikes is the arduous part of the job for any umpire. Not Gallagher.

"I always prefer the plate," he said. "You see so many unexpected things on the bases. A play will change in an instant. Calling balls and strikes is about tracking the baseball."

Gallagher came into umpiring with an advantage as a pitch-tracker: He had been an excellent catcher from the time he started playing midget baseball in Columbia Heights.

Larry spent nearly three decades at Tartan High as a physical education teacher and coach before retiring in 1999. He had started running umpire instruction for the Minnesota State High School League a couple of years before that.

On July 9, Larry's wife, Barb, and the rest of the Gallaghers will be in attendance when the first class of the Hall of Fame for Class A amateur baseball is inducted at Dunning Field in St. Paul. The ceremony will take place between games of an All-Star doubleheader: Minneapolis Park National vs. St. Paul at noon, the Riverview vs. Skyline leagues at 4 p.m.

The initial Hall of Famers from Park National baseball will be Gallagher and Jim Botten, a legend for his feistiness as much as for his longevity as a manager and player.

When you ask Gallagher how an umpire who has been around so long manages to avoid grudges, Larry says:

"I get along with Botten. If you can get along with Botten, you can get along with anyone."

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500ESPN. • preusse@startribune.com

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