Considered by many to be the nonpareil umpire of the post-war era, Olyphant native Nestor Chylak Jr. takes his place in the Baseball Hall of Fame today [July 25, 1999]
The Right Call
Nestor Chylak Jr. To Become the Eight Umpire in Hall of Fame
by Boris Krawczeniuk
In all his days away from home, all the times Earl Weaver and others groused in his face, Nestor Chylak Jr. never beefed about life as a Major League umpire.
Nestor embraced it, devoured it like the rest of life.
He shouted "ball," "strike," "out" and "safe" the way he strummed the ukulele, harmonized barbershop tunes, jitter-bugged all night long, treasured his family and friends, never forgot his roots.
To this day, his gregarious zest inspires smiles, chuckles or tears in his close friends and family as they miss and reminisce about the man known as "Nunny."
"He was just a perfect man," Nestor's good friend Chet Zielinski said.
When Nestor wasn't umpiring, he dished out baseballs, bats and other memorabilia that players, presidents and others signed for him to friends, family and startled strangers. He spread the religion of baseball and extolled the virtues of his hometown in off-the-cuff speeches before any group that invited him.
"My father was the biggest politician on behalf of baseball that there ever was," Bill Chylak said.
He dropped in weekly on hospitalized veterans because shrapnel almost blinded him once and he knew about laying there scared stiff about the future.
On a baseball diamond, Nestor controlled a game without drawing attention to himself. With a passion that churned him into arguably the best umpire of his generation, he earned the respect of none other than Earl Weaver and Billy Martin, the royalist baiters of the men in blue who police the game.
Consider this: in the 130-year history of professional baseball, the Baseball hall of Fame has inducted only seven umpires.
Today, Nestor George Chylak Jr. becomes the eight.
Chylak's bar and restaurant at 113 Grant St. was one of George Chylak's businesses. The best barbershop quartets blended their voices there on Saturday nights, and exhausted coal miners bellied up after a hard day chipping away in the dank, dark mines.
Kids passed time playing baseball, basketball, football or kick-the-can and swashbuckling like the masked heroes who dashed across the screen of the Granada theatre in 10-cent Saturday movies. Their tackle football games on brick streets bloodied and bruised Nestor, an honors student who had a lot more smarts than size.
"They would bring him home and say, 'Where do we put him?' " Eugene Chylak, 70, said. "He liked sports, but he was very small. He couldn't make the school teams. He was too small, but he was always the water boy or the manager at basketball, football, baseball . . . everything."
This was a slice of the world the Allies fought to defend in World War II.
Nestor joined the battle and spent more than three years in the Army.
On Jan. 3, 1945, during the Battle of the Bulge, chunks of an exploding tree smashed into Master Sgt. Nestor Chylak Jr.'s face. For 10 days, he lay in darkness - his face bandaged, his mind pondering a sightless life. Doctors peeled away the bandages, and Nestor found he could still see. After eight weeks in the hospital, he left the military with a Silver Star, a Purple Heart and a nose bent by the blast.
He marched into Chylak's bar dressed in his uniform, and his father didn't recognize him. Not because of the injuries, but because Nestor had sprouted to about 6 feet tall.
"He came back and walked in the bar (his father said), 'Be with you in a minute, soldier,' Mr. Kelly said.
Nestor, who started college before joining the Army, studied at the University of Scranton during the 1946-47 school year and returned in the fall of 1947. He left afterward and never earned the engineering degree he talked about, a school spokesman said. During the next few years, he worked in his father's bar and for the state highway department and the liquor store system, sold clothes at Nudleman's men's store and played amateur baseball, softball and basketball in his spare time.
"He wanted to play ball (professionally), but because of an injury to his shoulder in the war he couldn't play, so he thought he'd try umpiring," his widow, Sue Chylak, said.
Nestor started umpiring high school games. From 1946 to 1953, he steadily climbed from amateur leagues through the minors. The jobs paid practically nothing.
"And he would go to the nearest hotel and go to the men's room and pretend he stayed there and wash up and shave and come out and have a cup of coffee," Mrs. Chylak said. "He ate hot dogs and slept in his car."
On one date when he was still in the Triple-A International League, Nestor and his future wife traveled to New York to see the Yankees. He vowed he would work in Yankee Stadium one day.
"And I thought, 'Year, sure you will,' " Mrs. Chylak said.
The day American League president William Harridge promoted him to the majors for the 1954 season, an excited Nestor couldn't wait to tell his father, a stern man who had viewed his son's umpiring skeptically and preferred his son run the bar.
"I think when he said to his father that he made the big leagues, his father said, 'Do you think you'll stay?' " Mrs. Chylak said. "I think after a while he was proud of him."
a Drawback of Umpiring
During the off-season, Nestor regaled banquets of Little Leaguers, Boy Scouts or others with titles of the major leagues without charge.
"He would go just about anywhere to talk to kids," Mr. Kelly said.
At least once a week, he also spread his humor among the patients at the veterans hospital in Plains, Mr. Zielinski said. Nestor thought he owed it to them because he was so lucky to survive battle himself, so lucky to live in a country that enabled him to earn a living at the game he loved.
His friends and family say he almost never talked about the horrors of his battlefield days. Bill Chylak thinks his dad's generosity and the way he treated people grew out of his loneliness on the road, but Bob Chylak thinks the friends their father lost in battle had something to do with it.
"He had a lot of friends and he came back with none of them," he said. "I think if you see something like that you can't look at anything too seriously after that."
He didn't. Nestor Chylak loved a good time, loved an ice-cold beer and Ukrainian food, dining with his wife, popping in at Chet's Lounge in Moosic or Crystal Pines Restaurant and Cocktail Lounge at Crystal Lake.
If the party died down, he'd joke until everyone was in stitches or haul out his ukulele and transform wherever he was into Chylak's with the old barbershop songs.
"We'd be here until all hours. If anybody was here, he'd get them all singing," said Billy Gentile, Nestor's friend and Crystal Pines' owner.
On the field, Nestor was all business with an approach that made a Hall of Famer.
Earl Weaver, Ted Williams, former baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn and former American League President Lee McPhall have publicly praised his umpiring.
In his 25-year major-league career, Nestor worked five World Series, six All-Star Games and three American League playoff series. His on-field career ended in Toronto in July 1978 when he became ill working a night game after a flurry of difficult travel.
Family members say he was simply exhausted. His fellow umpires and others said he suffered a mild stroke. He spent the next three seasons a a supervisor of umpires and was preparing for a fourth that never happened.
Nestor never woke up Feb. 17, 1982, despite his wife's repeated nudges and son Bill's desperate resuscitation. Everyone assumed he had a heart attack, but Mrs. Chylak thinks her husband stopped breathing because of a sleeping disorder.
Today [July 25, 1999], just two days past 21 years to the day that he worked his last game, Nestor joins baseball's immortals. He pooh-poohed his wife's suggestion that he might be enshrined one day. No doubt, he would be honored, said Bob Chylak, who once strolled the Hall of Fame with his father, and will make Nestor's acceptance speech today in Cooperstown, N.Y.
"He'd take me through the hall and show me all the statues. You could tell that it meant something to him," Bob Chylak said. "It wasn't just another museum to him. He was like a kid looking at the stuff."