Nestor Chylak
Hall of Fame Opens Door for Nestor Chylak

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.Nestor Chylak Jr. To Become the Eight Umpire in Hall of Fame

by Boris Krawczeniuk
The Sunday Times
(July 25, 1999)

   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.

Nestor Chylak Jr. HOF plaque    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.


He was born May 11, 1922, the oldest of five children of Nestor George Chylak Sr. and his wife, the former Nellie Shipskie, both first-generation Americans of Ukrainian immigrants.

   George Chylak, Nestor's grandfather, sailed to America in 1883 and settled in Shamokin.  A few years later, he moved to Olyphant, where he co-founded SS. Cyril & Methodius Ukrainian Catholic Church and grew wealthy as an entrepreneur in several businesses.

Master Sgt. Nestor and his father, Nestor Sr., left, and grandfather, George.
Master Sgt. Nestor and his father, Nestor Sr., left, and grandfather, George.  Besides being businessmen, Nestor's father and grandfather were prominent Olyphant Republican politicians, elected to several different offices.   After he retired from umpiring, Nestor turned down a chance to run for Lackawanna County treasurer because he decided to stay on as assistant supervisor of major-league umpires.

A young Nestor swings at a pitch.
A young Nestor swings at a pitch during a pickup game, possibly at the family cottage at Chapman Lake.

  Like most of Northeastern Pennsylvania, Olyphant depended on coal.  Ukrainians, Slovaks, Poles, Russians, Irish and Welsh lived side by side, built elaborate churches and opened grocery, clothing and other stores and bars, turning Olyphant into a center of Mid-Valley commerce.

   "There were almost as many churches as bars at one time," joked Patrick Kelly, 67, a friend of Nestor's who grew up in Olyphant.

    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."


Road Trips a Drawback of Umpiring
"If you got in an elevator with him, you knew him by the
fifth floor," Nestor's son, Bob, said.

Umpiring was a tough life.  Unlike players, umpires traveled after each series.  They had days off only if teams did.  Families had to live without them eight months out of the year.

   "He used to say the minute my mother told him that she wanted him home and didn't want him on the road any more, that would be it.  He'd hang it up," Bill Chylak said.

   Mrs. Chylak never asked.

   "At first, I kind of resented it because he wasn't around . . . But after a while he said, 'You know I should do something else.  I could teach.'  He wouldn't have been happy doing that.  That was his whole life, he loved baseball so much," she said.

  Nestor longed for his family, always talking about his wife or "my Bobby" or "my Billy," fellow umpire Rich Garcia said.  He would steal part of a day at his Dunmore home if he was assigned to a game nearby.  He phoned home constantly.  He had family and friends sometimes join him on the road to relieve the loneliness.  They found out he had "nine million friends" because he made friends instantly, Eugene Chylak said.

  "If you got in an elevator with him, you knew him by the fifth floor," Nestor's son, Bob, said.

   At home after the season, his boundless energy bubbled until he could sit no more.  He pumped gas at Tony Picchio's station in Olyphant and Butch York's station in Dickson City, joined Mr. York on oil deliveries, bowled, golfed or batted handballs.  He played to win and could unleash a stream of profanity when he didn't.

  "If you were playing him at tiddlywinks, believe me, Nestor would try to beat you," said former state Rep. Joseph Wargo, 76, another friend.

   Nestor yearned to make others feel like winners, too.  On visits home, he slipped Sue notes with the addresses of people he wanted to send a ball or other souvenir.

   A friend of Susan DeMalo's father casually mentioned to Nestor at a banquet that she rooted for Thurman Munson, the late Yankee catcher.  Not long after that, she had Munson's autograph on a ball.

   "I cried," Ms DeMalo, 57, of Scranton, said.

  That generosity and thoughtfulness extended beyond handing out baseballs.

   Nestor bought a Braille watch for a former local high school basketball coach who went blind from diabetes.   A man who admired Nestor's tie wound up wearing it.  The toys his sons didn't play with were boxed and donated to charity.

   "Material things did not mean a thing to him," Mrs. Chylak said.

   "As long as the bills were paid, he could care less."

   By the time he retired, Nestor's salary was still less than $50,000, she said.

Road trips were difficult times for Nestor and his family.

Road trips were difficult times for Nestor and his family.  In the early days, umpires and players still traveled by train.
Nestor, his wife Sue, and their sons Bill, seated in mom's lap, and Bob.
Nestor, his wife Sue, and their sons Bill, seated in mom's lap, and Bob.  The picture was taken in the basement of the family's Dunmore home.  Note the baseball bats subbing as banister posts.

 


'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.'

Sue Chylak
Nestor's widow


    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."

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