By Mike Crist
July 26, 1999
N.Y. — A power hitter with 500 home runs holds the keys to Cooperstown.
A line-drive hitter who collects 3,000 career hits has his ticket
A pitcher who wins 300 games can expect the call from the Hall.
But the criteria for an umpire to be inducted into the Hall of Fame are
not nearly so well defined.
He must rely on word of mouth. What did the players and managers
of his era think about him? Who was the umpire they most wanted to
see take the field for a big game?
For many members of the Hall of Fame who assembled here Sunday, the
answer was Nestor Chylak.
"He was one of the best umpires in the American League for years
and years," said Harmon Killebrew, who broke into the AL the same
year as Mr. Chylak (1954) and hit 573 home runs during a 25-year career.
"I think he had a great rapport with the players. He was a
good ball-and-strike umpire, and he was always on top of every
Mr. Chylak, a native of Olyphant who umpired for 25 years, was one of
seven people inducted into the Hall of Fame Sunday.
Nobody appreciated Mr. Chylak's knowledge of the strike zone more than
the pitchers of his day.
"If it was off the plate, it was a ball," said Rollie Fingers,
who saved 341 games and won 114 from 1968-85. "If it was on
the plate, it was a strike. He was a real good umpire with balls
"I think that's the biggest problems today with the game," Mr.
Fingers said. "A lot of umpires don't know the strike
While making the right calls and being in the proper position are the
two most obvious duties of an umpire, they do not represent a complete
Mr. Chylak was able to distinguish himself in other ways.
"I think anybody who ever played while Nestor umpired understood
how much he loved the game and how much he loved people," said
former Baltimore Orioles pitcher Jim Palmer, who won 268 games in 20
"Whether you're Nestor Chylak or Jim Palmer or anyone else, if you
can go through life and enjoy what you're doing, get pleasure out of it
and give pleasure to others, do your job and do it at a high level, what
more is there to do? When I think of Nestor, that's how I remember
him, "Mr. Palmer said.
"I just thought he was an excellent umpire and he was a good guy,"
added Mr. Killebrew, who played for the Washington Senators,
Minnesota Twins and Kansas City Royals. "If you treated him
right he respected that, and I respected the way Nestor Chylak
All three Hall-of-Fame players said they believe Mr. Chylak belongs in
The only problem, Mr. Palmer said, was that the honor came 17 years too
late. Mr. Chylak died in 1982.
"I wish he was here in person," Mr Palmer said, "It's
great to be nominated. It's great to be elected. Here's a
guy that really deserved a chance to be here to realize that umpires are
getting the respect they deserved."