By Kevin Glew
Canadian Baseball Network
He was more than just an umpire.
That’s what many of the now grown-up Little Leaguers that participated in games that 2017 Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Doug Hudlin worked will tell you.
If a young pitcher was struggling, the kind-hearted Victoria, B.C. native might call time and walk to the mound to offer a suggestion or encouragement. If a youngster was having a hard time hitting the ball, Hudlin would sometimes stop the game and help them with their stance.
And people would ask why? Why as an umpire was he helping?
His step-daughter Judy Messerli said his response to this was, “Because [with kids] at that age, an umpire is also a coach.”
And while he obviously possessed superlative skills in calling a game, this is why Hudlin, who passed away in 2014 at age 91, is still spoken about with such reverence in his hometown and across British Columbia.
“I talked to a guy who was young when Doug umpired and he told me that the things that Doug told him on the diamond, he’s taken them and applied them to his life,” said Barbara Hudlin, who is the 2017 Hall of Famer’s niece. “He gave them tips about baseball and tips about life.”
And she says her uncle delighted in watching kids succeed.
“Doug is a very kind-hearted person,” she added, speaking of her uncle in the present tense. “He loves it when a kid gets a hit and lights up when they run to first base. He’s all about the kids.”
In just under four decades as an umpire, the good-humored Hudlin was firm but compassionate when he ruled a game. Fairness was his priority and for many kids, he was an unforgettable, larger-than-life figure. Though he’d also umpire senior men’s games, Messerli said her step-dad particularly enjoyed umpiring Little Leaguers.
“He enjoyed the goofiness of the kids at that young age,” she said.
That, of course, is not to say Hudlin didn’t take his job seriously, clearly he did. How else do you become arguably the most respected umpire in the history of your province? How else do you become the first umpire from your province to be elected to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame?
Born in 1922 in Victoria, Hudlin was a skilled baseball player as a teenager, but didn’t begin umpiring until after he hurt his back playing soccer in 1951. Two years later, he started umpiring Little League Baseball and in 1956, he began working senior men’s contests.
He quickly became known not only for his adeptness in calling balls and strikes, but also for his good humor, integrity and empathetic approach. This helped him to be elected president of the Victoria District Umpires Association in 1963 and serve in that post until he founded and became the first president of the B.C. Baseball Umpires Association in 1974, a position he retained for five years.
One of the highlights of his storied career was being chosen as the first non-American umpire to work the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa., in 1967.
“I don’t think he realized that he had made history until he came back because that’s when he first said to me that he had made history,” recalled his niece, Barbara. “But as a family we were very proud.”
Seven years later, he returned to umpire the event, making him the first international umpire ever to work two Little League World Series.
Hudlin also worked the Canada Little League Championships five times (1966-67, 1973, 1981, 1987), the Senior Little League World Series in Gary, Ind., twice (1968, 1974) and the B.C. Summer Games in 1988. That same year, he was selected by the Celebration '88 Committee to receive a medal for his longstanding service to the Victoria community as a sports official.
Hudlin umpired his final Little League game in 1992. Six years later, he was elected to the Greater Victoria Sports Hall of Fame and in 2011, he was inducted into the B.C. Baseball Umpires Association Hall of Fame. His stellar work behind the plate also earned him lifetime memberships in the Victoria and District Baseball Association (1983), Little League World Series Umpire Alumni (1984), the British Columbia Baseball Umpires Association (1988) and Little League Baseball British Columbia (1989). Hudlin was also the founding director of the British Columbia Black History Awareness Society.
In retirement, Hudlin continued to mentor young umpires and remained revered by the Little Leaguers whose games he worked. Messerli shared a story of how 20 years after Hudlin had umpired his final game, he took a long cab ride in Victoria. At the end of the trek, he reached into his pocket to pay the fare and the driver wouldn’t take his money.
“This one’s on me,” the driver said. “You umpired my games when I was a kid.”
Unfortunately, Hudlin passed away 3 1/2 years prior to his Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame induction. But it’s clear he hasn’t been forgotten. To honour his legacy, the B.C. Baseball Umpires Association presents the Doug Hudlin Distinguished Service Award each year to a dedicated and long-serving umpire in the province.
On June 11, Hudlin was honoured by the city of Victoria in a ceremony at National Little League Park, the field where Hudlin started and ended his umpiring career. At that event, it was announced that moving forward, June 11th would be recognized as Doug Hudlin Day in Victoria each year.
On Saturday, Hudlin was honoured with the highest Canadian baseball accolade one can receive.
“If he was here, he would just have a little smile on his face and he’d shake his head,” said Messerli.
“He was modest,” added Hudlin’s niece, Barbara. “He’d wonder why [he was being honoured] . . . But don’t get me wrong, he’d he honoured . . . We’re all honoured and very proud of him. When I saw his plaque in the Hall of Fame, I cried.”