Umpire’s love of game stretches into extra innings

He’s been blue for more than 50 years, but that doesn’t mean Larry Gallagher’s feeling down. No, this “blue” brings him pride and joy, because you see Gallagher is an umpire and ever since he first strapped on the mask and chest protector, he’s felt right at home.

Gallagher first put on umpire’s gear when he was just 15 years old – too young to get behind the wheel but old enough to get behind the plate and discover the joy of umpiring.

Umpire Larry Gallagher notes the inning’s activity before beginning another.

Umpire Larry Gallagher notes the inning’s activity before beginning another.Photo by Sue Austreng

And now, nearly 60 years since his first game, he still works about 150 games a year and loves every inning.

“Baseball is a game like no other. It teaches patience and you cannot use size alone to dominate. You have to use intelligence, skill, speed, agility. It’s a beautiful game,” Gallagher said.

And the umpire knows what he’s talking about, a hall of fame athlete for Columbia Heights High School and starting catcher for Augsburg College during his younger days.

In fact, Gallagher, a resident of Crystal, was starting catcher for the Auggies when they won the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title his senior year, 1961.

Small in stature but giant in class and wholesome character, Gallagher is held with utmost respect and admiration among players, coaches and fellow umpires.

“Larry is an amazing guy and an amazing umpire. The guys love to have him ump,” said Heidi Wells, whose son J.D. is manager of the Anoka Bucs Town Ball team.

Gallagher calls a strike during the July 28 Anoka Bucs inaugural home field game at Castle Field.

Gallagher calls a strike during the July 28 Anoka Bucs inaugural home field game at Castle Field.Photo by Sue Austreng

In fact, when Gallagher approaches the ball field, players pause their pre-game warm-up and greet the umpire with hearty high-fives and an enthusiastic hello.

“Larry’s here, guys. Now we know we’ll get a good game called,” said Anoka Bucs coach Chad Heggestad as Gallagher strapped on the mask and got ready to umpire a July 28 ball game.

Umpire association director Chuck Triggs calls Gallagher an “awesome umpire” and said he works “always with such meticulous attention to detail – the mechanics of every call, the umpire’s gear, the equipment – everything about the game matters to him.”

Gallagher umpires for the Northwest Association of Umpires, Ltd., putting him on local diamonds to officiate high school games, Town Ball, American Legion baseball and college baseball at the Division III level in the MIAC (Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference) and UMAC (Upper Midwest Athletic Conference).

Not only that, he trains umpires with the Minnesota State High School League and teaches the rules as a clinician of baseball for the league.

After taking a foul ball off the mask, umpire Larry Gallagher repositions his gear and resumes duties behind the plate.Photo by Sue Austreng

After taking a foul ball off the mask, umpire Larry Gallagher repositions his gear and resumes duties behind the plate.Photo by Sue Austreng

Gallagher began officiating Legion ball back in 1958 and has been a member of the umpire’s association since 1964 when he began umpiring Town Ball.

Over the past half-century and longer he’s happily called the balls and strikes, the stolen bases, the double plays, the home runs and all the rest.

Gallagher even had the chance to officiate Major League Baseball when he umpired seven American League baseball games during the Major League umpire strike in 1979. He had the plate at the May 13, 1979 Cleveland Indians versus Minnesota Twins game at Metropolitan Stadium.

“Calling balls and strikes was no different in the majors,” Gallagher said. “Seventy-five percent of pitches call themselves. That’s true in major league, Town Ball –  any pitch.”

The best thing about being an umpire, Gallagher said, is being able to make decisions and the worst thing is making the correct decision all the time.

But it’s that decision-making that fuels the fire and makes Gallagher’s heart burn brighter for the love of the game.

“I find that making decisions in baseball challenges me to be the best I can be,” he wrote in a column called “Larry’s Corner,” a regular feature of the umpire association website.

Larry Gallagher, the man in blue with more than 50 years’ experience behind the plate and at the bag, calls the batter out at first.Photo by Sue Austreng

Larry Gallagher, the man in blue with more than 50 years’ experience behind the plate and at the bag, calls the batter out at first.Photo by Sue Austreng

“This gets the adrenaline flowing and when you mess up you feel badly but you also know that you can recover from messing up the next opportunity to do the best you can in your next game or even in this game.”

Gallagher’s love of the game and all of its intricacies has been recognized and applauded over the past six decades.

In 2009, Gallagher was inducted into the Columbia Heights High School Hall of Fame. The following year, the Northwest Umpires Hall of Fame welcomed him into their exclusive fold. And in 2011 Gallagher was made a member of the Minnesota Baseball Association Class A Hall of Fame.

As innings unfold and the years go on, the veteran umpire continues to embrace the thrill of the game, the joy of umpiring. Through it all, Gallagher continues to share his love of the game, his passion and knowledge of America’s favorite pastime with young umpires.

“If you can find the joy of umpiring,” he tells them, “you will have unlocked the secret to a long and successful career.”

Sue Austreng is at
sue.austreng@ecm-inc.com

  • Chris Carpenter

    Larry is a legen in Town Ball here in the Metro Minny. Great guy and a darn good umpire! I hope he keeps at it for a few more years!

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