Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Olyphant, Lackawanna County
American League umpire Nestor Chylak was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1999.
Awards: Baseball Hall of Fame
Born in 1922, Nestor Chylak lived in Olyphant, Pennsylvania. He served in the Army during World War II, sustaining an injury that sent him home with a Purple Heart and a Silver Star. Chylak's career as an umpire began shortly after he returned home. Chylak eventually worked his way up to the major leagues. His career as a reputable umpire was marked by five World Series and six All-Star games between 1957 and 1978. In 1982, Chylak died in his sleep. His reputation earned him a place in the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1999, making him the eighth umpire to receive this honor.
Nestor George Chylak Jr. was born on May 11, 1922, in the town of Olyphant near Scranton. He was born as the oldest of five children to Nestor George Chylak Sr. and the former Nellie Shipskie. Both of his parents were of Ukrainian descent, and the name "Nestor" is Greek for traveler.
Nestor Chylak began his college career at the University of Scranton. His academic career was short lived from 1939-1940 as a result of World War II. In his 20s, Nestor Chylak served in the Army for World War II in Europe. As an active soldier, Chylak did not serve our country long before sustaining an injury. The Battle of the Bulge took place in the Ardennes Forest on the German/Belgium border in 1945. It was here that Chylak proved to be a brave soldier. Facing the coldest, snowiest weather, Sgt. Chylak was wounded by shrapnel from an exploding shell. The injury, smashing into his face, nearly cost him his sight. Sgt. Chylak was bandaged for ten days, unable to see. Luckily, his vision returned and for his service in World War II, Chylak earned both the Silver Star and the Purple Heart. In 1946, at the end of the war, Chylak returned home to Olyphant and began his career as an umpire.
Chylak began officiating in the Northeastern Pennsylvania League, an amateur baseball league. He only stayed with this league for one year, moving to his first professional job in 1947 in the PONY League (Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New York). As a young umpire, Chylak moved around many times, making appearances in the Class C Canadian-American League, for two weeks in 1949, and in the Class B New England League, also in 1949. Continuing on his way to the big leagues, Chylak was offered a job by Eastern League president Thomas Richardson as a double-A league umpire. For the 1950 and 1951 seasons, Chylak remained in the double-A league. While this was an honor for Chylak, his journey to the big leagues was far from over. Chylak's first game in the major leagues occurred on April 14, 1954, in Washington. The game featured a Washington Senators win 5-3 over the New York Yankees. His game crew consisted of the legendary Hall of Fame umpire Bill McGowan as the chief, Joe Paparella, and Jim Honochick, who became famous for beer commercials. Chylak's time as an umpire in the major leagues was marked with respect from both players and coaches. For example, according to Eugene Maslar, Baltimore Orioles Hall of Fame third baseman Brooks Robinson once said "Nestor Chylak was my favorite umpire. He was the best (at) calling balls and strikes or whatever. I always felt like the best umps are the ones you never heard about. Nestor always let you have a say and go about your business. He was terrific." As an umpire all year round, Chylak could quote the rule book numerically, by section and even paragraph.
As Chylak's reputation as a respectable umpire continued to grow, Chylak was awarded the honor of officiating for his first World Series from October 2-10 in 1957. For the title, the Milwaukee Braves defeated the New York Yankees in seven games. Although he was not able to work one of the bases, Chylak worked both the left and right fields, watching Hank Aaron hit three homeruns in the series. The series was also special for Chylak because the first baseman for the Yankees was Scranton native Joe Collins, who lived near Chylak's hometown. He continued to receive the privilege of working World Series games, working four more series in 1960, 1966, 1971, and 1977. Chylak also received the honor of being the home plate umpire and the umpire crew chief in the 1971 and 1977 series. Furthermore, he continued his tremendous career by officiating in six All-Star games between 1957 and 1978.
One of the most noteworthy games that Chylak officiated was on June 4, 1974 in Cleveland. The Indians were rebounding from a season in which they had the lowest crowd attendance since World War II. For this game against the Texas Rangers, the crowd promotion was ten-cent Beer Night. More than 25,000 Indian fans had showed up to the game, ready to drink their ten-cent beer. By mid-game, players were being doused with beer, leading to a full scale riot by the ninth inning. Players were fighting with both fans and team managers. Chylak was hit in the face by a flying chair, eventually declaring the game to be a forfeit and allowing the players to flee. As Tom Withers reported, "We went as far as we could go, but you can't pull back uncontrollable beasts," Chylak told reporters, while his battle injuries continued to bleed.
On February 17, 1982, Nestor Chylak died while sleeping in his home in Dunmore, Pennsylvania. Whether it was a heart attack or a sleeping disorder, no one knows for certain. As a traveling umpire, Chylak became exhausted as a result of constantly being on the run, forcing his career to slowly come to an end. Yet Chylak earned the respect of many people. In 1999, seventeen years after his death, Chylak was inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame as the eighth umpire ever to be inducted. Even in death, Chylak was remembered as a great umpire. According to Eugene Maslar in his tribute article, Bob Maisel once wrote in the Baltimore Sun, "What he had that a lot of other umpires lack was common sense, an appreciation of what he was out there for. He didn't try to be the show. All he wanted to do was call the plays right, keep the games moving and handle the situations as they arose so that others could furnish the show."
Connery, William S. "Umpires in Cooperstown." The World & I 18.10 (Oct. 2003): 166.