Al Barlick rose from a Midwestern coal-mining family to a long career as a major league umpire and eventual election to baseball’s Hall of Fame, the sixth umpire to be so honored. He gave his adult life to baseball and umpiring, as he worked from 1936 through 1993 in the game.
Albert Joseph Barlick was born on April 2, 1915, in Springfield, Illinois, the fifth and youngest son of John Barlick (c. 1879 - 1953) and Louise Gorence (1883 - 1966). John Barlick, an Austrian immigrant, worked for 50 years at the Peabody #59 bituminous mine.
Young Al dropped out of high school after two years to help support his family. He joined the Civilian Conservation Corps, spending six months in Washington State and six more in Wisconsin. When an older brother died, Al returned home and went to work in the coal mine as his father’s helper.
Growing up in Springfield, Barlick and a friend, Pat Ciotti, had devised a backyard game in which they used a flat board for a bat and pitched kernels of corn from about 35 feet away. The pitcher also called balls and strikes. In 1935, Jack Rossiter, who ran the Springfield Municipal Baseball League, needed umpires. Ciotti recommended the 20-year-old Barlick, who was given a tryout and, eventually, a job.
In September 1940, National League chief umpire Bill Klem was unable to work, so the league needed an arbiter to fill in. Barlick made his debut in a double header at Shibe Park in Philadelphia on September 8. His debut game was the first major league contest he had ever seen. His complete list of games umpired can be viewed on the Retrosheet web site.
In February 1941, Barlick married Jennie Marie Leffell. They had two daughters, Marlene (born c. 1943) and Kathleen (born c. 1945). At the time of Barlick’s Hall of Fame induction in 1989, two of his grandsons were serving in the U.S. Marine Corps.
The National League offered Barlick a contract for the 1941 season. Barlick was 25 when offered the job but had just turned 26 by the time the season started on April 15. This made him one of the youngest umpires in major league history.
On July 6, 1942, Al Barlick umpired his first Major League All-Star game at the Polo Grounds in New York. This was the first of seven such contests he would work in his career and the only one for which he was not the home plate umpire and crew chief. He worked at second base for the first half of the game and third base for the second half in his initial All-Star appearance – in just his second season in the major leagues.
Barlick joined the U.S. Coast Guard on November 5, 1943. He spent most of the next two years assigned to an 83-foot cutter based at the training station at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut. When he was discharged in 1945, he had attained the rank of Seaman, First Class.
He returned to umpiring in 1946, and worked in his first World Series that season. At the time, a four-man umpire crew worked in the series. He started the series at second base and worked behind the plate twice, including the series-deciding seventh game.
Barlick opened the 1947 season on April 15 in Brooklyn. He worked at first base as the Dodgers beat the Boston Braves, 5-3. This game drew a lot of attention from the media because of the big league debut of the Dodgers first baseman, Jackie Robinson. Thus, Barlick was the closest guy on the field to Robinson as he became the first African-American to play in the majors in the 20th century
Barlick missed the 1956 and 1957 seasons because of a heart problem. This issue was described as either an enlarged heart or a mild heart attack in various news accounts. He spent the time operating a gas station called Barlick & Petrone in Springfield, Illinois.
He returned to the National League in 1958 as a crew chief. At the end of the season, Barlick umpired the 1958 World Series, a seven-game set won by the New York Yankees over the Milwaukee Braves.
On May 28, 1966, Barlick’s mother, Louise, died at her home in Springfield. Barlick went home after the game of May 25 to be with his mother and returned to work on June 3, missing nine games. On July 12, Barlick was behind the plate for the All-Star Game, played at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. As was the practice, the umpires changed positions in the middle of the fifth inning, with Barlick moving to third base
In 1989, Al Barlick was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans’ Committee. He was the sixth umpire to be so honored, after Bill Klem, Tommy Connolly, Billy Evans, Jocko Conlan and Cal Hubbard. In 1991, Barlick was made a charter member of the Springfield, Illinois Sports Hall of Fame.
On September 10, 1995, a ceremony was held at Wrigley Field, Chicago, to retire numbers for three Hall of Fame umpires who worked in the National League: Bill Klem (#1), Jocko Conlan (#2) and Al Barlick (#3). Note that these were not numbers actually worn by those arbiters but done to honor them.
At the end of that month, the Babe Ruth Museum in Baltimore held a weekend card show as part of their year-long celebration of the centennial of the Babe’s birth. They gathered many Hall of Famers for autograph sessions during the three-day event and Barlick was one of them. The Hall of Famers waited in a back stage room before doing their session with the public. Many players who came into the room, upon seeing Barlick sitting quietly at the side of the room, made a detour and stopped to say hello. Most addressed him as “Mr. Barlick” and asked how he was doing. Barlick once said: “I think I earned the players’ respect and that’s the ultimate in life, isn’t it? I didn’t care if they liked me or disliked me, as long as I had their respect.” The reaction of those Hall of Fame players that day in Baltimore certainly proved that respect.
Weeks later, Al Barlick died in Springfield on December 27, 1995. He had collapsed at home and was taken to the Memorial Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead. Cardiac arrest had stilled his growling, booming voice, one of the loudest in the big leagues. His body was cremated and his ashes scattered by the family.
Barlick was fond of saying: “There are umpires and there are those who hold the title.” No one doubts that Barlick was an umpire. In fact, Bruce Froemming described Barlick as “an umpire’s umpire.”
In addition to the 48 umpires with whom he shared the field, Barlick mentored many umpires who are still working in the major leagues as of 2011. His legacy in the game lives on in those people.