Ed Vargo had three loves, said his son, Edward A. Vargo.
"He loved his family. He loved baseball. And he loved Butler," the son said yesterday.
Ed Vargo, a major league umpire for 24 seasons and a lifelong resident of Butler, died Saturday at his home of congestive heart failure. He was 77.
"He might be in Los Angeles [working a game] and run into somebody from Butler," his son said. "He'd give the person $10 and say, 'Get yourself a hot dog.' If you were from Butler, he'd give you $10."
The love was returned, too.
Last night, Edward Vargo's son, Alex, a junior point guard for Fox Chapel High School who normally wears No. 3, changed his uniform to No. 20 in honor of his grandfather, who wore the number during his career.
"He was a wonderful man," said Bill McClarnon, Ed Vargo's son-in-law. "He was totally dedicated to his family. He was funny as heck -- and blunt."
"There was no gray area with him," Edward Vargo said.
Perhaps that's one reason Ed Vargo was so respected as an umpire.
"He was very consistent [with his strike zone], which is what you wanted," former Pirates catcher Milt May said. "You liked him either way -- as a pitcher or a hitter -- because he was fair."
Mr. Vargo, who umpired in the National League from 1960 through 1983, had a reputation for being an excellent ball-strike umpire.
"He knew the strike zone better than most pitchers -- and we thought we knew it better than anybody," former Pirates pitcher Steve Blass said.
"I had nothing but respect for him," Mr. May said.
"He had the appearance of a rough, hard guy -- and he could be that way when he had to be as an umpire -- but he really was not that way. He was very easy to get along with, talk to and joke with. Everybody respected Ed."
"He was in the generation of umpires that represented the character and integrity of the game as well as it could possibly be done," Mr. Blass said.
"He was in the group with Augie Donatelli, Tom Gorman, Harry Wendelstedt, Al Barlick, Doug Harvey, Shag Crawford, Jocko Conlan. They ran ballgames like they should be run.
"There was tremendous respect between the ballplayers and umpires of that era. The umpires left the game up to the players. They knew when to be involved and when not to be involved. And when they had to get involved, they took over with great authority. They were part of the reason they called it the big leagues."
Mr. Vargo often was part of baseball history.
He was behind the plate for the first night game in World Series history -- Oct. 13, 1971, at Three Rivers Stadium. Mr. May decided that 4-3 game against Baltimore with a run-scoring pinch-hit single in the seventh inning.
Mr. Vargo worked two of Sandy Koufax's no-hitters, including the plate for the left-hander's perfect game against the Chicago Cubs Sept. 9, 1965.
He was the plate umpire when Hank Aaron tied Babe Ruth's career home run record of 714 in Cincinnati April 4, 1974.
He umpired the final games played at the Polo Grounds and Forbes Field.
He worked in four All-Star games, including the 1974 game at Three Rivers Stadium, four National League Championship Series and four World Series.
Mr. Vargo umpired his first major league game April 12, 1960, at San Francisco's Candlestick Park, debuting at third base.
He also was at third base for his final big league game -- the fifth and final game of the 1983 World Series, Oct. 16 at Philadelphia.
Born in Butler on April 25, 1930, Mr. Vargo played briefly as a catcher in the St. Louis Cardinals' farm system in 1948. He then served in the Army for five years.
During his service stint, he managed a team at Fort Belvoir in Virginia to the fort's baseball championship in 1952.
Also during that time, Mr. Vargo discovered a love for umpiring. Honorably discharged in 1954, he began his umpiring career in the minor leagues, reaching the big leagues rather quickly.
Mr. Vargo served as an umpire supervisor from 1984 through 1997, including 10 years as the National League umpire supervisor.
In 1966, he was the first inductee to the Butler County Sports Hall of Fame. In 1994, he was inducted to the Western Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame.
Outside of baseball, Mr. Vargo was a tireless worker for the Butler Area School District, helping needy students and families in his role of home and school visitor.
"He'd take kids to the shoe store and buy them a pair of shoes out of his pocket," Mr. McClarnon said.
"He'd drop food off for a family. He'd buy coats for people. The people never knew where it came from."
"Someone would always show up for Christmas at our house that we didn't know," Edward Vargo said. "It would be a kid who had no parents, and he'd invite him over. Dad never talked about that stuff."
Mr. Vargo is survived by his wife of 45 years, Elizabeth Hunter Vargo; two daughters, Karen McClarnon of Vandergrift and Kristin Wissinger of Cecil; two sons, Edward A. of O'Hara and David of Butler; a brother, Robert of Aliquippa; a sister, Elizabeth Keller of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; and eight grandchildren.
Friends and family will be received at Geibel Funeral Home, Butler, from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. today.
A Mass will be celebrated at noon tomorrow at St. Peter Church, 127 Franklin St., Butler. Interment will follow in Butler County Memorial Park Cemetery, Butler.