Breaking News
More () »

Even a heart procedure can't slow down 86-year-old southern Illinois umpire

Gary Whyte has been umpiring and officiating for more than 50 years. And he's already looking forward to next season.

EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. — On recreational softball nights in Edwardsville, Alton's Gary Whyte is the most popular man in town. At 86 years old, with more than 50 years of umpiring and officiating under his belt, Whyte has more than earned his popularity.

The Dow, Illinois, grad did have a chance to be on the other side of the plate in a tryout for the Cardinals nearly 70 years ago.

“It was about 1954, I was still in high school. There was about 6 or 8 of us who went over to Sportsman’s Park and it was a three-day camp… We came back the next day and batted against the pitchers who were trying out. I got to bat once, hit into a double play, the rains came and that was it," Whyte recalled.

So Whyte decided to make his home behind home plate. And when he’s back there, players know they better be on their best behavior.

“Most of them know me, so they won’t go too far," Whyte said. "One of the other guys will say, ‘Hey you better watch what you’re saying. You know who’s umpiring’.”

Whyte has umpired and officiated for just about every sport you can think of during his career, getting licensed to do IHSA games back in 1963.

So why is he still doing it?

“I just enjoy it. I really do. Same way with me driving a school bus. I’ve been driving a school bus after I retired from Shell Oil for 20 years. I just enjoy the kids and the sports I take them to now. I just enjoy doing it or I wouldn’t be doing it," Whyte said. “That’s another reason why I’m still umpiring. There’s nobody around to do it!”

And it turns out even a heart procedure couldn’t even slow Whyte down, thanks to some help from SLU and St. Anthony’s hospitals. Whyte had transcatheter aortic valve replacement, a minimally invasive procedure to replace a narrowed aortic valve. Dr. Kishore Harjal, and interventional cardiologist with St. Louis University Hospital in partnership with OSF HealthCare Saint Anthony's Health Center in Alton performed the operation.

“Gave me a new aorta valve in my heart," Whyte said of his procedure back in June. "And then I had to have a pacemaker which I’ve got right here.”

And there’s no doubt Whyte's heart for the game is strong as ever.

“If my health stays I’ll probably be out here next year. I’m looking forward to it anyways," Whyte said.

Before You Leave, Check This Out