For those of you might be baseball fans this is the time of year when all of your hopes are still alive. The season itself hasn’t officially started and even Cub fans have a glimmer of hope that come October their team will be playing and hopefully winning the Fall Classic.
But, before any teams make it there they have to go through the 162 game regular season and then survive the playoffs and accompanying them on their way will be the umpire. Let’s take a look at how one becomes a baseball umpire and what their responsibilities are in controlling the game.
”Hey Ump, is this your cell phone? It must be because it has three missed calls!”
I don’t know who in their right mind would want to be an umpire. They suffer the slings and arrows of the fans on an almost daily basis and are the targets of tantrums thrown by both players and coaches. All it takes is one “blown call” and they become the topic of scorn and ridicule in the sports pages and on ESPN. But, if you feel you’re so inclined to take on those duties, here’s what you have to do.
If you want to make it to the bigs, you have to go to what’s known as “Umpire School”. Currently there are only two that Major League Baseball recognizes. They are The Jim Evans Academy of Professional Umpiring and The Harry Wendelstedt Umpire School. Both are located in Florida and are run by former Major League umpires.
The training itself lasts about five weeks after which you’ll be evaluated by the staff. Only about ten to twenty percent will make the grade and for those lucky ones that do they'll be sent to another training camp (also in Florida) known as the Professional Baseball Umpires Corp. If you’re lucky enough survive that don’t think that you’ve got your meal ticket punched to the majors. You’re gonna have to spend probably five to seven years bouncing and winding your way through the minors before being called up.
Once you make it to the “show” here’s what you can expect.
It’s a pretty select field to begin with. Major League Baseball currently employs only 70 full time umpires with another 22 that can be called up from Class AAA on a part time or fill in basis
During the regular season most major league games are assigned four umpires per game. Each umpire is assigned as a part of crew that they can expect to work with during the year. The crew rotates positions after each game. For instance, if you’re the one calling balls and strikes on Monday, you can expect to be umpiring third base on Tuesday, second base on Wednesday and so on and so on. Each crew is always assigned a “chief” who is the most senior member of the crew.
Naturally, the most visible ump on the field is the one who’s calling balls and strikes. The other members of the crew are responsible for such things as safe/out calls at their assigned base and to determine if a ball is fair or foul along the first and third base lines. They’re also responsible for determining if a ball is a home run or not as well as judgment calls on such things as fan interference and cancelling or suspending games due to inclement weather.
It’s also your job to “run” or “toss” any player, manager or coach who violates the rules or argues vehemently after a disputed call. If I recall correctly, according to the movie Bull Durham this usually involves some form or variant of the word “Cocksucker!” or making direct contact with the umpire himself.
I know, to some of you this might sound pretty easy but it’s not. I don’t care if you’ve called the last 1000 plays correctly, they won’t make the highlight reel. It’s the one you miss that will come back to haunt you.
If you can make it to the big leagues and you can stand all the travel, insults and pressure you can expect to earn anywhere between $100,000 and $300,000 per year. When you toss in a per diem of $357 a day for hotels and meals it adds up pretty quickly.
Fans, players and managers alike can become pretty creative when it comes to insulting umpires. Here’s a few of the borgo favorites that I’ve managed to cull from various sources.
“Hey ump! I thought only horses slept standing up!”
To a home plate ump – “Get a hammer and some nails, the plate is movin' around!
”I've gotten better calls from my ex-wife!”
”Good thing there ain’t three choices!”
”Is that your final answer?”
”Hey ump! For a guy that only works 3 hours a day, you're doing a pretty bad job!”
Here's couple more courtesy of user Orange Julius...
"Hey ump, you're missing a great game here"
"Get off your knees, you're blowing the game"
For the other side of the coin I’d recommend reading a book called “The Umpire Strikes Back” written by former Major League umpire Ron Luciano. He called “em as he saw ‘em” for ten years from 1969 through 1979. His running feud with Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver is the stuff of baseball legend. He once tossed him before both ends of a doubleheader before a single pitch had been thrown in either game.
Tragically, Ron Luciano died in 1995 at the tender age of 57.
Cause of death?
Suicide via carbon monoxide poisoning.