Much required to become MLB umpire
Hard work and dedication define baseball's arbiters
The four people dressed in civilian clothes and positioned near the bases during games are not exactly strangers to baseball fans. Quite a few umpires, notably the legendary Bruce Froemming, are household names even to casual followers of the sport.
How umpires go about their business, however, is not as generally known, nor may it be understood the extent of their training and apprenticeship and the intense scrutiny under which they are subjected on a daily basis. Despite all that, umpires are involved in the game for primarily the same reason players are, because they love it. But unlike the players, who certainly hear their share of boos, umpires seldom are showered with applause.
The balls, strikes and outs are recorded in Major League games by 70 umpires working in 17 crews of four (with two national rovers) working together in both leagues. Most came into the Majors after having worked from eight to 12 years on the average in the Minor Leagues for wages far below what they can earn in The Show.
A Major League umpire's starting salary is around $120,000, with the senior umps earning up to $350,000. That may sound like a lot for what seems to be six months' work, but the umpire's season is considerably longer than that with Spring Training, All-Star Games and postseason play added into the mix.
Jimmie Lee Solomon, the executive vice president of baseball operations, oversees MLB umpires with Mike Port, vice president for umpires. Other officials include director for umpire administration, Tom Lepperd; supervisors Rich Garcia, Cris Jones, Jim McKean, Steve Palermo, Rich Rieker and Marty Springstead and director of umpire medical services Mark Letendre.
Baseball's umpires were the first professional sports officials to begin a comprehensive athletic health care program that was established in 1999 by Letendre, a former trainer with the New York Yankees and San Francisco Giants.
Considering the umpires' hectic schedule, good health is a factor. Unlike players, who travel to most cities by charter jets arranged by the clubs, umpires travel to games via commercial airlines and are subjected to the same inconveniences as regular travelers, albeit in first-class accommodations.
Crews generally travel together, although that is not required. Getting to the ballpark for a given game on time is all that matters. Major League umpires receive a per-diem allowance of $340, but that covers all items -- hotel, rental car, meals, tips, telephone, etc.
"Take a look at some of those hotel rates, and you can see that goes pretty fast," Rieker said.
Crew teams are established through consultation by umpire officials in December and January prior to each season. Each crew has a designated chief whose duties include periodic discussions and reviews of situations, plays and rules with his crew; generally directing the work of the other umpires on the crew with particular emphasis on uniformity in dealing with unique situations; assigning responsibilities for maintaining time limits during the game; ensuring the timely filing of all required crew reports for incidents such as ejections, brawls and protested games and reporting to the Office of Commissioner any irregularity in field conditions at any ballpark.
Turnover is not high. There is generally one opening per year on the average. Patience is required of the Minor League umpire who hopes to advance. A major step is to become one of the 15 to 17 Triple-A umpires who are selected each year as fill-ins for MLB umps on vacation.
Each umpire is entitled to four weeks' paid vacation during the regular season. Crew members must take three of those weeks at the same time, and the fourth is at their choosing with clearance from umpiring officials. All vacation requests must be made prior to the start of the regular season.
Just as more players today rely on video programming to study opposing pitchers and hitters, umpires also review game calls on a regular basis. Umpires have their own video director, and the Questec system that measures the ball and strike calls of plate umpires is in use in half of MLB parks.
Instant replay, slow-motion cameras and digital tracking of video tapes combine to make umpires among the most scrutinized workers in the United States, yet their accuracy rate is 99 percent for baseline calls and 97 percent for balls and strikes.
The time-honored pattern of umpiring crews is that the plate umpire for the first game of a series moves to third base the next night and around the bases clockwise, and follows an assignment at first base with his next turn behind the plate.
Assignments for All-Star Games as well as Division Series, League Championship Series and World Series are based on merit from study by officials and supervisors.
The World Series will be over less than a week when the umpires are back to work again. The process of finding new umpires begins Nov. 4-11 at the second annual MLB Umpire Camp, which is open to men and women 18 and older with a high school diploma. Field instruction takes place at MLB's Urban Youth Academy in Compton, Calif., with classroom work at the Holiday Inn in Long Beach, Calif.
Serving as instructors will be umpires Tim Tschida, Larry Young, Gary Cederstrom, Kerwin Danley, Brian Gorman, Sam Holbrook, Jerry Layne and Brian Runge, along with Rieker, Jones, McKean, Springstead and Letendre.
Jack O'Connell is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.