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Seven Things You Didn't Know About Umpires

A 2013 Sally League Umpire, Image Tug Haines
As many fans view a game unfold on a professional baseball diamond, the most savvy watchers may feel as though they know everything there is to know about the team personnel on the field .  The year and round they were drafted.  What their educational background is.  The route they've taken to get where they are and the other teams they've played for.  But with that assumption by avid fans that they know everything about everyone on the field, how much do they really know about the other individuals that help execute the athletic competition by officiating each contest?  What do they know about the umpires?

During the 2013 regular season I sat down with some pro umpires to learn more about their lives and what their paths to the major leagues are like.  Read ahead for a list of seven things that you very likely did not know about umpires.


1- Umpires in the minors are not just some local guys.

There seems to be a misconception about the manner in which umpires are employed.  The officials on the field throughout the developmental levels are employed by the league.

"(Fans) assume you're just a local guy and you work that city, that state or that ballpark, but as soon as you leave one city, you've got an eight-hour drive overnight to the next city," said Clayton Hamm, who spent the 2013 season officiating games in the Class A South Atlantic Leaugue.

Because of the rotation of assignments and not having a favorable schedule which would allow them to be "home" half the time, like players are, umpires spend the entire season on the road.

"I think people would just be surprised with the overall travel.  Whereas teams travel on buses which someone else drives and they're allowed to sleep on those bus rides.  With us, it's just you and one other guy.  You've got to get to the next destination with a rental vehicle," Hamm stated.


2- Schooling to become a professional umpire lasts just five weeks. 

There are three schools (previously just two) that a prospective umpire can attend.  Once the winter course is complete, a collection of top graduates are targeted to attend an evaluation with representatives from the others schools.  In the end, less than 20% of the graduating students will be offered jobs.  While that doesn't seem like a great amount of openings, turnover in the minor leagues is
common at various levels, which keeps the doors open for quality officials that wish to continue climbing the ladder toward the upper levels. 

"It seems like there's quite a bit (of turnover)", said Jake Wilburn, a 2013 South Atlantic League All-Star umpire.  "Whether it be injuries or guys having family stuff or releases, whatever it is.  So, it seems like there's a pretty good opportunity to keep moving up."

Umpires, just like players, will begin their pro careers at the lowest levels of the minor leagues.


3- Ascension to the big leagues for umps is much longer than it typically takes a player to reach the top level.

It will commonly take an umpire seven to 10 years to reach the majors.  That is a span of time that seems to double the stretch that it can take many players to reach the same level.


4- Umpires have a dress code.

There are different requirements that vary by league.  Some leagues may require just a collared shirt and slacks, others may require a blazer. 

The dress code rules apply for umpires when arriving to and departing from the ball park.


5- Umpires earn more than a lot of minor league players.

With a monthly salary that ranges from a couple thousand dollars to about $3,500, depending on tenure and classification, umps can take home more income than the players they are making calls for.

"When you first start out- they take care of you as far as hotel and per diem on the road, Wilburn stated.  "Then you can go from a couple thousand a month when you first start out to- honestly, I don't exactly know what the big leagues would be, but you're taken care of in the big leagues for sure, so that's the goal."

Big league umpires earn a minimum of six figures.

Per diems increase as umpires move up to higher levels.

Umpires are paid during the season only.  So, during the autumn and winter months, seasonal employment must be sought in order to supplement their income.  Substitute teaching is among the top job choices for umpires during the off-season.


6- Schooling includes specifics on what interactions from players and coaches to ignore and what requires a response. 

This area of the training is something that is very important to prospective umpires, as they have a great interest in the integrity of the game and they realize that the execution of such directives can help them display the type of professionalism that can help them stand out in their field.

"In school they do try to draw up different kinds of possibilities that will happen on the field and just try to see how you would react from them.  Every situation's different, so you try to learn from every situation and try to become better at it.  There's just situations that you're told what you can't say.  You're told just certain ways that you don't want to come across.  And there's certain things if you hear, there's a certain way to react and we're just trained to learn what to ignore, learn what we have to respond to- verbally or just visually," said 2013 Sally League umpire Brian Peterson.


7- Umpires find out that they've been nominated as an All-Star via an e-mail from the league president.

While players would be notified of the hoopla that is an All-Star nod with a great deal of respect and consideration, usually with a call into the manager's office and being told face-to-face of the distinction by his coaches and/or an organizational representative, umpires will learn of their honor quite matter-of-factly.  The recognition, which, of course, involves working any All-Star related game events, comes in place of scheduled time off, but is still considered an honor by the officials.  The e-mail itself is sent to all umpires in their league.

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