Sports

So You Wanna Be An Umpire? AMOG Tells You How To Make It To The Show

Play Ball!

These two simple words mark the beginning of official play at every Major League Baseball game, signifying that the record books are open and ready for business. But there’s nothing in the MLB rule book that mandates its being declared by the home plate Umpire before the game can begin.

It’s just tradition. And baseball is all about tradition.

Back in the days when ballplayers had to work a winter job to stay alive long enough to make it through another grueling season, the same was true for the umpires. In those times, professional baseball was a passionate hobby among grown up boys, very few of whom could make a decent living at it.

For the most part, it was a rough and tumble, look out for yourself existence, not so very different from most of the fans in the stands. Except that everybody dreamed of playing, and only a select few had the skills to make it to The Show.

Today, even a rookie who rides the bench is essentially a guaranteed millionaire who likely will never have to work a real job, for even one day, for the rest of his life. And the same may be said for the umpires who call the game. Plainly speaking – it’s nice work, if you can get it.

But what does it take to become a Major League umpire?

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As you might expect, years of training, plenty of unusual skills… and a whole lotta luck. In fact, like a judgeship, making it to the Bigs usually means someone has to die. Or at least retire. Now that’s pressure. Still, there’s a waiting list a mile long.

Although umpires play a crucial role in the conduct and resolution of every game, they are trained to stay in the background, avoid the spotlight and to not fraternize with the players. It’s as close as you can get to the game without actually being in it.

If you can’t handle that, you’re not cut out for the job. But, for those who make it, it’s a job that you can do well into your senior years and it’s a job that ensures you play an important role in history – without any thanks.

Still interested? Here’s the only way you can make it to the park and suit up.

As you might expect, like any profession, there are schools which will prepare you for a career. In the case of umpires, the two privately accredited schools authorized by Major League Baseball are The Jim Evans Academy of Professional Umpiring and The Harry Wendelstedt Umpire School.

Both are located in Florida and enrollment is open. After 5 weeks of training, the 25 top prospects are released to make their way up through the ranks in the field of minor league pro ball. From “A” ball to “Triple-A” ball usually takes about 8 years, if you’re good.

That means you are evaluated constantly by MLB officials charged with the task, most of them retired umpires or senior students also involved in the climb to the top. At any time, unsuitable prospects may be released and, indeed, most are before the call to the Bigs.

The skills required to tough it out are considered completely arbitrary and are subject to capricious whims of evaluation. In other words, the jerks are weeded out first. Obvious skills like good eyesight, decent physical condition and relative youth weigh in, but it’s really more a matter of authority. If you are perceived as weak, you can hang up the mask. If you are good enough to make it to the AAA level after about 8 years, you are now on the road to becoming a serious prospect.

Since there are only about 70 positions to fill at the top level, the rest of your career is a waiting game. Each year a few of the newcomers are asked to officiate at Spring Training games – a sure sign that you have the right stuff. If no openings occur during the year you can expect to slog through hundreds, if not thousands of AAA ballgames, sharpening your skills and solidifying your experience.

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For the absolute cream of the crop who have made it through this demanding phase there are an average of THREE openings per year. To put it in perspective, there are currently about 300 AAA umpires waiting for the call. You do the math. I can’t.

So. You’ve made it through to the top and you’re about to call your first game. How much does it pay?

All umpires get $357 per game for expenses which cover meals, travel and lodging. Salary runs between $100,000 for a rookie up to $300,000 for the top jobs, after about 10 years in. Not bad. But it’s the vacation that really sets this job apart.

Vacation? Isn’t 5 months off between seasons enough of a vacation?

Apparently not. For umpires to remain at the peak of their skills, they need a break now and then some to recover from the stresses of constant travel and the demands of this surprisingly punishing job. That’s why they get EIGHT WEEKS of vacation during the season!

$300,000 for 3 months of work? Not bad.

So if you think you have what it takes, go on out there and play ball!

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