Life on the Road
All that grief is a lot for an umpire to deal with for only $120,000 a year, although senior umpires can make $350,000. Unlike ballplayers, major league umpires aren't exactly pampered. While the players fly on charter jets paid for by the teams, umpires take commercial flights when traveling. While major leaguers make hundreds of thousands a game, sometimes for doing nothing (read: A Rod and many others), umpires receive an estimated $340 a day for expenses, such as hotels, rental cars, food and tips [source: O'Connell].
You would think such a lack of respect would force most major league umpires to call it quits after a year or three. It's a long season, after all, starting in early March with spring training, and ending for some in November after the World Series wraps up. Yet, turnover is so low that there's usually one job opening a year [source: O'Connell].
It's a lonely job, umpiring. Yet, umps are always trying to better themselves. They study video of hitters and pitchers. They also regularly review their calls. And despite their dismal reputations -- "I've never questioned the integrity of an umpire. Their eyesight, yes," Leo Durocher quipped -- the accuracy rates for major league umps are astounding -- 97 percent for calling balls and strikes and 99 percent in the field [source: O'Connell]. Consider that a baseball player is considered a standout if he hits .300. That means they only have to do their job correctly 30 percent of the time. If you or I did that, we'd be fired.
Still, some very bad calls in recent years have many people wondering whether umpires need help, such as instant replay. It's a controversial topic.
"I'm an old-school guy ... " Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker told MLB.com. " ... If they could come up with something that would show a proper angle and do it in a very short period of time, I'd be for it."
Many, however, balk at the idea. "They're going to get some right. They're going to get some wrong," Pittsburgh Pirate catcher Michael McKenry said of the umpires. "That's just part of it. Nobody is perfect at the end of the day" [source: Singer].
Author's Note: How Umpires Work
Umpires are people, too. Years ago, I spent a summer as a research assistant for a famous writer who was authoring a book about the minor leagues. This minor league was Single A, the lowest of the lows. The umpires made little money and were forced to travel on their own to some dirty little towns. They worked hard. If memory serves me — it was a long time ago — only two umpires worked the game, one calling balls and strikes, the other out in the field. It occurred to me at the time, that they, just like the players, wanted a shot at the big time. Alas, like most of the players, most umps never make it beyond the minors.
- Baseball Almanac. "Umpire Quotes." (July 1, 2013) http://www.baseball-almanac.com/quotes/umpire_quotes.shtml
- Beck, Jason. "Missed call ends Galarraga's perfect bid." MLB.com. June 3, 2010. (July 1, 2013) http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20100602&content_id=10727590
- Keri, Jonah. "Does Baseball Need Umpires?" The Wall Street Journal. Oct. 14, 2009. (July 2, 2013) http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704107204574469381382610114.html
- Major League Baseball. "How to Become an Umpire." (July 2, 2013) http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/official_info/umpires/how_to_become.jsp
- O'Connell, Jack. "Much required to become MLB umpire." Major League Baseball. Aug. 28, 2007. (July 2, 2013) http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20070827&content_id=2173765&fext=.jsp&c_id=mlb
- Singer, Tom. "Expansion of replay stirs new round of debate." Major League Baseball. "July 27, 2011. (July 2, (2013) http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20110727&content_id=22392098&vkey=news_mlb&c_id=mlb
- Vulcan, Nicole. "How Do I Become a Certified Umpire." Houston Chronicle. (July 2, 2013) http://work.chron.com/become-certified-umpire-14769.html