Have you ever stopped to think about what it would be like to be an umpire? To know the fate of a game rests in your hands? What would it be like to suit up and call the shots each day?
Just like Major League Baseball players, umpires must work their way through the ranks of the minor leagues to get the experience and training they need to make it to the big leagues.
Not only that, but according to MLB Director of Umpire Administration Tom Lepperd, it takes "usually seven to 10 years in the minor leagues" before an umpire gets to the Majors. That's twice the amount of time it normally takes a ballplayer to make his way through the ranks.
So, how exactly does one become an umpire?
In order to be considered for a professional umpiring position, the umpire must first attend a professional umpire training school. Currently there are three schools whose curriculum has been approved by the PBUC for training of those desiring to become a professional umpire.
The Umpire School operates for approximately four weeks from the first part of January through the first part of February each year. The instructors at The Umpire School consist of Professional Baseball Umpire Corp. Field Evaluators/Instructors.
The Jim Evans' Academy of Professional Umpiring and the Harry Wendelstedt School for Umpires schools operate for approximately five weeks from the first part of January through the first part of February each year, and each is owned and operated by present or former Major League umpires. The instructors at each school consist of Major and Minor League umpires.
Former PBUC Director Mike Fitzpatrick says the two schools combined usually enroll about 300 aspiring umpires each year.
"Most of (the students) have not worked (a game) at all before they go to umpire school. So they have to be taught the whole realm of everything it takes to be an umpire," he said.
Lepperd said the students learn how to handle themselves both on and off the field at the schools.
"From rules and mechanics, to signaling, to the philosophy of umpiring," Lepperd said. "Pretty much every aspect of what it takes to become a professional umpire is taught."
Instructors look for many characteristics other than knowledge of baseball rules when evaluating potential umpires, Lepperd said.
"Confidence, a strong presence on the field, knowledge of the mechanics -- where to go when the ball is hit, forceful calls, good use of voice, hustle and ability to handle situations on the field (are all important)," Lepperd said.
Fitzpatrick said good judgment and character are things instructors look for as well.
"That's very, very important because we're entrusting the integrity of the game to the umpire. So we're looking for the highest quality type of individual that we can possibly recruit," Fitzpatrick said. "The whole integrity of the game rests with the umpire out there on the field."
After attending the five-week course during January and part of February, the top graduates are selected to attend an Evaluation course.
"It varies on what we project for our openings, but this year we selected 50 total, 25 from each school (to attend the course)," Fitzpatrick said, which is about the top 16 percent of all umpire school enrollees.
At the Evaluation course, instructors monitor the students and make recommendations to the Rookie and short-season Class-A league presidents about possible candidates for hire. Then the new umpires then begin their trek to the Majors.
Lepperd said that PBUC evaluates the umpires to promote them from one minor league level to the next until they reach Class-AAA.
"Once they get to Triple-A, (MLB) starts looking at them to decide who's going to come up to the Major Leagues," he said.
Altogether there are 68 umpires in the Majors, and 225 in the minor leagues. With the small amount of openings and the low turnover, Fitzpatrick said it's very difficult for an umpire to make it past the minor leagues.
"From attending umpire school through making it to the Major Leagues, there's very, very few umpires that actually make it to the Major Leagues. It's a long shot," he said.
"It varies depending on openings - but normally an umpire spends a couple of years at the short-season level, a couple of years at Class-A, a couple of years at Double-A before he makes it to Triple-A," Fitzpatrick said. "Then it's just a matter of hoping any time after that, once he gets to the Triple-A level, that he's got a chance. But there again, it's long odds."
Lepperd offered advice for people who are interested in getting into professional umpiring.
"If they're serious about it, umpire as many games locally as they have the opportunity to do," he said. "Contact any minor league umpires in their area to get an insight on what the life is like, read and study the rulebook, and watch as many games as they can on television."
Once they feel they are ready, Fitzpatrick suggests taking the next step and signing up for umpire school.
"Do some research on the two umpire schools," Fitzpatrick said. "Enroll in one those schools, attend the course and see if it leads to a job in professional baseball."
Christie Cowles is an Editor/Producer for MLB.com.
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