The Life of a Major League Umpire

Since we are now well into MLB spring training, we thought we’d share an excellent article written a few years ago by Steve Gilbert at MLB.com about a typical life of an MLB umpire.  We all know it’s far from an easy gig, and can cause quite a bit of unnecessary stress.  Steve’s article from a few years ago tells the story of what it’s like umping in the big show, from MLB ump Jeff Kellogg’s point of view.  We hope you enjoy the read!

PHOENIX — It’s early Friday morning and Jeff Kellogg’s day is off to a bad start.Kellogg, a veteran of more than 14 seasons as a Major League umpire, didn’t get much sleep thanks to a severe storm that knocked out the power in his Michigan home. Kellogg’s first phone call of the morning was to find out if his flight from Kalamazoo, Mich., to Minneapolis and then to Phoenix would be on time.

Not only was it not on time, it was canceled. There was a later flight through Chicago that would have gotten him to Phoenix at 6:37 p.m., but with a 6:40 game between the Cubs and D-backs to work, Kellogg had to go to Plan C: He drove two hours to Detroit to catch a flight.

While Kellogg worked to find his way to Phoenix, the rest of his crew was already there. Crew chief Mike Reilly, Eric Cooper and Andy Fletcher had worked an afternoon game in Denver the day before and hustled to the airport to catch a 5:55 p.m. flight. Had they missed that flight, they would have had to check back into their hotel and take the first flight out the next morning.

Kellogg wasn’t with them because he was with another crew, filling in for an umpire that was injured.

Reilly, Cooper and Fletcher had breakfast together at the Hyatt Regency in nearby Scottsdale, Ariz. Normally Kellogg would join them, which makes this crew different from most.

“That’s unusual,” said Reilly, a 30-year veteran. “You don’t usually find four breakfast guys on the same crew. Now Fletch every now and then is a no-show, but generally, we eat together.”

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After that, the four usually go through some form of a workout. Their dedication to doing so shows, as they are a very fit crew. On some days, it’s a matter of running, other days it’s more about weights.

Each have their own programs, but the goal is the same — to stay strong over the course of a 162-game season that is taxing physically.

“This is a real important time of year — a time when the players wear down and so do umpires,” Reilly said, “so you really have to make sure you take care of yourself right now.”

The crew, minus Kellogg and Fletcher, who has a friend in town, reconvened for a late lunch around 1:30 p.m., and afterward, they typically watch a little TV in their rooms or take a nap.

Their days are free, but you won’t find them out sightseeing. With a full night ahead of them, their focus is on getting ready for the game. Sometimes they’ll walk around a nearby mall, maybe take in a movie — nothing too strenuous.

Fletcher, the junior man on the crew with seven-plus big league seasons under his belt, is the one most likely to try and see a city’s landmark or tourist attraction if it’s convenient.

As his career goes on, it’s likely that he will do less and less.

“How many times can you see the Space Needle?” Reilly said.

Reilly used to play golf, but with the new airport security regulations put in place following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, carrying his clubs on the road is no longer practical.

Kellogg finally landed in Phoenix around 1:45 p.m. and waited for his luggage at baggage claim. Because they’re on the road for a month or more at a time, umpires can’t pack light. And with the weight restrictions, they generally each check two large bags, which means they spend a lot of time waiting, and lost luggage happens more than they care to think about.

By the time Kellogg arrived at the hotel, he had barely enough time to unpack and grab a quick nap before he had to meet the group in the lobby at 4:30 p.m. for the 30-minute ride to Chase Field.

Being punctual is not a sometimes thing for umpires, it’s a way of life. From the time they begin umpire school, being early, rather than on time, is stressed.

When they arrive at the umpires’ locker room at Chase Field, they change out of their street clothes and immediately begin to play cards. Reilly and Cooper are both huge Notre Dame fans, and they wear replica Fighting Irish jerseys before the game.

Whether it’s cards or some other form of relaxation, the group keeps things relatively loose for the first hour that they’re at the park. But with 30 minutes to go before game time, they turn their attention to the contest.

Just like the players, with every day being so routine, umpires have their own set of superstitions. Reilly, for instance, wore the same Notre Dame T-shirt under his umpire’s top every time he worked the plate for close to 30 years.

“He came in after a game and it was around his waist, because it had literally fallen apart,” Kellogg said.

Reilly has cut the shirt in pieces and places one in his pocket before each game.

The umpires also use the time before the game to treat various injuries. Fletcher will ice his surgically repaired knee, while Cooper gets the same treatment on his troublesome heel where he has plantar fasciitis.

Cooper is the plate umpire for the game, and that means his mind-set during the day is a little different than the other umpires. Reilly said that if he didn’t know which of his partners was scheduled to work the plate on a given day, he could still tell by how they act during the day. A lot of times they’re quieter, maybe do a little less intense of a workout.

“Some guys will tell you they don’t do anything different on the day that they have the plate, but that’s not true,” Reilly said. “I don’t care who you are or how long you’ve been doing it, you know the morning you wake up that you’ve got the plate. Actually, you know the night before when you go to sleep that you’ve got the plate next day.”

Kellogg is working third base, typically a less strenuous assignment, but no less important.

“Sometimes friends and family say you’ve got an off-day because you’re working third,” Cooper said. “But the one or two plays you’ll have at third are usually very important plays. Obviously, the plate guy has the most decisions to make, and you’ve got to bring your ‘A’ game when you’ve got the plate.”

Three hours and 40 minutes after taking the field, the crew returns to their locker room. It’s been a taxing day for Cooper, who has squatted behind the plate for 285 pitches. He had a confrontation with Arizona manager Bob Melvin that resulted in Melvin’s ejection in the seventh inning.

Postgame, the umpires will discuss any plays that happen that they feel they need to go over, take treatments when needed, grab a bite to eat, shower and head back to their hotel where the adrenaline from the game will keep them up for the next couple of hours before they finally head to bed.

After all, they’ve got to get up and do it all over again tomorrow.

 

Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. This story appeared on MLB.com on August 28th, 2007, and was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Major League Umpires Now Tasked with Speeding Up the Game

As we head into spring training, the game of baseball at the professional level will be undergoing a seismic change compared to years past. Yielding to the complaints of players and fans alike about the typical game lasting WAY too long, new rules will be implemented to speed up the pace of the game.  The new rules about batters staying in the box and pitchers being ready to pitch immediately after the commercial break ends have just been announced.  And many of us have let out a collective “it’s about time!”.

For years many folks have been clamoring for rules to eliminate unnecessary time-wasting tactics such as batters stepping out of the box after every pitch. Pitchers certainly have been known to waste time on the mound, but they can’t get set and look in for a sign until the batter is ready. Forcing the batter to stay in the box will force him to get ready more quickly which will in turn speed the pitchers up as well.

Specifically, the pace of game program will require that all batters must keep at least one foot in the batter’s box unless one of a group of exceptions occurs. This amendment/re-emphasis of existing Rule 6.02(d) allows batters to leave the box if the following events occur:

  • The batter swings at a pitch;
  • The batter is forced out of the batter’s box by a pitch;
  • A member of either team requests and is granted “Time”;
  • A defensive player attempts a play on a runner at any base;
  • The batter feints a bunt;
  • A wild pitch or passed ball occurs;
  • The pitcher leaves the dirt area of the pitching mound after receiving the ball; or
  • The catcher leaves the catcher’s box to give defensive signals.

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To summarize the above points, called balls and called strikes are the only occurrences after which the batter must stay in the box.

In addition to the batters box rule, there will now be a stricter timing of between-innings breaks and pitching change breaks during the game. Specifically, timers will be added that will measure the time during these breaks. One timer will be installed on or near the outfield scoreboard, and a smaller timer will be installed on the facade behind home plate near the press box.  Immediately following the third out of each half-inning, the timer will count down from 2:25 for locally televised games and from 2:45 for nationally televised games.  An MLB representative attending each game will operate the timers from each ballpark.

As for the rules about pitchers warming up more quickly, the addition of a clock for those purposes and the requirement that everyone be ready to go after the commercial break is over may be initially disruptive. But given that it’s about preparation and not actual game play, they’ll most likely adjust to it fairly quickly and it’ll just become a new normal.

All of that said, having a limited number of situations in which a batter must stay in the box will encourage a lot more staying-in-the-box than we expect. Of course, sometimes they’re trying to mess with a pitcher’s rhythm, but not too often, and it’s obvious when they’re doing it. If we start to change their habits on called balls and strikes, batters will most likely start staying in the box more because that’s the new rhythm.

So we will soon start to hear about some batters complaining about not being able to step out, and some pitchers will claim about being rushed in their warm-up routines. But overall these are pretty minor changes to players’ routines that could realistically speed up the pace of the game to everyone’s liking.

Will a New MLB Strike Zone Lead to More Offense?

News of late from Major League Baseball is that there has been discussion about altering the  definition of the strike zone for the first time in almost twenty years. The reason, those- in-the-know state, is that the predominantly low strike zone has been the culprit of low-scoring games the League has seen over the past few season.  So will umpires start to readjust their zones in order to appease League officials?

Concern around baseball about the strike zone filtered down to the MLB’s Playing Rules Committee, which must formally adopt a rules change before it’s implemented. The committee will pay close attention to the size of the strike zone in 2015 with an eye on change as early as 2016 after studies showed it has expanded significantly since 2009, coinciding with a serious drop in run scoring. It is well known that the low strike  is considered a significantly more difficult pitch to hit.

Runs per game fell to 4.07 in 2014, the lowest mark since 1981 and the 13th fewest since World War II.  This alarming stat has the Rules Committee taking a serious look at the situation.

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Research has shown that since 2009, the average size of the called strike zone has jumped from 435 square inches to 475 square inches. The results: Pitchers are throwing more in the lower part of the zone, and hitters are swinging at an increased rate, knowing the tough-to-drive pitches will be called strikes.

The problem, sources said, stems from technological leaps that caused unintended consequences. In 1996, when the league last changed the strike zone to extend it from the top of the knees to the bottom, beneath the hollow of the kneecap, it did so to encourage umpires to call knee-level strikes. The lower end of the zone, in practice, was about three-quarters of the way down the thigh, so the idea was that by adjusting the eye levels of umpires to look lower, the result would be a more traditional strike zone.

Then along came Questec, the computerized pitch-tracking system, followed by Zone Evaluation, the current version tied in to MLB’s PITCHf/x system. With a tremendous degree of accuracy – especially in recent years – the systems tracked textbook balls and strikes, and the home-plate umpires’ performances were graded on a nightly basis. Over time, not only did umpires’ strike zones move down to the knees, they went to the hollow and even a smidge below.

“I don’t think the Playing Rules Committee at the time of the last change ever expected that the umpires would call strikes at the hollow of the knee,” said Mets general manager Sandy Alderson, the current chairman of the committee. “To their credit, the umpires now are.”

2013 NFHS Rules Changes

2013 Baseball Rules Changes Will be Going into Effect

It’s that time of year when our friends at the NFHS provides baseball umps with a rule change (or 3).  Your friends at Smitteez like to share these with you, and get your take on them.  They are:

1-3-2 NOTE: Clarifies and places additional emphasis on the importance and legal repercussions of altering non-wood baseball bats.

3-3-1f: Restricts the use of any video monitoring or replay equipment for coaching purposes during the course of the game.

3-3-1i: Restricts the use of any electronic devices in the coach’s box.

6-2-2c Exception: Clarifies that an incoming pitcher be treated equally. If a pitcher is ejected, an incoming pitcher should be afforded the same warm-up criteria as if he were replacing an injured player.

So what do you think of these – good, bad or indifferent?  Let’s hear some chatter!