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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Thanks, Jim Schwartz, For Driving the NFL Refs, Coaches, and Fans Crazy

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#NFL Referee Bill Leavy and his merry #referee crew have not gotten off to the best of starts this season.  But thanks to Jim Schwartz, and the semi-convoluted new rule the NFL implemented this season in his honor, we may have to give them a hall pass (for now).   In this past Sunday’s Browns-Vikings game, Leavy and his crew mistakenly penalized the Minnesota Vikings after coach Leslie Frazier tried to challenge a ruling on a muffed punt in the second quarter of Sunday’s game against Cleveland.  It was the second big miscue for Leavy’s crew in the season’s first three weeks.

When Browns punt returner Travis Benjamin muffed the punt, Vikings linebacker Larry Dean scooped the ball up and headed to the end zone. The officials correctly ruled the Vikings could not advance a muffed punt and awarded Minnesota the ball at the Cleveland 26.

Frazier threw the red flag to challenge. But NFL rules stipulate changes of possession can only be reviewed from the booth. Leavy then issued a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct.

But a rule change this off-season — the so-called “Jim Schwartz rule” which was written after the Lions coach challenged a touchdown last season —says the Vikings should have been charged a timeout and not penalized the yardage.

“A timeout should have been charged instead of a 15-yard penalty,” Leavy told a pool reporter after the Browns beat the Vikings, 31-27.

The error proved costly for the Vikings. Instead of a first-and-10 at the Browns 26 with two timeouts and over two minutes remaining in the first half, the Vikings were pushed back to a first-and-25 at the Cleveland 41. After three passes from Christian Ponder, they settled for a 43-yard field goal by Blair Walsh.

So let this be a lesson to all head coaches and referees, regardless of level – know thy rules inside and out before kick-off time.  You don’t want your lack of knowledge to decide the game’s outcome.