1) Do you love baseball?
3) Do you like death threats, getting your tires slashed, and having people get in your face when they don’t like what you do?
4) Do you like staying in cheesy motels, living your life on the road for 6 months of the year, and barely making enough money to get by?
5) Would you prefer a career path with very limited chances for advancement?
6) Do you perform well in high pressure situations?
If you’ve answered yes to several or all of the above questions, a career as a baseball umpire might be for you!
Bruce Weber’s informative and entertaining book, As They See ‘Em, chronicles a two year time period Weber spent training as a baseball umpire at an umpire school, and his visits with and observations of minor and major league umpires. Hilarious and insightful, Weber doesn’t miss a beat as he lifts the curtain on the umpire mystique, taking us behind the scenes to learn all about the guys most baseball fans love to hate.
I was surprised to find out about how difficult it is to get to be a major league umpire. There are only 68 active spots available for umpires in Major League Baseball (so you actually have a better chance of making it into the big leagues as a player than you do as an umpire!), and these slots don’t become available unless someone retires, dies or gets demoted. Many umpires work their way through umpire school, slog their way through the minors for years or decades, only to never get promoted to that next level. And even if you do make it there, there’s no guarantee you’ll be happier or feel career fulfillment. Many of the MLB umpires Weber talked to longed for the days of minor league ball, thanks to the pressure cooker of calling big time ball games, Big Brother-like cameras all over major league stadiums to help prove umpires right or wrong, and special software called QuesTec that rates an umpire’s performance behind the plate. So much for intuition! Although when Weber talked to most umpires, they welcomed the advent of instant replay to help them in close calls.
I was fascinated by the idea of umpire school. This for me was probably the most entertaining part of the book. Weber describes umpire school as part classwork (learning the rules of the game, even the obscure ones) and part fieldwork, getting out on the field and making the calls in real-time. I had no idea that there are different umpire systems based on what level of baseball is being played. There are two, three and four-umpire systems. The World Series and playoff games actually use 6! Umpires are actually taught how to ‘fight’ with managers (be sure and keep the bill of your cap under his so he can’t “beak” you!), and we learn what might prompt an ump to throw players or managers out of the game.
Although definitely guilty of yelling at an ump or two in my lifetime, I was shocked by the blatant disrespect most umpires are subjected to, whether it’s angry fans, upset coaches and players, and even the MLB administration itself. Umpires have tried to organize over the last few decades to get better pay and benefits, and these attempts have gained them little if any improvements. One attempt to unionize even lost several experienced MLB umpires their jobs.
I have to admit that before reading this book, I really had no idea what umpires do. This was a great read for any baseball fan, and a lot of fun. I will definitely have more respect for the guys in blue come this baseball season.