How to become a Major League umpire

18 Jan

Becoming a major league umpire takes just as much hard work and dedication as it does for players to reach the show. While they path they take to making it to the bigs isn’t often thought of, it certainly isn’t an overnight process filled with big money just for the asking. For some it takes years to reach the pinnacle, most never make it and find them self spending a lifetime in the minors or turning to the Independent League or collegiate ranks. In a few short minutes you’ll know the full process it takes to become a major league umpire, the question is whether you will have the skill and determination to make it happen.

The first step is enrolling in one of the two Major League Baseball (MLB) recognized Umpire Academies in Florida. Each offers a five week training course and while they are supposed to be equal, the Wendelstedt School does seem to place more graduates in jobs than the Jim Evans school. The Wendelstedt school has actually trained more umpires than every other school combined and should always be the first choice when possible. Attending the school isn’t quite as expensive as one would think ranging around $3,000 for the course with meals and accommodations being extra. While there have been instances when umpires have matriculated from academies other than these, it has become so incredibly rare since the late 1980’s the statistics on it are considered negligible.

Attending one of these academies is enough to walk into a job however, you have to be excellent and get noticed by the instructors. Another factor that is stressed is individual integrity as umpires are entrusted with the fairness of the game. Furthermore physical fitness is being stressed far more now than years past as the days of the hulking umpire that was barely able to move are gone and healthy mobile bodies are now in demand. Just as a player walking into training camp is expected to be in shape, so too are umpire trainees.

Once you have achieved that you had better be sure you finish at or near the top of your class. Space for phase two is limited and varies based on the projected needs of the MLB for new umpires. For example there may be 200 candidates going through each school, but perhaps only 40 will make the grade with 20 coming out of each school which means your odds of advancing are only 1 in 5. If you make it through the evaluation course held in January and part of February, then you may be offered an assignment to work the lower level leagues, there is no promise of this though.

The best candidates have their names passed on to the presidents of the lower leagues, usually rookie and short season class A ball. At this point all you can do is wait on a phone call. If the call arrives however and you are hired you can now begin your journey towards the majors. Each umpire must prove their abilities at each level all the way up to AAA ball just as most players do. Annual evaluations are made at each step (Or each level change should be promoted or demoted during the season) which are the basis for your next years assignment. It is generally a process in which you will spend anywhere from 2-2 1/2 years at each level, meaning the quickest you will usually make the majors is about 7 years with the average around 9years.

Usually by the time you advance to AAA you will have a good idea of your odds of promotion to the MLB based on whether or not you make the reserve list. The reserve list (Sometimes called the relief list as well) is a pool of umpires considered qualified for the MLB level but in a holding pattern awaiting an opening. Should an MLB umpire need to miss time for any reason during the season, these are the umpires which are temporarily promoted to fill vacancies.

The odds are against you making it, even if you make it to AAA. There are 68 positions for umpires in the MLB and generally about 225 in the minor leagues. The job turnover is incredibly low as many umpires will stay on for 25-30 years without batting an eyelash. What ends up ending the careers of most umpires that make it to AAA is frustration and lack of money, not lack of ability.

A minor league umpire can expect to make about $1,800 per month to start. For those that make it to the MLB however it rapidly escalates to about $84,000 annually and can go as high as $300,000 with raises for tenure, and bonuses. The benefits package and retirement plans are exceptional as well as being able to live the dream of being an integral part of an MLB game and possibly history. If you think you have what it takes, give it a shot. The odds may be long and the road hard, but at least know you know what you need to do.

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