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Umpires are a big part of baseball, but outside of someone to shout expletives at, most fans have little idea of who they are and just what goes into their jobs. Mike Teevan, of the MLB Public Relations Department, clarified some of those mysteries, answering 13 questions about the often maligned—but essential—men in blue.

David Laurila: How many MLB umpires are there?

Michael Tevan: 68

DL: How do they get their jobs?

MT: All major-league umpires have served lengthy apprenticeships at the minor-league level. The most recent average approximates 10-12 years as a minor-league umpire. By the time an umpire is added to the major-league staff, he has generally already worked hundreds of major-league games as a callup replacement due to injuries or vacations. Their promotion to the major-league staff is based upon merit of performance and display of integrity.

DL: How does the evaluation process work?

MT: Under current circumstances, there is no facet of major-league umpire performance that is not evaluated. MLB umpires are evaluated via video and/or in-park observation on:

  • Every called pitch
  • Every close play
  • Every incident or ejection
  • Every rule scenario
  • The manner in which games are administered

DL: How are umpiring crews and their work schedules set?

MT: Crews are set by the commissioner’s office on an annual basis. Crew chiefs continue year-to-year (unless removed). Considerations borne in mind are those such as:

  • The “number-two man” on crew. Is he also able to serve as crew chief during any crew chief absence?
  • Who best benefits from working with that crew in terms of instruction/improvement?
  • Is the crew balanced in terms of ability and rule knowledge?

The master schedule is set by the commissioner’s office while observing a number of scheduling requirements/parameters pertaining to travel, days off, teams seen, etc. Essentially, 17 distinct schedules comprise the master schedule.

DL: How many games do umpires get off per season?

MT: Each MLB umpire is entitled to 28 days of vacation per season. This is in addition to scheduled off days (usually numbering about 15 over the course of a season but which can be lost in the event of doubleheaders). When an umpire is on vacation, he is usually replaced by a Triple-A umpire who has shown enough promise to warrant such a promotion. Years ago there were no vacations whatsoever.

DL: Who works the postseason?

MT: The postseason is staffed by those umpires with the best regular-season performance (as recommended to the commissioner by the umpiring department and subject to the collective bargaining agreement with the World Umpires Association). The original group selected is composed of 36 umpires (for Division Series and LCS play). Among those 36, at least six are crew chiefs, thus leaving 30 umpires to be selected beyond that. The World Series crew is then selected among the group of umpires that worked the Division Series.

Elements considered and evaluated with regard to postseason include (but are not limited to):

  • Plate work for that season
  • Base work for that season
  • Health and fitness
  • Overall experience
  • Plays handled
  • Incorrect calls
  • Overall rule and umpiring knowledge
  • Mobility
  • Pace-of-game enforcement effort
  • Situation handling

DL: What are the expectations and requirements for umpires regarding on-the-field demeanor, including being demonstrative when making calls?

MT: Professionalism, self-control, and control of the game are the hallmarks in this regard.

DL: What about fraternization?

MT: Fraternization is not permitted in excess and monitored by the in-park observations of supervisors and observers. Umpires are permitted to interact with players with regard to rule questions, etc.

DL: How about in regard to interaction with the media?

MT: As prescribed in the collective bargaining agreement with the World Umpires Association: After a post-game cooling off period, a crew chief, or another umpire in the company of the crew chief, may discuss an unusual play or rule interpretation from that day’s game with a pool reporter.

DL: Is there a code of conduct off the field and out of uniform?

MT: Yes. This is specified in several areas. Umpires represent the commissioner and Major League Baseball on the field and off. They are held to high standards of integrity and personal conduct.

DL: What are the standards regarding ejection?

MT: Ejection standards are specified in the Umpire Manual and pointed out to clubs during meetings with every club during each spring training. Standards for removal include:

  • Use of profanity toward umpire
  • Physical contact with an umpire
  • Arguing balls and strikes
  • Making reference to video
  • Use of histrionic gestures
  • Any actions intended to ridicule an umpire
  • Excessive throwing of equipment (beyond an equipment fine)
  • Failure to comply with an order from an umpire
  • Arguing a warning

(Note: Rule 9.01(d) grants umpires the discretion to eject for objecting to decisions or for unsportsmanlike conduct or language.)

As mentioned above all ejections/situations are reviewed in the commissioner’s office to assure umpires comply with standards for removal/ejection.

DL: How often are complaints against umpires or calls formally logged, and what is the procedure for handing them?

MT: Over the course of the 2,430 regular season games each year, many issues that require explanation arise. Communication between members of Major League Baseball’s staff and the baseball operations staffs with the 30 major-league clubs regarding on-field issues is frequent, and any concern stemming from an on-field issue is considered significant to Major League Baseball. These issues range from the simple to the nuanced. Each inquiry or complaint is investigated and the club always receives a response after such an inquiry. In general, the dialogue with clubs is essential toward identifying key issues and establishing best practices for the staff, such as on a ground rules issue, for example. When warranted, umpires are held accountable.

DL: How important are image and perception, and what can be done to improve them?

MT: Primarily this is a matter of better educating the clubs, media, and fans to the umpiring profession and its challenges. We hope the information provided in this article is another step toward doing so.

 Baseball is a game of minimizing error. Today's major-league umpires are evaluated in every area of their performance. Technology is better than ever, which affects umpires in two profound ways. First, there are tools that are now used to help them as they perform their duties. Second, via some of the same advances, the level of attention that is paid to umpiring is higher than ever. Accuracy, consistency and professionalism are the goals. 

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For the most part I think umpires do a great job. It would have been nice if you asked about the future of expanded video replay.
That question [instant replay] was posed in Part 5 of the rules series that concluded earlier in the week.
Guess I missed it. Thanks for the heads up.
Interesting. I somehow picture this interview being like Joe Friday questioning a witness on Dragnet. Very quick and staccato. I agree with Ansymon that, for the most part, the umps do a great job. One can't help but want to sit in on one of those sessions where an ump is told of his grade behind the plate that night.

This cleared up a misconception I had. I thought that the umps had somehow gotten away from their grades determining who worked playoff games. But he's very clear on that point.