Guest Post! How Professional Baseball Umpires Are Born

The new “instant replay” rules in professional baseball are already causing controversy: Are they making games too long? Will players get “tight” and possibly hurt after waiting for discussion of plays? When should the naked eye be the final judge?

These arguments have put umpires in the spotlight. Love ’em or hate ’em, they are certainly well-trained and hard-working, as explained here by Jim Kirk, himself a former umpire and college baseball player and fellow alum of mine, and now President/CEO of Ump-Attire.com, a company that provides sporting goods to umpires at all levels. (Thanks for a day off, Jim!)

He's SAFE! (Unless the replay overrules me. Sigh.)

He’s SAFE! Unless the review overrules me. Sigh. (Photo courtesy of Jim Kirk.)

If you watch a Major League Baseball game this season, you’ll notice something new. Instant replay, 175 years after Abner Doubleday reportedly invented baseball, is coming to the game in full force.

So get ready. You have no doubt grown accustomed to replays on the 24-hour sports news of each close play. This year, you will be bombarded with replays of the instant replays themselves.

And who will be at the center of all this replay attention? The umpires.

For this reason, it is prime time to answer the question “where do professional umpires come from?”

Besides their mothers – yes, they are human even though at times I know you might not like to believe it – they come from umpire school.

Each January, two umpire schools in Florida spend four to five weeks training students to be professional umpires. The training is rigorous and intense. Each MLB umpire you see today has been to a professional umpire school.
At one such school, aptly named The Umpire School, in Vero Beach, Fla., students attend classes each morning six days a week to learn the professional baseball rule book. In the afternoon, they practice their skills and techniques on the fields and in batting cages. (The other is Wendelstedt Umpire School.)

Each year, more than 200 umpires attend and complete these schools. The respective schools each select approximately 25-30 of their top students who desire a professional umpire career. Those graduates attend a week of evaluation, shortly after umpire school, by the Professional Baseball Umpires Corp (PBUC), a subsidiary of Minor League Baseball. After this week, PBUC then adds 40-50 new umpires, depending on openings, to fill their minor league baseball roster.

"And over there is the players' wives section...DON'T LOOK!"

“And over there is the players’ wives section…DON’T LOOK!” (Photo courtesy of Jim Kirk.)

Umpires are then promoted (or released), just like players, from the rookie to the Triple-A level before being considered for Major League Baseball.

This process is not quick. It takes 7-10 years. During this time, umpires work thousands of games. And it all starts at umpire school.

So, whether you like instant replay or not in baseball, it is here – and here to stay. And whether or not you like the umpires, the process that trains them ensures that the most highly-trained humans are making the calls.

And, this year, that they are the ones reviewing them via instant replay. (So give them a little patience before you call “foul!”)

Jim Kirk is the President/CEO of Ump-Attire.com, a company that provides sporting goods to umpires at all levels. He is on the board of directors of Umps Care Charities, the charity of MLB umpires, and his company is the official supplier to The Umpire School.

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