This book is about a New York reporter who decided he would like to know what its like to be a professional umpire. Weber put himself through umpire school in Florida where he met and spoke to several other young and old men (and one woman) who were, as they say, “livin’ the dream.” Weber also spoke to members of the umpire hierarchy. Men who were in charge of the umpires still working their way up in the minor leagues. Men who are currently in charge of those same umpires. Men who work for Major League Baseball in the department that deals with Major League umpires. What Weber wrote about was very surprising to me.
Weber, of course, mentions in the book how the umpire is the one guy on the baseball field that no one roots for. No one watching the game knows their names, and that’s how it’s supposed to be. They are supposed to be invisible. We all know, though, that the moment they become visible and the crowd aware that they are there is a bad sign because that’s how you know they got a call wrong. Or at least wrong in the eyes of the fans. I knew all of this going in. I’ve been watching baseball my whole life and I know who the umpires are supposed to be. I know that they are human and they get things wrong sometimes and I think fans can be too harsh on them. Much of what Weber writes is anecdotal. Tales from former and current umpires of times they made a call and paid for the result. Times they were supposed to make a call but lost sight of the ball or bag. Times they’ve fought with players and managers because they believed their call was made correctly. I’ve seen a lot of this go on in the games I’ve watched.
What Weber wrote about that I was not aware of in professional umpiring is how these men are treated before they get to the majors. There was an anecdote that Weber wrote about an umpire who was travelling. The umpire was in a dumpy motel and was robbed at gunpoint. Shaken, the umpire could not go back to work for anxiety. He was nearly fired for not being able to work 48 hours after a traumatic experience. The staff in charge of the minor league umpires don’t seem to care what happens to them. They stick them in run-down hotels, give them a daily allowance that can feed them only in fast food, and run them ragged with their schedules. Now, many of the umpires know this going in to the job, and I respect that. But I was totally unaware that the minor league umps were treated as poorly as the minor league players. I have a whole new level of respect for these men that spend years in a crappy situation just to one day feel the joy of umpiring a major league game.