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How To Become a Major League Baseball Umpire

Updated on August 21, 2017
Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran is a writer & former newspaper reporter/editor who traveled the world as a soldier's better half. Her works are on Amazon.


Where do MLB umpires come from?

Umpires, Refs, Blue Shirts, pick a name. They’ve been called all of those and many I refuse to print here.

Ever wonder where these guys come from? We don’t know most of their names, probably for good reason. But they can change the course of a baseball game in the blink of an eye, just like they can in all other sports.

The good ones don’t get noticed because they don’t make themselves an initial part of the game. They do their jobs to the best of their ability, and most importantly, let the players play, letting the level of that play determine the outcome of the game.

But that doesn’t always happen. And even with the advent of the instant replay at the beginning of this season, there will no doubt still be much to argue about even if it's only balls and strikes.

For the unfortunate few whose names will go down in baseball history, it probably won’t be for getting a call right.

June 2, 2010: Armando Galarraga's Imperfect Game

The most famous blown call in the annals of baseball up to this point is the twenty-seventh out of Detroit Tigers’ Armando Galarraga's “should have been perfect” game against the Cleveland Indians. Routine ground ball, throw to first that beats the runner Jason Donald by half a step, and Jim Joyce calls him safe.

As soon as he saw the replay only a few moments later, Joyce said he knew he blew the call. (Today, the replay could have been reviewed immediately and overturned. Not so in 2010.) Only Commissioner Bud Selig could right the wrong, but he decided not to. Bad calls are part of baseball. That may well be true, but that doesn’t make it any easier for players or coaches to take it gracefully. And, as a matter of fact, many don’t. From bench-clearing brawls to the coach who kicks dirt on homeplate, (or pulls second base out of the ground and flings it into center field) many are those who have expressed their unhappiness at calls made by the officials that were, how can I say this, not in line with their thinking.

A Record of a Different Kind

One such coach holds a record of his own: most ejections from the game. Bobby Cox is the recently retired manager of the Atlanta Braves after a total of 24 years during two tours with the club. He holds the all-time record for ejections in Major League Baseball with 158 (plus an additional three post-season ejections.) Now Cox wasn’t known for having a bad temper (in spite a domestic abuse violation a few years ago.) His players will tell you Cox generally only got himself thrown out to prevent them from being thrown out of the game. In the 156 games that Bobby Cox was ejected, his teams had a winning percentage of .385.

In a July 2006 game, Cox was unable to save outfielder Jeff Francoeur from getting the heave-ho. This event was unusual because Cox was usually on the field and in the umpire’s face before a player could really get himself into too much hot water. Half the time it didn’t even look like Cox was sure of the details of the disputed call. But out he would run, placing himself firmly between the ump and his player - more than ready to do whatever it took to come to his defense.

After both men found themselves on the losing side of the argument and in the locker room, Cox offered the young player a dollop of his sage wisdom.

"I’m like, ‘What do I do?’” said Francoeur. Cox told him, “Go have a couple of cold beers and get in the cold tub or something and relax. And then you’ll probably have to write a five hundred dollar check as a fine. Or you can do what I do. Write a ten thousand dollar one and tell them when it runs out, let me know."

So, where do these umpires come from, anyway?

It’s not like we watch them come up through high school and college, and by the time they make it to the majors we know their life story. Turns out, it takes between seven and ten years calling games in the minor leagues before an umpire makes it to “The Show.” Just like the ball players they have to work their way up, gaining experience and training along the long, hard road. Before they even do that they must do something even the players don’t have to do. They have to go to school, a professional umpire training school. There are three of them in the United States that are approved by the Professional Baseball Umpires Corporation. Director Tom Lepperd estimates it usually takes an umpire twice the amount of time it normally takes a ballplayer to make it to the Majors.

The Umpire School schedules training for four weeks during January and February of each year, a little earlier than pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training. The instructors at these umpire-owned schools are all former Major and Minor League officials. Enrollment each year is about 300 candidates and most have never worked a game in their lives.

Interested? You must have a high school diploma or G.E.D., be of proportional body weight to your height, and have 20/20 corrected vision just to apply.

· Jim Evans Academy of Professional Umpiring

· email:


· Harry Wendelstedt Umpire School

·· email:


· The Umpire School



"From rules and mechanics to signaling, to the philosophy of umpiring," Lepperd said. "Pretty much every aspect of what it takes to become a professional umpire is taught."

The first thing they look for in a candidate is confidence – a strong presence on the field emanating good judgment and integrity. "That's very, very important because we're entrusting the integrity of the game to the umpire. So we're looking for the highest quality type of individual that we can possibly recruit," Lepperd said. "The whole integrity of the game rests with the umpire out there on the field."

Only those at the top of each class are selected to move on to an evaluation course, usually twenty-five from each school, the best sixteen percent of all those who enrolled. Much like the players, the umpires show off their best “stuff” to Class-A league presidents who have openings for new hires. PBUC representatives then have the responsibility to weed out those who don’t have what it takes at every level up to Class-AAA. At that point, Major League Baseball makes the decision about who is good enough for “The Bigs.”

Few are chosen

Major League Baseball employs 68 umpires with 225 in the minors. Those 68 hold on to their jobs, so a realistic dream for most is to make it to the minor leagues where the starting salary is $1,900 a month. Top salaries in the minor leagues are around $3,500 a month. If you make it to the Majors, an umpire can make between $85,000 and $300,000 a year. No wonder there is so little turnover. Of course, compared to the players, it’s a wonder umpires aren’t more hostile.

In full-season leagues, group medical, dental, and life insurance are provided. Hotels, transportation, and uniforms are paid for by the league. To ensure some quality control, each winter an umpire must take a comprehensive rules test. No reference told what a passing grade was. That should give most fans of the sport a little chuckle. I know I can think of a call or two from last year I'd love that umpire to learn the correct answer for over the off season.

With the small number of openings and the low turnover, it's very difficult for an umpire to make it past the minor leagues. But if it is your dream to wear the blue shirt every day, with dedication, the support of your family, and a great deal of hard work, you too may one day hear those immortal words, “Throw the bum out!”

Umpire sorry for blown perfect game:

On Bobby Cox' Ejection Record


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    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 3 months ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      'Tis the season!

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 3 months ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Pitchers and Catchers report in a matter of weeks. Let the games begin!

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 7 months ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Thanks for the recent reads folks! It's almost over for another year . . .

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 13 months ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      "Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends . . . "

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 13 months ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Just around the corner. Atlanta Braves have a new home with a corporate name - again! Wish someone would remember our own Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth's HR record right here in our hometown. Why not name the field (if not the park) after him? Aaron Field!

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 15 months ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Time to start yelling at these guys again. Can't wait!

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Pstraubie48 and Marcy: I'm with you gals. There is a reason we do what we do and they do what they do! This one was fun to research and write. Glad you found it and thanks for the comments.

    • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

      Marcy Goodfleisch 3 years ago from Planet Earth

      Well, I'm not sure I would ever qualify for one of these jobs, but I love the fun traditions of baseball in our country, and this is a fun hub! I need to learn more about the specific rules (I think I am athletically impaired or something).

      BTW - I agree with pstraubie - this can be a no-win job, as outspoken as the fans are!

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 3 years ago from sunny Florida

      Like some other jobs, I would not want the job of an umpire They are often in that damned if you do and damned if you don't situation.

      Great read....I am not a huge sports person but love baseball...I actually understand what is happening in the game :D

      Angels are on the way to you this morning. ps

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Thief12: Welcome to my hubs. I hope Galarraga gets an * in the record books. He deserves to be remembered - especially with the bad call. Thanks for the comments and vote. I have a couple others on baseball. Hope you find them,

    • Thief12 profile image

      Thief12 3 years ago from Puerto Rico

      The Galarraga/Joyce call was such a bad, bad call, but it's leveraged by the elegance and class with which both guys handled it. Still, it's such a shame that the kid will probably never have that chance again in his career.

      Anyway, great hub. Voted Up and Interesting.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      'Throw The Bum Out How To Become a Major League Baseball Umpire, great interest of research on this hub. I enjoy watching a game of baseball and learned lots here today.

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 6 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      For love of the game - I guess. Sounds worth it to me. Thanks for the read and the comments.

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 6 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      You are most welcome. It was a pleasure.

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 6 years ago from Chicago

      I enjoyed this wonderful and interesting article. It is most excellent and enjoyable in every way. Thank you!

    • profile image

      Ms Creative Words 6 years ago

      Interesting. I thought umpires were paid close to what ball players were paid. Big bucks. lol, lol. Still good money for, "strike three you are out."

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 6 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      It was fun to research. I have a brother in law who had this dream. He's called mens league baseball for 30 years. Thanks for the comments.

    • GusTheRedneck profile image

      Gustave Kilthau 6 years ago from USA

      Hi Kathleen Cochran - Call the situation "malignment due to perceptual misalignment..." Loved this article. It has to be both tough to be an umpire and somewhat of a fulfillment to know that "you are the one!" You did a real number with this little-covered subject. Thanks.

      Gus :-)))

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 6 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      billybuc and teaches12345: I added a still shot of the blown perfect game call - if you're interested!

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 6 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      I can't get this replying in more than one place thing straight! But, I guess it's a nice problem to have. Thanks for your comments.

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 6 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Boy, get him to write some hubs about his experiences - or you can! I've never known anybody connected to it in any way.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 6 years ago

      My nephew was accepted to the program last year and is into his first year as a major/minor league umpire/referee. He loves the job and his commitment to his family keeps him motivated. Yes, he was fortunate to be one of the few elected to participate in the school's program. He is a great guy, has integrity and fits all the criteria you mentioned (20/20 vision, etc.). Loves sports, played sports and will probably do it until he retires. Thanks for the informative hub, enjoyed the read.

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 6 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Wow - you read this while I was still editing! One of my tricks to to publish, then take another look. It's left over something from my newspaper days. I don't know why, but you see mistakes better when something has already gone to press. Nothing I could do about it then. But now - it's an easy fix. Thank God for HubPages and the Internet Age!

      Thanks for the quick read and the boost!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 6 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Great hub! Anything about baseball will attract me instantly. Lou Piniella was my favorite for arguing with an umpire; he could put on quite a show.


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