Umpires appropriately prefer to stay out of the limelight. The game is, after all, not about them. They are rarely recognized as they arrive at the ballpark maybe 90 minutes before game time.
During an interview with Ted Barrett and his crew during a visit to officiate a series between the Seattle Mariners and Boston Red Sox, it came out that Barrett was one of a select number of umpires who have earned advanced degrees.
Dan Bellino is another; he is a doctor of jurisprudence, a graduate of John Marshall Law School who has served as an aide to a federal judge in Chicago. Umpiring was suggested to him by one of his law school professors.
During the interview, Ted Barrett was asked, “So you’re Dr. Barrett?”
“Reverend Doctor—the guys call me Reverend Doctor Crew Chief.”
Indeed, Dr. Barrett is also an ordained minister. He also found work, earlier in his career, as a sparring partner for professional boxers and has indeed sparred with seven world champions: George Foreman, Evander Holyfield, Greg Page, Razor Ruddock, Obed Sullivan, Tony Tucker, and Mike Tyson. But his work in the ministry gives his life the most meaning. In the most recent off-season—2015/16—he and fellow umpire Angel Hernandez traveled with others on a mission to Cuba.
I was ordained in the Southern Baptists, but I’m in a non-denominational church right now. In Arizona. I live in Gilbert. My undergrad was in kinesiology; that was in ’88. Then after a few years, I decided it was time to go back to school and get a theological degree and I got my master’s degree in Biblical Studies [in 2007], from Trinity, which is a seminary in Newburgh, Indiana. It’s a four-year college as well as a seminary—Trinity University as well as Trinity Theological Seminary. They were big in the early days of distance learning. They also do regional seminars and I was able to go during the winter. You could go for a four-day thing and meet the professor, which was great then as we talked back and forth.
There have been umpires who went into the ministry later in life, just as there are former ballplayers (Billy Sunday comes to mind) who later became ministers, but Teddy Barrett is the only one known to be a minister while an active umpire.
Dr. Barrett received his degree in 2013. The title of his dissertation for Trinity is “An Investigation of Faith As a Life Principle in the Lives of Major League Umpires.” Barrett is also a co-founder of Calling for Christ, an organization created in 2003 to “love, encourage, and disciple umpires in their relationships with Jesus.” The board of directors of Calling for Christ (CFC) is comprised of MLB umpires Rob Drake, Mike Everitt, Chris Guccione, Marvin Hudson, Alfonso Marquez, and Dave Rackley.
Writer Jon Mooallem wrote a piece for ESPN The Magazine in which he gives some of the background to Barrett’s interest. “Barrett broke into the majors full time in 1999 and, having grown up in a religious family in upstate New York, was deeply unsettled by what he saw when he arrived. ‘How can I put this delicately?’ he says. ‘It was a devil’s playground. It was a dark, dark time.’”
When one stops and thinks about it, umpires do not just emerge from nowhere and return to anonymity. They are real people with real lives. As Barrett wrote in his dissertation:
When a major league umpire speaks at a fundraiser dinner, classroom, church group, or some other event, he will inevitably receive the usual questions. What team do you ump for? What base do you work? Who is your favorite player? What is your favorite team? It is almost as if people, even the diehard baseball fan, are under the impression that umpires appear from out of the ground underneath the stadium and work the game. Many people think umpires live in a city with a major league team and only work that game. Perhaps the umpires are so maligned because they are largely misunderstood.
To provide grounding for his dissertation, Barrett began with the words, “It is said the job of the umpire is to start out perfect and get better.” And yet, under all the stresses of the job, it is not surprising that in their personal lives “some umpires fall into destructive behavior patterns.”
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In order to better understand the experiences and concerns of his fellow umpires, rather than simply relying on conversations and anecdotal evidence, Barrett distributed a confidential survey to every one of the 68 serving umpires in Major League Baseball during the annual meeting of World Umpires Association, the union that represents Major League umpires, after the 2011 season. Removing himself from the research process, Barrett received completed surveys from 37 of the other 67 umpires. Their written responses were illuminating and exceptionally candid.
The pressures of the job are intense, first to advance up the ladder and then to continue to undergo public and professional scrutiny even when established as a Major League umpire. To make it to the top is, in the words of former minor league umpire Rick Roder, to progress through “baseball’s narrowest door.” By way of some perspective, there are a hundred United States senators and 76 Major League umpires. (A total of eight more umpires were added in 2014 and 2015.)
There are only 76 Major League umpires, and once one makes it, the rewards of the job are substantial—starting pay of $140,000 increasing to $400,000 in 2012, first-class travel, a $400 per diem, and—recently—even vacation time during the season. There remains a downside, however. Umpires are rarely home, missing milestone events in the lives of their children, hoping to hold together a relationship with a spouse who must inevitably be exceptionally understanding and capable of running a household. They do not travel with a baseball team, but in a very small group of four who must work together effectively on the field and who typically spend many of their nonworking hours together as well. There is not only the strain on family life, but also the need to build productive working relationships while performing their responsibilities in an intensely competitive environment that unavoidably rates one umpire against another, as it has throughout their entire professional development.
Very few people make it to the top. Every year about 300 people attend one of the two umpire schools recognized by MLB. Twenty-five from each school will go on to an evaluation course, from which some will become minor league umpires. If hired, they are ranked at the end of every season in the minors and will either be retained or released. There are 293 minor league umpires, Barrett writes. In an average year, there might be one or two openings in the ranks of major league umpiring. That math alone would be discouraging, but there is also the process of getting there—a process that takes eight or nine years working for one-tenth the pay and with few of the amenities available at the top. The minor league umpires do often work in the Majors as fill-ins and receive big league pay during that time but without the benefit or protection of the union. Rob Drake worked 1,218 games over 11 seasons as a Triple-A fill-in before being hired as an MLB umpire. Chris Guccione worked 1,250 over nine seasons.
All the while, every call of the umpires in every game is subject to the reaction from ballplayers whose very livelihood can be affected by a safe/out call. And their calls are studied minutely by MLB umpire observers, umpire supervisors, and by a general public that doesn’t hesitate to spew out abuse when they (rightly or wrongly) disagree with a call.
Like any employee in any field of work, umpires make mistakes. But a file clerk who misplaces a dossier will never have 35,000 people booing at his mistake. Nor will he be blasted through social media or his children abused back in his hometown. Barrett reminds us of one of the worst cases—after umpire Jim Joyce missed a very important call at the end of what would have been a perfect game for Armando Galarraga on June 2, 2010. Umpires take their mistakes to heart and often can lose sleep to a bad call in a routine game. But, Barrett writes, “When Jim Joyce had the missed call in Detroit in 2010, his children received instant death threats on Facebook.” He adds, “One needs to only do an engine search by typing in the name of any major league umpire, the vulgarity, and hatred the reader would discover is hard to believe.”
No one in the world felt worse than Joyce. A 20-year veteran umpire at the time, he’d made a mistake, but this was a mistake that deprived Galarraga of baseball immortality. The players had just voted Joyce best umpire in the game the year before. And at the time of the call, he was suffering a profound loss. “His father had recently passed away and this would be the first time he stayed in the home he was raised in without his father being there.”
Umpires Larry Barnett and Don Denkinger are among those who have received death threats that were taken seriously enough to be watched by police and/or the FBI.
It’s not surprising that umpires overwhelmingly value the implementation of replay—it helps them ensure that the call is right.
This is not to say that most umpires don’t find their work satisfying. Of the 34 umpires who responded to the question in Barrett’s survey, 33 said they were happy in their jobs. “Many used the term ‘very happy’ or ‘extremely happy.’ Some of them went as far as to say they ‘love’ their job.” They are the elite who made it to the very top, and do have significant job security—though even umpire supervisors are not exempt from termination. Barrett wrote, “Two supervisors were fired following the 2009 postseason in which there were several high-profile umpiring mistakes.”
Competition between umpires can be intense. Indeed, Barrett writes, “From the first day of umpire school the students are fully aware that they will be in direct competition with each other . . . The entire process from day one is a competition among umpires for progression.” Even after working as a fill-in for years, and being hired as a Major League umpire, there is a four-year probationary period. Perhaps it isn’t a stretch to learn that “of the thirty-seven umpires who responded, thirty-six of them say there are umpires they do not trust. Many men simply stated that there are those they do not trust and many added that they constantly watch what they say in front of others. Some men pointed out that while it is a problem in the umpiring profession, it is also a problem in society as a whole.”
Barrett had earlier mentioned finding a “devil’s playground” when he first arrived in the Majors. And indeed, there is politicking and backstabbing in many workplaces. Umpires are susceptible to the same crutches and temptations to which others fall victim. It is unrealistic to think that, because baseball is a game with some glamour attached to it, somehow umpires are immune. That is not the case. Barrett talks about the extra responsibility of the crew chief to keep his men working together effectively:
There are members of the staff who have manipulative behavior, and they need to be called on it or they will shatter the crew dynamic. There are members of the staff who are in the midst of full-blown addiction; their behavior can be detrimental to the crew. There are members of the staff who suffer from severe psychiatric disorders, [and] a crew chief must be able to navigate all of these problems and keep the crew functioning as a cohesive unit . . . There have been situations in the major leagues where men have worked side by side with functioning alcoholics.
That this is true in many (perhaps most) workplaces does not mean it is less challenging to professional umpires and those who care about them. And umpires are indeed subject to random breathalyzer tests and other drug tests during the season before they walk on the field of play. But such a test cannot pick up other forms of substance abuse and cannot determine the mental health of the umpire. One of the motivations behind Baseball Chapel and a baseball ministry such as Calling for Christ is to help the crew confront such problems.
There is already a great deal of stress with which umpires must cope, but a crew that harbors someone struggling with serious issues “can add a great deal of stress to an umpire’s life. An umpire’s locker room should be an inner sanctum, a refuge from the bedlam that is a professional baseball game. Instead, it can be a place of bitterness, anger, jealousy, tears, rage, and fistfights. It can also be a place full of despair, despondency, loneliness, and depression.”
Divorce is not uncommon, but the rate among umpires is not dramatically different from the population at large. And fully half the respondents said they have remained faithful and never engaged in “chasing.” Of those who have entered second marriages, the divorce rate is much, much lower than in the general population.
Nonetheless, among the respondents, there were four who admitted to some form of sexual addiction. Pornography is among the problems they face. Three admitted to tobacco addiction and two to alcohol addiction. Several acknowledged problems with food addiction. Some had multiple addictions. This is not to say that there are rampant problems within the umpiring community. The problems umpires face are no different from those of the general population, but their difficulties are perhaps exacerbated by the itinerant nature of the job.
“Umpires wear masks when they work home plate,” writes Barrett in his dissertation.
This is something they become very adept at, wearing masks. Many of them know they need to keep a certain persona on the field as they do their jobs. Some of them feel the need to play the role of umpire off of the field as well. Many umpires emulate the veteran arbiters they look up to. They adapt their persona both on and off the field. As their career passes, they never take a good look at their own lives. They get so caught up in trying to emulate their idols they never take the time to discover their own personalities.
The situation appears to be improving, unfortunately, accelerated by the 1996 death on the field of umpire John McSherry. Major League Baseball hired a full-time medical consultant and a nutritionist. Several umpires have sought counseling, though often outside baseball’s employee assistance program, in order to avoid unfortunate concerns regarding confidentiality. Barrett is optimistic: “I believe the umpires of the present are more mature, more aware of their surroundings, and make better decisions than umpires of the past.”
This article began with a conversation in the umpires’ room at Fenway Park on July 11, 2015. It was furthered by a reading of Dr. Barrett’s dissertation and subsequent communications.
 A copy of Edward G. Barrett’s dissertation was supplied by Trinity, courtesy of Sheryle Knight of Trinity Theological Seminary.
 The Calling for Christ website may be found at: www.callingforchrist.com.
 Jon Mooallem, “Lest Ye Be Judged,” ESPN The Magazine, June 20, 2014. Available online at:http://espn.go.com/espn/feature/story/_/id/11107264/mlb-umpires-flock-pastor-dean-baptized-espn-magazine.
 Edward G. Barrett, An Investigation of Faith As a Life Principle in the Lives of Major League Umpires (Newburgh, Ind.: Trinity Theological Seminary, 2013), 45, 46.
 Rick Roder, Baseball’s Narrowest Door, How to Become a Professional Umpire, 3rd ed. (Remsen, Iowa: by the author, 2003).
 In the environment where they work, even the highest-paid umpire makes less than the minimum wage of the lowest-paid player, which in 2015 was $507,500. The highest-paid players earn more in a year than do all 76 Major League umpires together. Nonetheless, at one point, Barrett writes, “Umpiring at the big league level is a Peter Pan existence. You never have to make your bed because the hotel maid will do that for you. You never have to do your laundry because your clubbie will do it. You never have to do dishes because you are eating in a restaurant” (p. 82). And it falls on the wives to do most of the work in the household.
 Barrett, 65, 66.
 See the book that pitcher and umpire wrote together. Armando Galarraga, Jim Joyce, and Daniel Paisner, Nobody’s Perfect: Two Men, One Call, and a Game for Baseball History (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2011).
 Barrett, 55.
 See, for instance, Durwood Merrill and Jim Dent, You’re Out and You’re Ugly Too! Confessions of an Umpire with Attitude(New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998), 96, 97.
 Barrett, 47.
 Ibid., 38.
 Ibid., 70–71.
 Ibid., 72.
15] Ibid., 75–76. “Of the thirty-seven umpires in the survey, only three claims they have never abused alcohol and have never been drunk since they were members of the major league staff” (p. 79).
 Ibid., 75.
 Ibid., 112.
 Ibid., 85. Calling for Christ holds an annual retreat for umpires and their families each winter, and Barrett reports that 11 Major League umpires have attended, while several others have participated in the other activities the ministry offers.