Professional baseball umpires who earn a place in the major leagues make excellent salaries. Similar to many of the ballplayers who capture the attention of the fans, each baseball umpire typically spends years calling games in the minor leagues before making it to the major leagues. The pay for minor league umpires is considerably less than in the majors, but they have the opportunity to travel and enjoy the game from a vantage point that few fans ever experience. Also, professional baseball umpires have the satisfaction that comes with playing an essential role in making America's pastime the great game it is.
Umpires are responsible for making sure that professional baseball games are played according to the standards set by Major League Baseball. The umpire's job begins even before he gives the traditional instruction to "play ball," when he collects lineup cards from the competing club managers. During the game, the baseball umpire calls the pitches as balls or strikes. Four umpires work as a team to decide when players reach a base safely or are out and whether batted balls are fair or foul. Umpires also enforce the rules of the game so that it is conducted properly. When a call is disputed, umpires may use instant replay to review plays. Tempers can flare, and the umpire is the one responsible for dealing with tense situations.
The job of the professional umpire is a year-round position even though the regular season lasts only six months. Preseason and playoff games add another three months. Each November, umpires begin planning for the next season by assigning new crews, reviewing past performances and selecting chief umpires who must be ready to go when spring training starts.
If you want to become a baseball umpire, you need a high school diploma. You must be at least 18. No experience is necessary, but it's helpful to work with local groups like youth leagues. When you are ready, attend one of the two umpire schools approved by Major League Baseball. These are five-week programs held during January and February each year. You attend classes to master the rules of baseball and learn how to be professional. You spend time on the field learning and practicing the skills you need. About 300 people start the program each year, but only about 50 are chosen for the Minor League Baseball Umpire Advanced Course. Instructors look for hustle, knowledge, confidence and the ability to handle difficult situations on the field. If you make it, expect to spend seven to 10 years in the minor leagues working your way up from the A-class teams to Triple-A leagues. The major leagues choose the best Triple-A umpires for advancement.
The majority of baseball umpires work in the A, AA and AAA minor leagues. Only 20 to 25 percent call games at the major league level. The importance of making accurate calls requires concentration and attention to detail. A baseball umpire must be professional at all times, remain confident and be able to take charge of the game. Although umpires don't require the athletic talent that ballplayers do, their job is physically demanding. They must spend a lot of time in a crouching position. Although some major league ballparks are air-conditioned, minor league parks are not. Games are often played in sweltering conditions. Extensive travel is a big part of a professional umpire's life.
Baseball Umpire Salary
The MLB umpire salary range is excellent. The starting pay in the majors was $150,000 per year as of 2018. An experienced major league baseball umpire can earn up to $450,000 annually. Salaries for minor league umpires are modest. A new umpire usually starts at the Class A short-season leagues and is paid $2,000 to $2,300 per month during the regular season. The next step is the full-season class A level, where the pay is $2,100 to $2,600 per month. Umpires working in class AA leagues are paid $2,500 to $3,100 monthly. Triple-A leagues are the top level in the minor leagues, and umpires receive monthly salaries ranging from $2,900 to $3,900.
Job Growth Trend
Making it to the major leagues isn't easy for a hopeful baseball umpire. Umpire schools serve as a screening program that eliminates many candidates. There are between 200 and 250 minor league umpires but only about 70 major league positions. Turnover is low and most big league opportunities open up only when an umpire retires.