Day in the Work Life: Balls and strikes

Marketplace Staff Sep 15, 2006

TEXT OF STORY

KAI RYSSDAL: The Minor League Baseball playoffs wrap up this week but there is nothing minor at all about the stakes. Players have one last shot to impress big league scouts. And they’re not the only ones under scrutiny. Umpires are trying to make a good impression too, despite what fans may think when a call doesn’t quite go their way. On this week’s A Day in the Work Life we step behind the plate with a minor league umpire.

DEREK CRABILL: Today’s the last day of the season in the AA Eastern League. I’m here in New Britain, Connecticut to umpire between the New Britain Rockcats and the visiting Harrisburg Senators.

My name’s Derek Crabill. I’m an Eastern League umpire. This is my fourth year in Minor League Baseball, my first in AA.

I love the game obviously. I grew up with the game. I grew up on the far northwest suburbs of Chicago watching the Cubs my whole life. I wasn’t the best at it. I knew I wasn’t going to become a player but to me, there’s no better job in the world. I love coming out on the field every day. There’s no job I’ve ever had where I can’t wait to get to work every day.

In the major leagues there are 68 umpires, 200, roughly 220 of us in the minor leagues vying for those positions. Once you are in the major leagues you are there to stay. And we basically have to wait for a retirement. There have been several years in a row where no minor league umpire has gotten a full big league contract. A couple of years ago there was three. So on average I would say there’s probably one umpire a year that gets a big league job.

Umpiring takes a lot of focus and that’s probably one of the toughest things that we have to get used to doing. I know growing up when I was umpiring amateur ball I could lose focus for an inning or two and usually be okay. The further I get along in the minor leagues the focus becomes more and more important for all 9 innings, and if we go extra innings, all 12 or 16 innings, two and a half, three, four hours.

At our level we make about $12,000 a year, $25 a day for per diem. When you get to the big leagues they start out just around $100,000 a year. So we pay our dues down here in the minor leagues.

The fans at the games, you know, I hear them. Most of the time I laugh because the fans don’t know really what’s going on down on the field. A lot of times they can’t hear what going on on the field. A lot of times they think there’s an argument when it’s the player and an umpire laughing. The fans don’t really bother me. The worst is when you know there’s an evaluator sitting right behind you and you only get three of those a year. So the worst is when that evaluator’s sitting behind you and you know you just missed that last pitch.

We all know the statistics of umpiring going into school, into umpiring school. Chances are I will never see a big league field but I know that if I didn’t try this there would be some point in my life where I’d be wondering if I could have ever made it. And that’s what keeps me out here.

RYSSDAL: A Day in the Work Life was reported by Adam Allington.

There’s a lot happening in the world.  Through it all, Marketplace is here for you. 

You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible. 

Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.  

Need some Econ 101?

Our new Marketplace Crash Course is here to help. Sign-up for free, learn at your own pace.