My Trip to The Show (Part II) (cont.)
Posted: Wednesday March 28, 2007 12:45PM; Updated: Friday March 30, 2007 12:19PM
4. Don't get spun around by line drives hit directly at you; you'll fall on your butt or, worse, get pegged there.
Culbreth recalls the time that no sooner had he remarked that he had never seen Jeromy Burnitz hit a line drive than Burnitz nailed first base umpire Terry Craft in the posterior. "It went up one side of his [butt] and down the other," Culbreth says.
5. Make sure your fly is zipped.
Basically, the job comes down to this: If I can quit worrying long enough about wiping out Tejada, about baseballs that either explode, tempt me to field them or put me on my can, and about keeping my pants on properly, then all I need to do is nail every single call. Great.
"Umpiring is a gift," says ump Tim Timmons, 39, who also assisted in my training, "like the hitter who has the skill to hit that 90-mph slider or the pitcher who can do things with a baseball no human being should be able to do. Those are real gifts, and so is umpiring. You can't teach instincts."
Major league umpires are, in fact, closer to perfect than you might imagine. There were 167,341 at bats last season over 2,429 games. According to the 2006 "Umpiring Year in Review," a report put together by MLB officials, the men in blue made only 100 incorrect calls, excluding balls and strikes (and in that discipline they were judged to be 94.9% accurate). Not once did a club protest a game. (A protest can be filed only if a team believes umpires misapplied the rules.)
For the privilege of having to be perfect, umpires spend about 200 days a year on the road, hear the same lousy jokes in every ballpark about their eyesight or familial heritage, and routinely get second-guessed by critics watching repeated superslow, frame-by-frame replays in high definition from multiple camera angles. Yet major league umpiring jobs (of which there are 68) open up these days about as infrequently as those on the Supreme Court. What kind of person would love a job in which you get noticed only for your mistakes?
"I've always said there's no player, no fan, no manager and no umpire who could ever be as hard on me as I'll be," says Culbreth. "The fans can boo and throw stuff, and managers can scream and holler and get ejected, and they'll never get to me like I will. The part that bothers me the most is people think we miss a call, change our clothes, get in a station wagon, go have a cheeseburger and go home. That's just not how it is. If people knew how much we cared ... they wouldn't be able to comprehend how much it bothers us to find out that we are wrong."
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