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Attend a Major League Baseball game, and think, Who has the best spot to watch a game? The answer could be the umpire, who along with very close-up views of action, gets to travel around the continent along with other perks. That said, the question surfaces, Do MLB umpires pay for travel?
No, top-level professional umpires benefit from working for the MLB, which pays for their first-class commercial airline tickets for travel. This includes not only all the regular-season games for the 30 clubs — 4,860 in all, when full seasons are played out — but also spring training and post-season games as well as special events like the All Star Game should an umpire be honored with that call.
They also receive a $400 per day per diem for meals and hotel expenses while on the road (it was $500 prior to the 2020 season), on top of the free flights. While umps don’t travel on clubs’ private jets, the League still takes pretty good care of them.
That doesn’t mean 4,860 trips, however. Major league baseball teams play against each other in groups of games, called a series, usually from 2 to 4 games at a time consecutively, and sometimes even for 5 straight should a makeup be needed. Yes, sometimes single games are staged, but for the most part umpires (like players and team officials) fly into a city for a road trip and stay a few days.
Also consider that sometimes umpires are assigned games in big cities close to where they live. It’s still a lot of travel, and amounts to about half of each year on the road. Want to be a major league umpire? Then be ready to live from a suitcase for months at a time.
Have Mask, Will Travel
Ask any flight attendant what it’s like to fly all the time and answers probably will be mixed. Some love landing in new places and exploring exotic lands as free time allows; others just tolerate it for the pay and perks. The same might be said for MLB umpires.
Both occupations have their stress points, namely dealing with unhappy customers, sometimes in tight situations. They say the best umpires are the ones you didn’t even notice were there during games; they just seem like a natural part of the field. Umpires who do get noticed probably want to get on that airplane as fast as possible and leave memories behind.
They get plenty of experience with mad customers and travel conditions to reach MLB ballfields. Just like players, they must toil through years of minor-league games before getting the call to The Show — and that’s after gaining experience overseeing high school, college or travel ball games. They must pass one of two MLB umpiring schools, and endure very low pay through the minors.
While major league clubs are in the largest cities in the United States, along with the biggest city of Canada, minor league teams are located all over America, sometimes in little towns of the South and Midwest with limited accommodations and even fewer choices for leisure activity.
But those who brave the low pay, buses and towns of the bush leagues can enjoy lengthy and rather lucrative years presiding over pro games, in some of the most historic and beautiful baseball venues on Earth.
Insight into MLB Umpiring, Travel and Perks
It’s hard enough when traveling to lug around suitcases full of clothes needed in everyday life, to shop for groceries, go out to eat, etc. Imagine being attached to a gigantic sort of work briefcase: a bag full of a heavy mask, work uniforms, and protectors for your chest, shins and more. As with catchers, umpires carry with them the Tools of Ignorance needed when they are assigned home-plate duties.
Even those assigned to officiate over bases or outfield lines often wear special clothing for the environment, such as lightweight wind-protecting vinyl jackets, ear coverings, or rain-proof coverings. Aside from abuse from nearby fans, umpires always must brave the outdoor elements, especially early and very late in seasons when it can be chilly.
MLB Umpire Compensation
Per the 2020 agreement with MLB (See below), 76 Major Leagues umpires make from $110,000 to $432,800 annually. The minimum salary for major league players at the time was $536,500, so even the newest players make more than the most veteran umpires.
Compared with referees in the major sports, MLB umpires make more than all except in the National Basketball Association (NBA), where the average annual salary is $375,000, compared with the MLB average of about $235,000. The NFL average for referees is $188,322.
However, if you consider that MLB features a lot more games during a season (162 vs. 82 in the NBA and 16 for the NFL), pro baseball umpiring pay might seem tough to swallow. Per game, MLB umpires get less than $1,500 per game, compared with NFL referees who can get over $11,000 per game.
Added perk: MLB umpires get 4 weeks of vacation during the regular season. So in reality they work 5 months out of the year, not 6.
See Also: Why Doesn’t The MLB Have A Salary Cap?
Umpire Union Spats
Disputes between MLB and the umpires as a group have surfaced over the years, including an ugly umpires strike in 1999 where 68 umpires resigned (because they could not strike due to the existing contractual agreement). The MLB responded by hiring replacements and accepting the resignations; after some wrangling afterward, most of those umpires were re-hired, except for 22 unfortunates. (Many of those retired, though some were rehired a few years later).
Compensation and working conditions surfaced again in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic response shortened the MLB season. In May that year, as owners grappled with compensation issues for the players, MLB reached a deal with the umpires’ union that cut their salary 30% for that season and called for pay the rest of the season on a prorated share of games worked.
A lot goes on to stage an MLB game, from ticket sales to concession stands, clean-up crews, and of course who presides over the games. The best umpires might very well be the ones you don’t notice; but inferior umpiring certainly can negatively impact games.
Question: Are umpires recognized on commercial air flights?
Answer: They hope not. Actually, it’s a reason why old-time umpires were uniformed in suits rather than the uniforms of today, to make them more anonymous when leaving stadiums in case trouble during the game upsets fans. It also might be a reason why they don’t fly on team charters — to maintain a separation from the teams and players.
Q.: How important is the anonymity of umpires?
A.: Very important, along with impartiality. You won’t see an umpire wearing a MLB team cap on planes, that’s for sure.
Q.: Are there famous umpires?
A.: Ten MLB umpires are in baseball’s Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Probably the most storied was Bill Klem, called “The Old Arbitrator,” who umpired in the National League (back when MLB umpires were separated by league) from 1905 to 1941 including a record 18 World Series. He was known for many famous quotes, including “I never got one wrong” — which is a shortened version omitting the end, “in here,” which he said while pointing to his heart.
Q.: Do umpires have “good days” and “bad days”?
A.: Yes, they are human like us all and prone to life stresses, bad luck and other developments that cloud a person’s mood or judgement. Tack on the fatigue from travel, and the physical exertion required for games, and it’s a wonder MLB umpires last through whole seasons, let alone through post-season schedules that now can dip into November.
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