Umpires don't live like the Common Man

April, 3, 2009
04/03/09
11:13
AM ET
At least one reader took some offense at my take on a new tool for checking the umps' work:

    You consistently argue for the common man, unless that common man forms a group to gain some sort of leverage against The Man. The umpires work extremely hard. They shouldn't be subject to discipline for performance. Conduct is a totally different issue. Intentionally missing calls deserves discipline. Refusing to carry out the rules of the game is conduct. Mistakes are performance and don't deserve or require discipline. Should you be docked a few days pay every time you miss a comma or misspell a word? How about when you miscalculate a stat? Or identify a cited author or player incorrectly? That's essentially what MLB wants to do to umpires. It is the union's job to prevent or mitigate discipline of its members. Moreover, the union ensures that these people, who have no home base, unlike teams, receive fair wages and benefits for being on the road 210+ days per year. March through September or October (if assigned) these people are on the road. Could you do that with your family? Would you be willing to do that if you didn't have someone protecting your rights and preventing your employer from taking advantage of you? I'm sick of you spinning a yarn about the common man, when all you are is an Ayn Rand disciple.

    - Eugene Freedman

This is probably the first time anyone has ever mentioned Ayn Rand and Rob Neyer in the same breath. Granted, I did spend a few months after college living in an Objectivist collective. [Is that supposed to be some sort of joke?--ed. Yeah. Supposed to be.] But I didn't think anybody knew about that …

Look, I'm a union man. Or I would be, if there was some union for me to join. I could really use the group insurance, and I've always wanted an excuse to hang out with Teamsters. [Another joke?--ed. Yeah.]

But to suggest that a major league umpire is a "common man" is awfully silly. Umpires start at close to $100,000 per season -- mind you, that's for seven months of work -- and the experienced arbiters can top $300,000 per season. Now, we might argue about the definition of "common man," but I suspect that most definitions you'll find won't include someone who makes that much money for that little work.

When they're working, they do work hard. Well, the plate umpire does. The others aren't taxed much. But it's not an easy job and they generally do it well. Umpires shouldn't be evaluated by their performance, though? To my knowledge, nobody has ever suggested that umpires should be "disciplined" for making mistakes. But what if an umpire makes so many mistakes that he's clearly inferior to an umpire in the minor leagues? Shouldn't he eventually be replaced? Should subpar umpires be kept on until retirement age? Should umpires not be told when their performance is suffering?

Oh, and one other thing about this: Major league umpires are absolutely not "on the road 210+ days per year." Not unless they want to be. Some of them live in major league cities, and are occasionally able to sleep at home even when they're working. And all of them get vacation time during the season. No, it wasn't always like this. Before the umpires unionized in the 1960s, they did have to work crazy schedules and be away from home for many months at a time. And they weren't paid all that well, either. They could make a good, solid, middle-class living, and maybe do a little better if they could tell a good story or three on the rubber-chicken circuit. But they had to worry about all the little things and were sometimes treated terribly unfairly by their employers.

Very little of that is true today. Today, umpires live well; they make good money and have a great deal of vacation time, and every real Common Man would kill for a job like that.

I've seen the Common Man -- and Woman -- at the ballpark. They're not on the field. They're in the stands, well past midnight and into the morning, cleaning up the peanut shells and congealed nacho cheese and dregs of $8 beer that you and I were too lazy to throw away. You want me to throw my weight behind a union? When those minimum-wage commoners organize, I'll be right there with them.

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