On the surface, the occupation of Major League Baseball umpire would appear to be a dream job for anyone who likes baseball but wasn't good enough to continue playing beyond, say, American Legion ball at the high school level. Six-figure salary, luxury accommodations, ample vacation time. I mean...hell, you're umping Major League Baseball!
But dig a little bit further, and you realize there are a few inherent hazards. We were reminded of those in two instances yesterday.
First, as an umpire, you're in one of those thankless positions where the less people are aware of you, the better a job you're doing. So by definition, the better you are at your job, the less recognition you get. Because people generally love recognition, that's not an easy dynamic for some to deal with.
Even more difficult to deal with can be the opposite -- the worse you are at your job, the more attention you receive. And I'm not talking about the good kind of attention.
To that point, I give you Tuesday's Tampa Bay at Toronto game, bottom of the ninth inning. Toronto third baseman Brett Lawrie is batting against Rays closer Fernando Rodney when home plate umpire Bill Miller decides to expand the strike zone from "Normal" to "Livan Hernandez in '97 NLCS."
The results were disastrous for pretty much everyone involved, except Rodney.
I don't know what the employee evaluation form for MLB umpires looks like, or if one even exists, but I would say getting a beer tossed on you from point-blank range (in Toronto, of all places) qualifies as a resounding "YOU SUCK." As for Lawrie, I would put off any big purchases, as a large chunk of his paltry-by-baseball-standards $482,500 is about to get garnished from his check in the form of a fine and suspension.
The second hazard of the occupation of MLB umpire is that, while baseball is not an overly physical game, there is always the chance that you could endure bodily harm during the course of a game, either by getting hit by a line drive, nicked by a foul ball, or the way that the first base umpire for Tuesday's Astros-Phillies game, Hunter Wendelstedt, did -- call it "death by Carlos."
And while Wendelstedt took the brunt of the collision, he did manage to get in a nice eye gouge on Carlos on his way down. Solid wrestling heel move.
Oddly enough, if you Google "Carlos Lee collision," the video below is the first one to come up on YouTube:
So next time you're out at the yard, and you want to take out your frustrations on "BLUE" (baseball-speak for the ump), let's remember they're putting their dignity on the line every day for your enjoyment.
Umpin' ain't easy.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. weekdays, and watch the simulcast on Comcast 129 from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.
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