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Mudville: July 23, 2024 2:36 am PDT

Respect The Ump.

With the MLB Lockout going strong under Rob Manfred, we know all about baseball’s money issues.

Here is a cash story, though, involving baseball you surely have no clue about.

This isn’t billionaires vs. millionaires. Not even close. This is about people who are trying their best to help teenagers have the best high school baseball experience possible and go to work to help provide that positive experience.

It’s something you have not heard about at all.

Here at BallNine, though, we cover all baseball angles, not just Major League Baseball.

This week – The Story tells another financial story and this one really needs to be fixed and it is easy to pick a side here and easy to fix.

We are not talking about $700,000 minimum salary or a $220 million CBT. This is a number the everyday working person can understand. Next time you go to a high school baseball game you might consider the difficult job of being an umpire.

This story focuses on the great state of Ohio and the athletic directors. You must do better.

Mike Brown is a high school baseball umpire in Ohio and gives it his all every time he is on the field, just like so many other umpires who work the high school circuit and that is not an easy circuit to navigate. Early in the year you can have cold days behind the dish, and I am not talking about your strike zone.

“Umpires, all of us, we are dedicated to the cause.’’

Brown, 67, has been umpiring at different levels for 40 years and he has a successful background in public relations and working for newspapers, back in the day. He is not afraid to speak up for a cause and he gained my attention Saturday when he told me that varsity high school umpires make all of $55 a game in his area of Ohio.

That’s it, 55 bucks.

When you factor in all the other costs associated with the job, buying your own equipment, the cost of traveling to games, especially now with the rising price of gas, that is not a significant paycheck.

In high school ball, two umpires work the game most of the time so that is a lot of ground to cover, too. It is a demanding job.

With all that is going on in MLB and all the crazy numbers floating around, the plight of the high school umpire in Ohio needs to be addressed and put in the spotlight and credit to Mike Brown for speaking up on the subject. “Ohio is the lowest in the country,’’ Brown told BallNine of the $55 per game in his area of the Buckeye State.\

JV is $42 and freshman is $37.

That is about three hours of work plus commute time and you pay your own expenses, including equipment.

There also is a physical cost. There is a lot of wear and tear on an umpire’s body and just last July in a Men’s League game, Brown broke his left arm when he was hit flush by an 85-mph fastball that the catcher whiffed on as the catcher tried to stand up to make a throw to second base.

“I was holding still just like they teach you to do,’’ Brown explained. “The catcher got up to make the throw to second, but he never touched the ball.’’


Brown finished the game, though. He did trade positions with the other umpire, but he did manage to finish the game in the field.

“There’s a lot of foul tips off the wrist and everything else,’’ Brown said, including those that crash off the umpire’s face mask.

But that is part of the dedication it takes to be an umpire. Brown just purchased a new Force3 Defender face mask that cost $200.

Mike Brown

That’s essentially four games worth of pay.

At least in his part of Ohio. Brown then told me some numbers from other states and what they pay their high school umpires. “West Virginia and Louisiana pay $90 to do a varsity game.’’ Brown said. “New York is $130, that is the top of the line. Little states like Vermont and New Hampshire, where I came from, they pay $85 a game at the varsity level, plus they pay miles, for depreciation on your car. That’s something I’ve always had in my higher education career and my newspaper career, I would love to see them in Ohio to pay some travel money. People don’t understand that, it’s depreciation on your car, I just put $800 of new tires on my car.’’

That’s a great point and of course there are the raging gas prices and raging inflation.

“I’m just a peon but I’ve really been trying to speak up for some people,’’ Brown, 67, told me. He’s an author too, having written The Umpire’s Bunkhouse: Baseball Stories from Cooperstown’s Dream Park. He wrote the book to show there is a person behind the mask and it is a wonderful breezy book about camaraderie and the art of umpiring.

“I have a public relations background but I’m trying to tell the members at these (umpire) meetings we have to stand together,’’ Brown said of getting a raise. “We had a meeting on Monday night at Upper Arlington High School. That school was built for $25 million. It’s a palace. It doesn’t look like a high school at all, it looks like a college.’’

Yet, despite all that, umpires are really getting hosed.

“The irony of sitting there in the auditorium with all the bells and whistles and cameras and everything they got in there and we are umpiring for $55 a game’’ said Brown, who also officiates high school basketball games.

“Umpires, all of us, we are dedicated to the cause,’’ Brown said of his brothers and sisters in blue.

The athletic directors, Brown said, hold the keys to the vault and it is up to them to decide what to pay umpires. Brown is hopeful that a raise can happen and received an email this week that “there is traction’’ for getting a raise.

This needs to be a racetrack, fast track the traction and the raise because the high school baseball season is just around the corner.

“All across Ohio they are building new schools but from what I understand this is a small group of athletic directors who are really cheap,’’ Brown said, calling it as he sees it. “To get a $10 or $20 raise is just too much.’’

They should at least bring it up to Vermont standards.

Growing up and playing high school baseball at David Brearley Regional High School in Kenilworth, N.J., then later playing college baseball and playing first base, I always enjoyed my interactions with the umpires. You could tell these men were out there because they loved the game and they enjoyed what they were doing.

That is still the case these many decades later.

“The umpires are out there with the coaches and we are supposed to be working together,’’ Brown said. “And most of the time we do. Like if a player gets hurt, it hurts me too. If I’m behind the plate and a batter takes one in the ribs, you have to worry about is somebody throwing at him.’’

Dealing with the parents is always interesting as well but umpires do the best they can, they certainly are not doing the job to get rich.

“In central Ohio they don’t realize they are paying half of what they are paying in California or New York or New Jersey,’’ Brown said.

He then made this comparison to what is going on in Major League Baseball.

“The athletic directors, they are like the owners in Major League Baseball,’’ he said. “They are the fat cats, they got it made and they don’t care. It’s cold in March and April when it starts for us. We are independent contractors, one at a time, we don’t have any collective bargaining, there is no unity at all.’’

The umpires are beginning to stand together, and the local umpire group is encouraging their members to not participate in the first four games of the coming season to make a statement.

“I did just that,’’ Brown explained. “I denied those first four games a couple weeks from now and we are hoping that makes a difference too.’’

The athletic directors need to wake up and fix this issue. Inflation is hitting everywhere and this umpire pay is decades behind the rest of the country.

National League President Bart Giamatti before Game 2 of the 1986 World Series between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Mets at Shea Stadium on October 19, 1986 in Flushing, New York. (Photo by Ronald C. Modra/Getty Images)

I like what the former poet commissioner of baseball A. Bartlett Giamatti once said about umpires, he was a little different than the guy in charge now.

“Baseball fits America well,’’ Giamatti said, “It expresses our longing for the rule of law while licensing our resentment of law givers.’’

The great umpire Nestor Chylak put it in perspective too, saying, “They expect an umpire to be perfect on Opening Day and to improve as the season goes on.’’

A couple of my buddies and I once were ragging Chylak at a Yankee game when he was behind the plate. We were in the the upper deck overhang behind home plate when there were not a lot of fans in the ballpark.

Chylak heard us, looked up at us between innings and then sent his own message to us.

We proceeded to give him a tip of the hat. It was a fun night.

And then this from Bob (“Juuuust a bit outside”) Uecker in his book Catcher in the Wry: “Let’s face it. Umpiring is not an easy or happy way to make a living. In the abuse they suffer, and the pay they get for it, you see an imbalance that can only be explained by their need to stay close to a game they can’t resist.’’

All that is true.

Umpiring at any level is a skill and a brotherhood and it is hard work, too.

“I’ve been registered for umpiring in Ohio for eight years, but I’ve been umpiring for 40 years,’’ Brown explained. “Umpiring is all about standards at a high level.’’

Brown remembers pitching a no-hitter when he was 12 years old when his team won the championship and his father was the coach. That left a lasting impression.

“Last summer an All-Star team from Canton, Ohio, where the Pro Football Hall of Fame is, came down to Newark, the game I was working behind the plate and the pitcher, a left-hander, struck out 17 batters and pitched a no-hitter and they won 1-0. I don’t remember the pitcher’s name but it was thrilling to be part of it.

“So in my Christmas message I wrote I either called a really good game or I called a really poor game,’’ Brown said.

And yes, it helps if an umpire has a sense of humor, too.

“I do have a good strike zone,’’ Brown noted.

For those who question Brown and say just give it up, just don’t do it if the pay is so poor, Brown’s response gets to the heart of the matter.

“Umpiring is what I do,’’ he said, “I can’t give it up.’’

He loves his job no matter what he gets paid and the same goes for so many other umpires because of that human experience. There is a camaraderie between umpires.

“I’m not chatty, but I like to talk to people,’’ Brown said. “I find out where they live or what they do for a living. If they are retired, what’s their background.’’

All that is all part of the experience of umpiring.

It’s fun, but it’s also a lot of work and a lot of decisions made and a lot of standing on your feet on cold days, hot days and all kinds of days in between. Hopefully the young players have a good experience in dealing with the umpires and realize, “Hey, they’re human, too.’’

Ohio high schools are getting a lot for their umpiring money, the job is worth much more than $55 a game. It would be nice if the athletic directors in Brown’s area would give a little more love to their umpires.

Respect the Ump.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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