He has a bat and ball.
. . .
“Batter up!” says the Umpire.
Pete goes up to bat.
The pitcher throws the ball.
Pete swings the bat.
He misses the ball.
from Pete the Cat, Play Ball!
written and illustrated by James Dean
My first daughter was born during the World Series, when I still loved the sound of the cracking bat, the pop flies, and even all that spitting! Everything changed the first time my mom came over to meet my new baby. Which game was on? I don’t remember. I don’t remember which inning she interrupted, the score, or even which teams were playing, but it was the World Series.
(First game. The Cincinnati Reds played The Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. Boston won, 6-0, but lost the Series three wins to Cincinnati’s four. Thanks Google.)
My tiny infant was in her own bedroom sound asleep, but my mom was appalled to find me watching baseball. I was not attending to my company, her. She came by herself and this was the only time I remember my mom calling herself company, ever. I turned off the game and never went back to baseball or any sport, really.
And of course I never held it against my mom!
But what about baseball? America’s favorite pastime just closed the books on another season. Although I loved to watch the players and learn from the announcers, I never had a firm grasp on most of the rules. And I wondered about the difference between referees and umpires. For example, what’s the difference between a no-hitter and a perfect game? Turns out there are two kinds of perfect games. One has to do with the umpire. The other the pitcher.
First of all, there’s not much difference between a referee and an umpire. Referees are used in football, tennis, and soccer, while umpires are baseball officials. Referees enforce the rules of the game and make sure players are following them. They must make quick, accurate decisions and remain impartial. Umpires enforce the rules of the game and make sure players follow them. They need to make quick and accurate decisions and remain impartial. See what I mean?
Then I wondered, since game 2 was called a perfect game, did that mean the same as a no-hitter? Well, the answer is sometimes. According to BaseballReference.com “a game is a perfect game if it is a no-hitter in which no runner is allowed to reach base, whether by hit, base-on-balls, hit-by-pitch or error.” That has to do with the quality of the pitcher.
But a game is also called perfect if the Home Plate umpire calls every pitch correctly. That’s really hard to do, especially with today’s technology that defines the strike zone (that an umpire can only see in his mind’s eye), the many angled cameras, and the availability of replays. Top all that with balls flying in both directions at around 100 mph. The accuracy of the calls has everything to do with the umpire.
So, we’ll consider the umpire. Pat Hoberg called all 129 pitches correctly in Game 2 of this year’s World Series. It is the only perfect game in the Umpire Scorecards database which dates back to 2015. Hoberg is rated the most accurate umpire in Major League Baseball. He’s been a professional umpire since 2009, when he moved up from the Arizona Rookie League. He’s been working in the Majors since 2015.
Most umpires complete a five-week course of study at umpire school where they learn the rules, mechanics, signals and officiating philosophy. They study on the field and in classrooms. After this training, the best are chosen for the minor leagues and can work their way up to the majors. Some umpires volunteer their services, some get paid a per-game fee, and some are on salary. In 2022, the salary for a MLB umpire with plenty of experience ranges from $110,000 to $432,800.
A passion for the game, the persistence to learn and apply all the rules, an affinity for all the people from the players to the hot-dog sellers and the fans in the stadium and at home, will go a long way toward making an umpire worth his pay.
That’s really kind of a life lesson. Passion, persistence, and practice go a long way to success in any worthwhile endeavor. That and 20/20 vision! the literal kind and the figurative kind.
Life really isn’t fair. But it’s usually not so foul, either. Babies are born, Mom’s come over, seasons turn. A season with a perfect game is achievable, but coping with the curveballs Life throws us is usually the best way to learn about ourselves and each other.
(and follow the rules, with good judgement and compassion)