In case you forgot, there’s a umpires strike taking place in the MLB-affiliated minor leagues at the moment. The Tampa Tribune’s Joe Henderson profiles the plight of Triple A ump Mike Estabrook. (link taken from Notes In A Minor Key)
He has been a professional umpire for eight years, and he’s not getting rich. He made $13,900 last season, his first full year in Triple-A, so he has to work at a friend’s electrical company in the offseason to make enough money for things like food
If we could bottle and market labor stories as an aid to the sleep-impaired, I’d have a fair chance of retiring as a millionaire. It’s bad enough when they involve players and cause the cancellation of games, but when the labor dispute involves umpires and no games are being interrupted, well, play ball and pass the peanuts.
Put it this way: There was one of those quickie polls about the impact of the strike on the Association of Minor League Umpires Web site. More than 60 percent of the voters chose “No One Will Even Care.”
Even in the Triple-A International League, which Estabrook reached last year, it’s a Spartan life. Umpires receive $25 a day for food and laundry – try making that last very long during life on the road. They also have to drive between assignments, which can involve a trip of several hundred miles after a night game, arriving in the new city with the rising sun to a breakfast of Egg McMuffins. By the way, during contract negotiations the umps were initially offered an extra dollar each day for their per-diem – enough to get an apple pie with their Big Mac.
“They feel it’s an apprenticeship for us, but we look at it as a chance to make the big leagues,” Estabrook said.
Since some minor-league clubs are essentially hand-to-mouth operations, you can imagine how hard the nickels get squeezed on matters like this. Management can take the hard line because it has public disinterest on its side. People don’t go to minor-league games to see the umpire. Often, they don’t even go for the games.
“Part of the deal with our end of the business is that our venues are a little more family-oriented,” said Pat O’Conner, a top administrator at the minor-league offices in St. Petersburg. “We sell the sizzle instead of the game. We have parties 70 times a summer and we happen to play a baseball game around that.
“Certainly we hope to get an agreement and get those guys back to work, but to be honest the umpiring in many cases has been as good or better than it was before. I’m not going to kid you and say it has been better in every instance, but generally it has been at least as good.”
I can’t speak for the quality of recent umpiring in the FSL, but if the 3 Pacific Coast League games I caught last week are anything to go by, players and fans alike (at least those who are watching the games) are being shortchanged.