Confessions Of A Baseball Ump
Feature by Willard Manus

Baseball was always in Ramon Armendariz's blood. He saw his first major league game in 1977 at the age of five, when his father took him to Dodger Stadium. They traveled on a series of three buses from their home in Santa Monica to reach the ball park. They sat in the general admission section in the left-field pavilion.

"It was like magic to see the stadium," Armendariz recalled in an interview. "I couldn't believe how big and beautiful it was. I knew in my heart this was where I wanted to be. I just knew."

Armendariz hoped he could become a professional baseball player. But after playing second base at Santa Monica High School and Santa Monica City College, he realized he didn't have the skills to achieve that goal. He didn't let that deter him, though. Having gained experience umpiring amateur games when he was just a kid himself, he followed through by attending the Harry Wendelstedt Umpire School in 1995. Once he was accredited, he began his professional career, umpiring games in the Arizona Rookie League, the Northwest League, Midwest League, California League, Texas League and Pacific Coast League, as well as college and high-school leagues.

He spent ten years on the umpiring circuit, traveling far and wide, learning his craft, surviving on salaries that weren't much better than minimum wage, but always holding fast to the dream of making it to the bigs.

Armendariz received his call-up in May 1, 2004, when he was assigned to work a double-header in Arlington, Texas between the Boston Red Sox and Texas Rangers. That was followed a few months later by the assignment to report to Dodger Stadium.

"That wasn't just a thrill, it was the dream of a lifetime," Armendariz said.
He scrambled to pack his bags and call his younger brother, Omar, to alert the other family members. Then he jumped into a rental car and made the drive to L.A. "When I got to Dodger Stadium it was 5.30pm and I had been instructed to park in Lot B, which is at the high point of the stadium grounds with an amazing view of both the stadium and the city of Los Angeles. My heart had finally stopped racing and I took a few moments to look around. There was an amazing sense of calm that came over me as I looked at the stadium and the city.

"I thought about my father, who had passed away in 1999, and I thought about the words he had told me. 'Ramon,' he said, 'I may not be able to be with you when you umpire a game at Dodger Stadium but I will be with you in spirit. I want you to always remember that.'"

Armendariz was thrilled to learn that Vince Scully had mentioned him during his broadcast, taking pleasure that a local boy was umpiring second base. Armendariz also received pre-game greetings from the other Dodger announcers, Jaime Jarrin and Rick Monday.

Jarrin wanted to know the family members who would be in attendance so he could greet them by name on his Spanish broadcast. Monday, also a graduate of Santa Monica High School, called from the radio booth to wish his fellow alum good luck.

Armendariz spent two years umpiring major-league baseball. Though his contract was not renewed, he still kept working games in the minor leagues and in the college and high school leagues.
Once an umpire, always an umpire.

So, I'll give you a quick background on my upbringing and how I got involved in umpiring.

I was born at UCLA Medical Center and grew up in Santa Monica, CA. Our parents raised 5 boys, me being the second to youngest. I played my little league years at Los Amigos Park in Santa Monica, just 6 blocks from the beach. It was a kid's paradise to be raised right across the street from your sandlot and a ten minute walk to the beach, Ocean Park station 26 to be exact.

On some occasions, as a young boy, I would help out voluntarily as a base umpire. I knew most of the rules as a kid by playing baseball, so I survived. Then one day, a few years into my teen years, my Dad informed me the sandlot needed an umpire behind the plate as the scheduled umpire didn't show up. I was a bit scared, because the job is so serious from back behind the catcher. I told him "no thanks." He then sold it by mentioning the job pays $25/game and you get a free cheeseburger & soda . I was sold! I worked games with black pants and a light blue buttoned dress shirt to look official. The umpire equipment that was stored in the upstairs press box was way too big for my little tiny body. I mean I was tiny, way smaller than kids my age. So after a few games, I saved enough money and went to a store in downtown Los Angeles and purchased my own gear.

Photo taken at Houston’s Minute Maid Park.
Former President George H. Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush. 2006
Umpires left to right: Brian Knight, Jim Wolf, Rob Drake & Ramon Armendariz

That was it, I started to observe the National League umpires who worked games at Dodger Stadium on tv or in person. Studying their style of mechanics, body language and taking those to the little league field trying to look like a pro as best as I could

1) Upsides of being an umpire:

At least at the pro level, is the travel. Getting to know cities and countries is an absolute thrill for me. The colleagues you work with, some are life long friendships from all over the world. As for the job, you're already the hated figure out there, so by working your ass off, being focused through-out the entire game and trying your damnedest to stay under the radar, meaning you as the umpire are not the talk of the game with bad or controversial calls.You can walk off the field after umpiring home plate knowing you had an absolute great day back there.

Downside: The opposite of a great day as the home plate umpire. Umpires are human too and sometimes we have bad days.

Travel away from your family can get tough if you're gone for months at a time or even just a weekend series at the college level. Also, getting a foul ball off the bat and onto your body where you're not covered with any equipment can leave a serious bruise or broken bone. The percentage of making it from the minor leagues to the major leagues is really slim. So picking a career where you know your chances are already against you can be stressful as you continue and survive after every season not to get your walking papers, your release.

2) Politics

YES!! I saw politics early in my career and there isn't anything you can do about it but prove them (evaluators) wrong. My peers would even try and comfort me by telling me to keep at it and don't let them get under my skin. Meaning certain umpires would get promoted before me to higher levels. Eventually, if your skills and ability are there, one will move up the minor league ladder. That goal is to get to the Triple -A level, the last stop of the system before the Major League's start showing interest.

I was a Major League reserve umpire for 4 seasons. At that time, there were probably 20 of us, minor league reserve umpires that were called to fill in at the major league level, when the big league umpires took their vacation or got injured on the job. Now in my 4 years from 2004 to 2007, I worked around 65 games total at the major league level. Some of the other umpires were getting that amount of games or more in one season. So that was always tough to swallow. Why am I only getting X number of games when some other guys are getting more? Couldn't tell you to this day. But, I'm sure that's where politics shows it's ugly head.


Throughout the minor league system, there were around 8 or 9 evaluators that would be in charge of a certain demographic to travel and evaluate young umpires. There was a manual that all umpires received from the Professional Baseball Umpire Development (PBUD) office. We had to familiarize ourselves with it as a general sense of umpire development. But when a supervisor/evaluator would sneak into a stadium and observe your performance, they always had their own opinions & advice on any given situation. Sometimes that would conflict with a prior evaluator's advice and input, but you couldn't bring it up to them because it would just get the evaluators upset. So who were we to listen to? The ratings seemed fair.But at times, comments were left on there that they never discussed with you, so how were you to know what to work on in the future?

Since my departure of pro ball in 2007, heads of the development office have gotten younger. But who knows if that's an improvement to the young umpires climbing their way through the system or not.

3) Psychological pressures

There's no doubt, one has to be mentally strong to pursue a high level umpire career. I've seen my peers in locker rooms just before big nationally or globally televised games in a corner to themselves, with earphones on, keeping away from the crew until it's time to walk out onto the field. And I've seen some stick to their daily routine, staying loose and comical as usual. How you prepare in the locker room for a big game is personal but in the back of your head, an umpire always knows there is pressure to the job but we deal with it as best as we can.

Some umpires have abused alcohol and drugs. You really don't hear of it until they have been released of their duties. Most umpires socialize with drinks after games. It's part of discussing game situations, using a cocktail napkin & some sugar packets to draw up plays.

4) Sex life on the road

Umpires that enter the profession that are single, is like shooting fish in a barrel. If you have the looks and charm to talk to women, you'll meet beautiful women in different parts of the country. Since I was a west coast umpire, I spent many assignments for spring training in Arizona, Phoenix and Tucson. In my 13 years in professional baseball, I was in two relationships. One at the start of my career and one later when I was in the Texas League (double A). After my second relationship ended, I decided to focus more on my umpire career and play the field of a single guy getting lucky here and there. Some women wanted more than just trips into their city for a few days. But I was happier being free and focused more on my career.

For those that are married, it's most definitely a test of self will. And of course, marriages end up in divorce. We work our games and then what? Umpire crews will go out and work out in gyms, then go out to dinner then drinks or nightclubs and meet women. Hotels are provided for umpires in every city so with that being known, women feel comfortable with the privacy. Plenty of funny stories that'll make you laugh. Umpires and players usually try to stay out of the same establishments but when you're in small town America, it's kind of hard.

5) Bad calls

Yes!! We've all made them. Depends on the personality of the man to admit it. To this day, if I have a (whacker) close call, I will ask my crew about it after the game. Sometimes you just know you kicked a call and die with it. Now a days with instant replay in most stadiums, you'll reverse the call and get it corrected. It's an unfamiliar gesture to apologize to a player or coach about a kicked call. When a close play at first base is made on a ground ball to the infield, the ball has to beat the runner to the base. Well, when the ball hits the first baseman's glove and the runner hits the base with his foot at the exact same time as the ball pops inside the glove...what's the call? Whatever the umpire rules, safe or out. No tie goes to the runner, that's not a rule. Someone is always going to be unhappy about that outcome of the play that could go 50/50.

I think you have to umpire twice as hard after making an incorrect call. Any call beneficial to the team of the incorrect call, will look like "a makeup call."
That's not what you want to do as an umpire, makeup for an incorrect call. That would be two missed calls in my view.

6) Replay

At the first talks of replay, some were against it. I believed it was going to be beneficial to the game. But that it should only be allowed at certain type of plays and not the strike zone which would delay the game imensely, if you had to review every close pitch. I had a call reversed in a NCAA Regional game at Ole Miss University in Oxford, Mississippi. It was a close call that could have gone either way, I called the runner out at second on an attempted steal play. After a lengthy review, the call was reversed to safe. I didn't feel too bad as I knew the call was reviewed and corrected. I'd feel bad if multiple calls in a game were corrected from my original call.

7) Money

The current salaries for MLB umpires are between $110,000 to $432,800 a year.
Minor league salaries are from $2000/$2300.00 a month at the lower levels and up to $3900.00 a month at the Triple - A level.
A season is about 5 1/2 months

College umpires: It usually depends on the conference. A bigger more competitive conference will pay better than the less competitive conferences e.g. SEC or PAC12

Also depending on a tier system, one can earn from $10,000 to $36,000.00 at the NCAA level.

Pension plans are usually just at the Major League level.

8) Advise the kids

I would offer this advice for male or females interested in umpiring, at the pro level. You have to have a great eye and sense of the rules. You should be impartial and confident in your ability and willing to learn every day. It's a job that relies on you to be 100% honest and fair. Travel has been my most rewarding part of the job. I've had the privilege to work in Japan, Taiwan, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Cuba, Mexico, Canada and all over the U.S. including Hawaii. I would pick a certain sport, for those interested, then start at the lowest level of officiating or umpiring and advance as far as your ability allows you.