ST. LOUIS (BP)–Ted Barrett can thank his parents for making him an umpire.
He didn’t grow up with aspirations to be an umpire, but while in college he worked as an umpire for some high school baseball games. After graduating from Cal State Hayward, Barrett moved to Las Vegas, where he planned to be a professional boxer.
“My parents weren’t crazy about that,” Barrett said. “My dad always knew I was interested in umpiring.”
So Barrett’s father offered to pay for him to attend umpire school.
“I thought, it’s five weeks in Florida. I’ll do it,” said Barrett, who is working the National League Division Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the New York Mets. “I never really thought anything would come out of it.”
Umpire school is essentially a tryout. Of the 200-300 people who attend umpire school each year, only 40 advance to the advanced program run by Major League Baseball.
Of those 40, only about 15 actually get a job. Barrett was one of the few who did.
Like all umpires, Barrett started out at the lowest level of baseball -– rookie ball. No matter how good umpires are, they can’t skip a level like the players do. They spend time at each level working their way up.
Barrett ultimately made it to the big leagues in 1994 as a fill-in for umpires on vacation. He became a fulltime Major League umpire in 1999.
Major League Baseball has 17 umpiring crews, with four men on each crew. The hardest part of the job for Barrett is the travel –- a new city every three days.
“The teams, they have home games half the time,” Barrett said. “We have no home games. It’s just constant travel.”
During the season, the time away from his family is difficult for Barrett. He and his wife of 18 years, Tina, have three kids -– Andrew, 15, Amanda, 13, and Adam, 11.
“The best thing that ever happened to me was the cell phone, because they’re in constant communication,” Barrett said. “I’m learning to text my kids. That’s the new thing.”
Of the 26 weeks of the baseball season, Barrett works 22 of them. He gets four weeks of vacation, and sometimes his children will make trips with him while he’s working.
Umpiring, however, has its perks. Barrett was behind the plate for David Cone’s perfect game and for Greg Maddux’s 300th career win. He also was on the crew that handled the Sammy Sosa corked bat fiasco. In a poll Sports Illustrated conducted this year of 470 Major League players, Barrett was tied for third as the best umpire in the game.
Because he sees the game up close, he knows who the truly great players are. He tells his sons to watch certain players if they want to know how to be better players -– such as Darin Erstad.
“He’s hurt all the time, but that’s because he goes hard all the time,” Barrett said. “I respect the guys who play hard. I respect the guys who respect the game and respect their teammates.”