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Optimum Performance: Getting MLB umpires prepared for the rigors of the season |

MLB Umpires

Scottsdale, Ariz. – For the past 15 years, all 68 Major League Baseball umpires have participated in the Umpire Retreat, a three-day event that provides them with appropriate medical screening, on-field functional testing (my role), uniform and equipment procurement, nutritional counseling (my nutritionist), strike zone updates and now instant replay rule changes, among other pertinent game-related issues.

Having spent 10 years (1989-99) in the “big leagues” as the San Francisco Giants’ performance conditioning and nutrition consultant, I was quite aware of what it took to play at the major league level. Working now for 15 years with MLB umpires, I have a new appreciation as to what these “industrial athletes” must do to be correct on their calls 99 percent of the time.

Umpire Medical Services, a division of the Office of the Commissioner of Major League Baseball, came into existence as a result of the death of umpire John McSherry in 1996 on opening day in Cincinnati. McSherry succumbed to a massive heart attack behind home plate seven pitches into the game before stunned fans in attendance, not to mention the millions watching on television.

Since that time, I have worked with a team of medical experts, under the direction of Mark Letendre, the director of Umpire Medical Services, to develop the umpire in-season/offseason functional training protocols and a nutritional support system.

On the second day of the retreat, my team tests each umpire with a two-phase on-field Functional Assessment.

Phase 1, The Running Matrix: This is a timed activity in which the umpire must complete six game-simulation events around the infield and outfield. For instance, the umpire must line up behind home plate and move up the line to cover a play at third base. Another maneuver has the first base umpire covering a play at second.

Phase 2, The Plate Assessment: This requires the umpire to perform 18 sets of 16 squats (an umpire’s normal stance behind home plate) within a prescribed period of time. Each umpire must pass these two assessments in order to work games the coming season.

In 2012, the total number of squats performed by all home plate umpires was 716,257. The average number of squats by full-time umpires was 8,427, with Gary Darling having a high of 11,216. Darling averaged 295 pitches per game in his 38 plate assignments. Try that on your knees some time and see why functional fitness is a necessity for MLB umpires.

Recently MLB players, owners, and umpires approved a new instant replay system, which allows each manager to challenge at least one call per game. If the manager is successful, he gets another challenge. After the seventh inning, the umpire crew chief can request a review if the manager has used up his challenge.

This is what not will be reviewed: ball and strike calls, check swings, foul tips, obstruction and interference rulings, which still fall to the umpire’s judgment. The reviews will be handled by umpires at’s replay center in New York. MLB hired six new big-league umpires and called up two minor-league umpires (as reserves) to increase their ranks.

Joe West, president of the World Umpires Association and a 37-year MLB umpire, said, “Through a joint effort with the Office of the Commissioner and with the help from the players association, we (the union) agreed that in the best interest of baseball, the instant replay will have a very positive effect on the national pastime. The instant replay is a tool that will increase the accuracy of umpire calls if challenged.”

West should know, since he has participated in 4,559 major league and 100 playoff games.

Time to “Play ball!”

via Optimum Performance: Getting MLB umpires prepared for the rigors of the season |