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Optimum Performance: Why major-league umpires should be considered athletes

First base umpire Quinn Wolcott signals a home run after reviewing the instant replay on a Texas Rangers' Donnie Murphy 3-run home run in the second inning of a spring exhibition baseball game against the Quintana Roo Tigres, of Mexico, Thursday, March 27, 2014, in Arlington, Texas. Wolcott and the rest of the officials used instant replay to determine if the ball cleared the fence. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) (Tony Gutierrez)

First base umpire Quinn Wolcott signals a home run after reviewing the instant replay on a Texas Rangers’ Donnie Murphy 3-run home run in the second inning of a spring exhibition baseball game against the Quintana Roo Tigres, of Mexico, Thursday, March 27, 2014, in Arlington, Texas. Wolcott and the rest of the officials used instant replay to determine if the ball cleared the fence. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) (Tony Gutierrez)

First base umpire Quinn Wolcott signals a home run after reviewing the instant replay on a Texas Rangers’ Donnie Murphy 3-run home run in the second inning of a spring exhibition baseball game against the Quintana Roo Tigres, of Mexico, Thursday, March 27, 2014, in Arlington, Texas. Wolcott and the rest of the officials used instant replay to determine if the ball cleared the fence. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) (Tony Gutierrez)

Scottsdale, Arizona — In 1996, Major League umpire John McSherry collapsed behind home plate at Riverfront Stadium early in a Cincinnati Reds game and died. As a result, Major League Baseball made a decision to form Umpire Medical Services (UMS) and selected my colleague, Mark Letendre, A.T,C, as its director.

I previously had worked with Letendre — who was the former head athletic trainer for the San Francisco Giants, when I was the Giants’ performance conditioning and nutrition consultant from 1989 to 1999.

Letendre brought me on board with UMS to develop and implement the positive lifestyle enhancement programs, which all MLB umpires have access to both on-line and in person, when they visit my Corporate Performance and Lifestyle Enhancement program at St. Charles Parish Hospital. Currently, we are rehabbing a minor league umpire from an ankle injury.

Recently 76 Major League umpires reported to the 16th annual Major League Baseball Umpire Retreat. It’s the only time annually where all MLB umpires will be in the same location.

The umpires were given medical examinations with appropriate follow-up care, eye screening, physical therapy evaluations, dietary counseling by dietitian Jodie Muhleisen, orthopedic and podiatric screening, uniform procurement, strike zone and rule updates, and on-field testing coordinated by me.

With the help of my team members, all MLB umpires must successfully pass two field tests: the Home Plate Assessment (no gear) and a Timed Functional Activity (Running Matrix), which we administer on an Arizona Diamondbacks’ baseball field that is lined and with the bases in place.

For the Home Plate Assessment, each umpire must perform eighteen sets of 16 “squats” — defined as, “The umpire’s normal ball/strike stance behind home plate.” Each squat must be performed with no more than 30 seconds rest between repetitions and not more than two minutes and five seconds of rest between sets.

To give you the justification for this test, in 2013, the “squat crown” went to umpire Brian Knight, a six-year veteran. Knight had a total of 10,950 squats — averaging 304.2 pitches per game in his 36 plate assignments that year.

In 2013, the total squats by all home plate umpires were 720,614 — with an average of 291.9 pitches per major league game. It’s easy to see where potential non-contact injuries can occur — to the legs and back.

As for the Timed Functional Activity (Running Matrix), each umpire must successfully perform six game simulation events (behind home plate, on the bases, and in the infield/outfield) in a total time of 256 seconds (including any rest). For instance, an umpire behind home plate must move up the line to cover a play at third base. And, do the same maneuver for first base.

From an in-field perspective, an umpire must curl in from his position behind first base and cover a play at second base to demonstrate his dexterity and technique. From his position behind second base, an umpire must check an outfield fly ball then curl in to make a call back at second base.

In 2014, MLB announced expanded instant replay. The change allowed managers to have at least one challenge to use in each game. If any portion of a challenged play is overturned, then the manager who challenged the play will retain ability to challenge one more play during the game.

No manager may challenge more than two plays during the game. After the seventh inning, if a manager has exhausted all his challenges, the Crew Chief has the option to, “Invoke instant replay on any reviewable call.”

Hunter Wendelstedt, a 17-year veteran MLB umpire, who resides in Madisonville, La., commented that the, “Replay is an extension of the crew on the field.” Wendelstedt, who’s father — Harry Wendelstedt — was a 33- year MLB umpire, also said “We as umpires only have two high definition eyes. With replay, we add a minimum of 12 more high-def looks per game for each play.”

Now, seeing is truly believing.

Mackie Shilstone, a regular contributor to NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune, has been involved in the wellness sports performance industry for nearly 40 years. He is currently the fitness coach for Serena Williams and has trained numerous other professional athletes and consulted a litany of professional sports franchises. Contact him at mackieshilstone.com

Link: Nola.com