Driving from one city to the next for games, umpiring entire homestands, even staying at team hotels. Those are just a few of the things under contemplation for umpires as Major League Baseball works toward restarting, according to sources familiar with the discussions.
And like the players, umpires need another round of spring training to prepare for the upcoming 60-game season. A crew of three will report to each summer league camp on July 10. After passing COVID-19 testing, they’ll work live bullpen sessions and intrasquad games, culminating in a few regional-based exhibition contests featuring the six umpires who have been embedded with the two teams.
Once the season begins, umpires will still have to travel the country but perhaps at a reduced rate than normal. Usually, a crew works a series then moves on, making sure they rotate around the league so as not to grow grudges based on the same teams seeing the same umpires all the time. Now, if the schedule permits, that umpiring crew might stay for a team’s entire homestand, helping reduce travel.
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If umpires are in a two-team city, such as Chicago and New York, or in the Los Angeles/Anaheim area or San Francisco and Oakland, they might bounce from one park to the other. Perhaps, after working a series in Los Angeles, they’ll drive the hour down to Anaheim — or the five up to the Bay Area.
Safety is of utmost importance to a group that is naturally at higher risk simply due to age. An opt-out, with pay, for higher risked individuals is still being worked out but there will be a mechanism in place if an umpire can’t work for health concerns. Unlike players, MLB umpires are paid year-round, so they have received 4 1/2 months of their salary already — through May 15. MLB will try to staff taxi squads with three minor league umpires at alternate sites — but close enough to the major league parks if they are called into action due to illness or injury to a regular umpire. Also, a higher risk is working inside in the replay room in New York. Every crew normally rotates in there a couple times per year.
In discussion is whether they will wear face coverings underneath their masks behind home plate. Outdoor temperatures in July and August, especially, may not be conducive to wearing a mask under a mask. Those face coverings will be encouraged but not required. Umpires will go through COVID-19 testing just like Tier 1 players and coaches.
There won’t be much in the way of on-field arguments, at least not face-to-face, which has been a staple for the game for as long as anyone can remember. With no fans in the stands, umpires will be able to hear everything from the dugout, so reduced trolling might be in order. And lineup changes will most likely be yelled from a distance, to keep managers and umpires socially distanced from each other.