UMPIRES & REFEREES
What could possibly possess someone to want to be a sports official, say a baseball umpire or a basketball referee? Or anyone who officiates at a sporting event? Well in a minute I will tell you why.
Three of my good friends Tom Meeks, Roy Steele and Mark Masariu were sports officials. Tom basketball and football, Mark baseball, basketball, football, Roy baseball and volleyball. Tom and Mark in Indiana for many years and Roy in Texas. Not the easiest places in which to put on a stripped shirt or a chest protector. In fact that is how I first met Tom Meeks as he was officiating a basketball game at a school where I was coaching. Story for another time.
Why would any of these three leave a comfortable warm home thirty-forty plus times a year. In Indiana that could often be on a cold, rainy, sleet, snowy evening with temperatures near zero or below. Then they drive a long distant in terrible conditions arriving at a distant location and dress in cramp quarters. For the next couple hours they run up and down a floor in an overheated gym along with having their ancestry question by many who have no conception of the game let alone the rules.
Tom often was paid a grand sum of $35 to officiate not one but two basketball games, the JV game and then the varsity game. The school’s AD told him “You can bring someone with you to work the JV game but you will have to pay him out of that $35.” I guess one of the fringe benefits might be the free hot dog and coke one might and I said might get at halftime. Maybe even a free bag of popcorn as they leave for the evening. Note: One of the highlights might be if the band was having a chili supper,after the game was over one could grab a cup of coffee and a piece of homemade pie. The evening not a total bust.
This thinking about sports officials was prompted as recently I sat in the afternoon sun at a minor league baseball game here in Nashville. The Nashville Sounds are a Triple AAA affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers. I often go to a game, I could just sit, watch and let the world roll by. But I got to thinking about the guys in blue that afternoon, the baseball umpires. The beginning salary for a minor league umpire is $1800-1900 a month. If a umpire makes it to the highest level in minor league ball that is Triple AAA his top salary would be $3500 a month. The minimum salary for a major league umpire is $90,000.The minimum salary for a major league baseball player is around $500,000 a year.
In John Feinstein’s new book, Where Nobody Knows Your Name, he speaks of thirty year old Mark Lollo. In 2013 Lollo began his eleventh year as a minor league umpire. He began his career much as a player does starting in lower leagues and making his way up to where this would be his fourth season in Triple AAA baseball. That is one league away from the majors. Lollo’s salary was $3200 a month along with his $48 a day-per-diem he received. He was responsible for all of his expenses he incurred doing his job. In his eleven years he had been off only two weeks at the birth of his son and two days to attend the funeral of a close relative.
Why, why would my friends Mark, Tom, Roy along Mark Lollo go through what would often appear to many people as “it’s not worth it”? Major reason is not only do players, coaches and fans love a particular sport but how else can you explain why an official does what they do, one reason, because they also love the game as much as anyone else.
The next time you are inclined to think the official is “blind, lame, stupid and or feeble” you might cut him just a bit of slack he sure aint gettin’ rich doin’ it. So stayed seated and think twice before you shout out something to the folks officiating the game.
=============================================================August, 23, 2016