“The United States is a nation of laws, not of men,” the saying goes. At the same time, the nation needs people to enforce the laws, like peace officers and judges. Baseball is no different from larger society, which is why there are umpires. Umpires do not make the laws, but they exercise considerable power in enforcing them, functioning as police officer, judge, and jury. For carrying out this difficult job, they are ignored, often reviled, even hated. “Kill the umpire!” is the old refrain.
In the beginning, umpires were selected from the crowd or from among the players in keeping with the amateur spirit of the early game. The professional umpire came into being with the National League in the late 1870s, when umpires were paid $5 per game. In 1882, the American Association established a salary of $140 per month; the league also established a uniform of blue caps and coats for umpires. One umpire handled the entire game, stationing himself well behind home plate. Sometimes he would seek the advice of fans to determine difficult calls in the outer reaches of the field. Utilizing two umpires first occurred for the postseason series between National League and American Association
An American League umpire pickets in front of a
baseball park during a spring training game in
Florida, April 1995. (Andy Lyons/Allsport)