Main-League Umpiring in the course of the Pandemic of 2020


Picture credit score: Chris Guccione

L to R: Chris Guccione, Todd Tichenor, Gerry Meals, Laz Diaz, Marvin Hudson, and Mark Carlson in the course of the 2020 World Collection. The “56” patch was in honor of umpire Eric Cooper.
This text is dropped at you by a partnership between Baseball Prospectus and the Pandemic Baseball E book Membership, a collective of baseball authors targeted on the precept of cooperation over competitors. Take a look at their conversations about baseball books and far more at, and on Twitter at @pandemicbaseba1.
Final yr, 57 main league baseball gamers got here down with COVID in the course of the season, culminating with Justin Turner within the closing recreation of the World Collection.
Not a single umpire examined constructive.
How that occurred was because of a litany of security protocols which have by and enormous gone unnoticed by most people, few of which had been simple however all of which labored—and a few of which could result in lasting adjustments.
A lot of the new guidelines are acquainted by now: social distancing, masks sporting, frequent washing of arms. These had been the easy ones. To reduce journey, umpires had been divided into three regional groupings—East, Central and West, corresponding with baseball’s divisions—primarily based on the place they lived. A West Coast umpire didn’t journey additional east than Houston.
In regular years, umpires rotate after a single sequence, normally three or 4 video games, scrambling after the finale to make a business flight to their subsequent task. In 2020, to attenuate publicity, they caught round for complete homestands. For shorter journeys, umpires traveled by van, as a bunch, and for longer journeys they hopped on workforce charters. For the primary time, umpires’ rooms had been booked for them in workforce resorts, with baseball personnel taking up devoted flooring to attenuate interplay with different company. “It was the best journey I’ve ever finished in my complete baseball profession,” mentioned Chris Guccione, who over his 20 years as a giant league ump had by no means been on a workforce airplane.
After all, luxurious journey throughout a pandemic remains to be removed from regular, no side extra so than eating. Eating places had been out of the query, and even room service was off-limits, as was selecting up one’s personal takeout. “We principally lived off of Uber Eats, GrubHub and Postmates,” mentioned Guccione.
Testing, testing, testing
With a single constructive COVID check capable of wipe out a whole homestand or extra, well being updates had been at a premium.
“Each morning once we awakened, we used an app known as Edge10, which gave us 20 inquiries to reply,” mentioned umpire Dan Iassogna, chair of a collaborative Well being and Wellness Committee inside Main League Baseball. “You’d take your temperature twice, and log that in. If there was something irregular, our medical director would name us instantly. Once we bought to the ballpark, we had one other screening. They might take our temperature on non-testing days, once we weren’t doing our PCR [polymerase chain reaction] testing. Lastly, we had been allowed to enter the ballpark and go to work.” Testing days for umpires had been Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, identical because the gamers.
Umpire services various at completely different ballparks. These with small dressing quarters supplied convention rooms or auxiliary locker rooms to insure ample spacing. At Fenway Park, they put in full-size soda machines in entrance of each different locker as a bodily barrier between occupants. Umpire crews would bathe sequentially after video games, with the stall cleaned and disinfected between every use. Gone was the communal area usually used to calm down throughout downtime. “I don’t suppose we touched a deck of playing cards your complete yr,” mentioned Guccione.
As a result of work assignments had been organized regionally, week-long postings to work on the Replay Operations Middle in New York Metropolis had been reserved for many who had been assigned to the East and typically Central divisions. As a result of that work is carried out indoors, protocols had been developed to maximise distance and security, beginning with obligatory N-95 masks within the constructing always. As a substitute of a number of folks—umpires, technicians and administrators—gathered in a single area, umpires had been sequestered into particular person convention rooms on the new 1271 Sixth Ave. location.
“Usually with a replay, a director would come over and say, ‘OK, give him digital camera two, give him digital camera three, give him low dwelling, excessive dwelling …’ and also you’d stroll via it that manner,” mentioned Iassogna. “[In 2020] you’d put the headsets on and speak to the crew on the sphere. Then you definately’d hit one other button in your headset, and now you’re speaking to the technician, you’re speaking to the director. ‘OK, right here’s your angle.’ It took a bit getting used to, however it labored. Not one of the umpires bought sick.”
Previous locations, new faces
Not all 76 umpires on the major-league employees labored the season. A dozen opted out, citing superior age or underlying well being situations. Two had spouses in chemotherapy. That, mixed with quite a few umpires lacking vital time as a consequence of damage, opened alternatives for a report 18 main league umpiring debuts—a element with its personal issues and penalties.
With no minor league baseball being performed, every workforce fielded a 60-player pool, plus an extra 30-plus emergency gamers, from which to attract for his or her common roster. The websites the place they labored out had been additionally dwelling to a substantial variety of Triple-A umpires—12 first-line designees and 19 others—who, just like the gamers alongside them, had been hoping for a call-up. Circumstances pushed the standard timeline, with some umpires gaining main league eligibility earlier than they’d even labored massive league spring coaching or the Arizona Fall League. For the primary time, umpires wore uniform numbers with triple digits. All 31 of the designated minor league umps noticed major-league motion in 2020.
On a number of events, Iassogna had two Triple-A umpires on his crew, and as soon as—the primary recreation of a Sept. eight doubleheader in Philadelphia—he labored with three Triple-A umpires. “These guys did a incredible job for by no means having labored within the massive leagues earlier than,” he mentioned. “You might grasp a star on them. To do what they did, with out seeing a big-league pitch earlier than … I’m unbelievably happy with these guys.”
Chris Guccione in Denver boarding a constitution flight with the Rockies heading to Texas for the Spring exhibition video games. Picture credit score: Chris Guccione.
Postseason priorities
The ultimate three rounds of the expanded 16-team 2020 postseason had been held at neutral-site “bubble” places, with every day COVID-19 testing for all members, together with umpires. Quarantine restricted their actions to resorts and ballparks. Even gamers who lived in these cities had been required to remain in designated resorts.
Throughout the World Collection, along with the seven common discipline umpires (six who labored the sport and one who stayed within the locker room in case of damage), 4 reserve umps—Iassogna, Ted Barrett, Chris Conroy and Jim Reynolds—remained on the resort. They didn’t combine with the others, successfully making a bubble inside the bubble.
“We’re used to a nomadic life-style, however there’s nonetheless the depth of doing the job,” mentioned Iassogna. “You have got to have the ability to have some downtime to decompress, and the one guys you are able to do that with are the blokes who know what you’re going via—your crew.”
Even in regular years umpires are separated from gamers and assist employees, with their given crew as a major supply of companionship. Even that a lot was waylaid by the pandemic. “It was miserable a bit bit,” mentioned Barrett. “Once we went to Seattle and San Francisco, these vibrant cities had been boarded up with nowhere to go.” Crews steadily ended up divided and alone of their resort rooms during a visit. They may go for socially distanced walks collectively, however indoor exercise was uncommon. “If anyone had a balcony on their room, that was golden,” mentioned Iassogna. “You might have two folks within the room and two folks out on the balcony. You want that human interplay.”
Underlying all of it was COVID concern. Each umpire was conscious of their predecessor—major-league umpire Silk O’Loughlin—who died in the course of the pandemic of 1918. Barrett has a doctorate from Trinity College, and wrote a dissertation detailing the customarily personal struggles umpires face amid their work setting. The season was a problem, he mentioned, however any consideration of breaking protocols within the title of psychological well being was subsumed by a single thought: “We don’t wish to be those that shut this down.” With solely 60 video games as a substitute of 162, the sunshine on the finish of the tunnel didn’t appear so distant.
At Barrett’s suggestion, MLB employed Dr. Joel Fish, who had finished comparable work for the NBA, to current health-and-safety seminars for umpires and associated employees.
Chris Guccione on the left and Todd Tichenor on the appropriate after Recreation Six of the World Collection. Picture credit score: Chris Guccione.
Even at a distance, in some methods the umpiring neighborhood grew nearer than ever. With prorated salaries, most umpires earned significantly lower than standard, so the union created a monetary pool to assist those that missed out on postseason assignments, constructing uniformity throughout seasonal wages unbiased of whether or not one labored the playoffs. “I used to be happy with our guys,” mentioned Barrett. “We got here collectively to assist the younger guys out.”
The dearth of a constructive COVID check amongst umpires constructed confidence amongst their ranks about ongoing protocols. The following part contains assessing whether or not any of these adjustments—permitting umpires onto workforce charters, maintaining them in the identical metropolis for complete homestands, integrating postseason alternates—would possibly endure previous the pandemic.
“Baseball did an unbelievable job,” mentioned Guccione. “I can’t think about the brainwork concerned in attempting to arrange all this. There have been so many shifting elements. We wished to comply with the principles and take it severely. We didn’t wish to be a part of a doable downside. At first, I assumed it was going to be laborious, however actually, it was a enjoyable yr. We had a good time, even with all this happening.”

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