Umpire in Baseball: What Does MLB Umpires Do?

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In the world of Major League Baseball (MLB), the umpire is an integral figure who ensures the game runs smoothly and fairly. Umpires are the arbiters of the game, entrusted with enforcing the rules and maintaining the integrity of the sport. Their decisions can significantly influence the trajectory of a match, making their role of utmost importance. This article delves into the various responsibilities of MLB umpires, illuminating the diverse dimensions of their job and their impact on America’s favorite pastime.

What is an umpire in baseball?

An umpire in baseball is a game official who enforces the rules of the sport. They play a vital role in overseeing the conduct of the game, making decisions on plays, and imposing penalties. Umpires make certain that both teams adhere to the regulations, ensuring fair competition. They are the final authority on all judgments, including whether a run is scored, a player is out, or a pitch is a strike or a ball.

Just like referees in other sports, umpires in baseball are responsible for interpreting and enforcing the rules of the game. They have the authority to make judgment calls on plays, similar to a football referee making a call on a foul or an offside. An umpire’s decision can significantly influence the flow of the game, much like a basketball referee calling a penalty shot or ejecting a player. This parallel extends to various aspects of game regulation, including maintaining player discipline and ensuring a respectful game environment. Thus, while the terminology might differ, the fundamental role of an umpire in baseball mirrors that of a referee in other sports.

What does an umpire do in baseball?

In baseball, an umpire has several crucial duties that contribute to the smooth operation of the game. They verify that the equipment used in the game, such as the bats and balls, comply with Major League Baseball (MLB) standards. Before the game, umpires meet with team managers to exchange lineup cards and discuss ground rules.

During the game, the umpire’s decisions are pivotal in determining the outcome of the match. They call each pitch as a ball or a strike and rule on fair and foul balls. Umpires must accurately judge if a runner is safe or out and interpret and enforce the complex rules of baseball.

In especially contentious situations, the umpire has the power to eject players, coaches, or managers who violate rules or show unsportsmanlike conduct. They also have the authority to suspend play due to weather conditions.

Beyond these in-game duties, umpires also contribute to post-game responsibilities. They must report any ejections, balks, or unusual occurrences to the MLB office. Thus, the role of an umpire extends from maintaining fairness and order during gameplay to upholding the integrity of the sport overall.

A vivid illustration of the umpire’s role in baseball can be found in an incident from 1983, popularly referred to as the “Pine Tar Incident”. This took place during an American League game held at the Yankee Stadium on July 24, 1983, where the Kansas City Royals clashed against the New York Yankees. In the ninth inning, trailing by a margin of one run, George Brett of the Royals hit a two-run home run, apparently tipping the game in favor of the Royals. However, Billy Martin, the Yankees manager, called the umpires’ attention to the excessive amount of pine tar on Brett’s bat.

After inspection, the umpires concluded that the pine tar on the bat indeed exceeded the permissible limit, thus negating Brett’s home run and declaring him out. This decision, effectively declaring the Yankees as the winning team, led to a protest from the Royals. The appeal was later reviewed and upheld by the American League president, Lee MacPhail. The game resumed from the point of Brett’s home run, almost a month later on August 18, and concluded with a victorious Royals team leading with a score of 5-4. This incident underscores the power and pivotal role of an umpire in enforcing rules and regulating games in baseball.


The role of umpires in baseball goes beyond just enforcing gameplay rules; they hold a significant responsibility in upholding the integrity and spirit of the sport. Their decisions, as demonstrated in the “Pine Tar Incident”, can drastically impact the course and outcome of the game. The incident highlights not only the importance of an umpire’s acute awareness and understanding of the game’s rules but also their unwavering commitment to fair play. Despite the initial controversy, the decision taken by the umpires led to a fair conclusion of the game, further emphasizing their vital role. Thus, umpires remain the unsung heroes of baseball, ensuring the sport remains true to its principles and continues to captivate audiences worldwide.

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James Arnold
I'm James, and I live in Stanislaus County, California. I'm playing Baseball for many years, and I love this sport so much that I also encourage my kids (Danny and Sara) to play Baseball & Softball.