Young baseball fans often dream of playing shortstop for their favorite Major-League teams. Chicago Cubs. However, for 11-year-old Vincent Stio, this dream is trivial. Instead, Vincent wants to be where the real action is, behind home plate calling balls and strikes.
“Umpires actually get to call the game, which is more fun,” said Stio in a phone interview from his home in Raleigh, North Carolina. “When you’re a hitter, you only get a few chances to bat or field.”
Even though he’s still a kid, Vincent understands that umpires are involved in a lot more action than the average Major League ballplayer. For example, Nick Markakis, the Gold Glove winning outfielder for the Atlanta Braves, played in every game last season, seeing 313 chances in the field while logging 705 at-bats. According to a Boston University study, Major League umpires call over 4,000 balls and strikes on average over the course of an entire season.
This is why Vincent can often be spotted in full umpire’s attire recording punchouts, walks, and double-switches at local Carolina Mudcats games.
While it’s well-documented that making it to the major leagues is a cutthroat process for aspiring ballplayers, Stio must endure a similarly competitive process if he wants to be one of MLB’s next generation of umpires.
With 750 MLB roster spots and only 76 MLB umpires, veteran umpire CB Bucknor attests that, “the odds are definitely slimmer to make it to the major leagues as an umpire.”
This path begins in umpiring school, where each aspiring umpire is competing against approximately 400 others for a chance to be selected by Major League Basebal to begin officiating in the minor leagues, according to MLB umpire Fieldin Culbreth.
Of these 400, less than one percent of umpires are selected. To put this into perspective, 4.3 percent of applicants were admitted to Stanford University in 2018, which according to Stanford, is the lowest admissions percentage in the U.S.
Once selected, each umpire must make their way through the minor leagues, a process which often takes years due to the low turnover rates of umpires at the major league level. However, if one makes it to Triple-A, Bucknor says their odds drastically improve.
“Over the next four of five years, there’s going to be a lot of turnover with people retiring. So if you’re a Triple-A umpire knocking on the door, there’s going to be a lot of jobs for you,” said Bucknor.
With umpires such as Joe West and Gary Sederstrom well into their sixties, a changing of the guard is approaching. Regardless, if you’re a young person thinking about paying the $2,450 admission cost to the Wendelstedt Umpire School, which is one of the few Major League Baseball umpiring schools in the country, the costs appear to heavily outweigh the unlikely odds of one day officiating Major League games.
Although Stio still has many years to officially decide on financially committing to a career in umpiring, he has already had the chance to shadow major league umpires, and he’s convinced this is the life for him.
“Not many people think ‘Oh I want to be an umpire,’ so I want to be brave and prove people wrong,” said Stio.