Nearly a dozen Major League Baseball umpires are opting out of the 2020 season due to worries over the COVID-19 pandemic, according to reporting by Jon Heyman of the MLB Network.
The league and MLB umpires reached an agreement that allows umps to opt out and still receive their pay for the season if they’re part of an at-risk group due to age, pre-existing health issues, or other factors. Several MLB players have also chosen not to play this season due to the pandemic.
Minor League Umpires Could Fill in the Gaps
That same deal guarantees 37.5% of full-season pay to MLB umpires if at least one regular-season game is played in 2020. MLB has scheduled Opening Night for July 23.
Sources: 11 Major League umpires have opted out or decided not to participate. Some are said to have family members who are ill.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) July 14, 2020
According to Heyman’s report, some umpires decided to opt out of the season because they have family members battling illness.
According to ESPN.com, MLB employs 76 full-time umpires, while an MLB.com list includes 91 umps in total. The loss of 11 will leave the league with little margin for error, as it plans to utilize 19 full umpiring crews during the season.
That likely means the league will call up minor league umpires to fill in during the season. Replacements should be readily available, as Minor League Baseball canceled its 2020 season.
Joe West Ready to Work Through Pandemic
One of the oldest MLB umpires has decided he will participate in the shortened season. Veteran, 67-year-old Joe West told The Athletic last week that he will umpire this year despite the fact that he is considered high-risk. His comments include skepticism about the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I don’t believe in my heart that all these deaths have been from the coronavirus,” West told The Athletic. “I believe it may have contributed to some of the deaths. I said, ‘I’m not going to opt out. I’m going to work. And I’m going to work until you take me off the field or I get hurt, whatever. I’m working.’”
The Major League Baseball Umpires Association distanced itself from West’s comments in a statement released last Thursday.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) July 9, 2020
“Recent public comments about the current coronavirus pandemic do not in any way reflect the position of the Major League Baseball Umpires Association,” the MLBUA statement said. “Regardless of any umpire’s personal views, when we report for a resumed spring training and 2020 season, we will conduct ourselves as professionals and in accordance with the health and safety protocols.”
After extensive negotiation between Major League Baseball and the MLBPA, the two sides were unable to agree on a plan to restart the 2020 season. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred instead implemented a 60-game schedule, an option available to him under a March agreement between the two sides.
MLB has not announced which umpires are opting out of the season, nor has it revealed how the altered schedule will impact umpiring crews. Teams will only play opponents in their division and those in the same division in the other league. Though all teams will play in their home stadiums, if possible, this plan will limit travel during the regular season.