From The Archives: Jim Joyce, On What It's Like To Be A Major League Umpire : The Two-Way From an old interview by Melissa Block, with Jim Joyce.
NPR logo

From The Archives: Jim Joyce, On What It's Like To Be A Major League Umpire

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/114663875/127407107" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
From The Archives: Jim Joyce, On What It's Like To Be A Major League Umpire

From The Archives: Jim Joyce, On What It's Like To Be A Major League Umpire

Umpire Jim Joyce, officiating a Major League Baseball game in 2008. Otto Greule Jr./Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption
Otto Greule Jr./Getty Images

Umpire Jim Joyce, officiating a Major League Baseball game in 2008.

Otto Greule Jr./Getty Images

If we make a really great call, you never hear about it. But if we miss a call, everybody knows it, everybody knows it. So, the fun part of it is knowing that I'm right 96 percent of the time, maybe even higher. The thing about it is, is that they expect a hundred percent, and I know I can't do it. It's impossible.

-- Jim Joyce, Major League Baseball umpire, 1998, on NPR.

Joyce spoke those words to NPR's Melissa Block just after Mark McGwire matched the Major League Baseball home run record set by Roger Maris.

And when he uttered them, little did he know he would one day be responsible for one of the most infamous missed calls in baseball history, depriving Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga from notching that rare baseball achievement, a perfect game.

If you have a few minutes to spare, listen to the piece in full. It's wonderful.

At one point, Block highlights how each home plate umpire has his own way of calling strikes, describing it as "the semaphore of baseball." Joyce's call is especially distinctive. "Strike" is loud, drawn out.

"It's been a part of me for 21 years," he said.

From The Archives: Jim Joyce, On What It's Like To Be A Major League Umpire

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/114663875/127407107" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Back then, Joyce told Block that his worst night in baseball was when he had to eject five people from a game between the Baltimore Orioles and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

(It's safe to say last night might've changed things. But I think we can learn something from what Joyce said in that interview.)

It was his first year in the majors. A game-deciding call. And according to Joyce, he was right. He said he doesn't doubt it.

If we make a really great call, you never hear about it. But if we miss a call, everybody knows it, everybody knows it. So, the fun part of it is knowing that I'm right 96 percent of the time, maybe even higher. The thing about it is, is that they expect a hundred percent, and I know I can't do it. It's impossible.

Joyce said there is a lot of showmanship to the job. Above all else, an umpire has to convey authority and project certainty.

From The Archives: Jim Joyce, On What It's Like To Be A Major League Umpire

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/114663875/127406550" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

So, what rewards do Major League Baseball's umpires reap? Every day, they're spat on, yelled at, cursed and kicked. They're bruised by tipped foul balls.

Joyce told Block that it's an honor to witness historic moments, to be part of such a small club.

From The Archives: Jim Joyce, On What It's Like To Be A Major League Umpire

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/114663875/127406533" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">