Why Are Baseball Umpires Called Blue?

Baseball is a sport of traditions.  If you are attending or watching a baseball game, you may hear the home-plate umpire referred to as “Blue”.  Why are baseball umpires called blue?

Baseball umpires are called “Blue” due to the blue color of uniform that they wear throughout many competitive levels of the sport.  Because this is commonplace in the sport, even umpires not wearing the color blue will be referred to as “Blue”. 

Some umpires take exception to being called by this name and prefer instead to be referred to as “Ump” or by their actual names.  On the professional level, most umpires are known by name by the players.  This leads to less use of terms like “Blue” on the professional level by players.

Fans do not know umpires by name on any level of the sport, so hearing fans use the term “Blue” is very common.

Let’s take a deeper dive into why baseball umpires are called blue and also examine what it takes to be a professional umpire.

Why Are Baseball Umpires Called Blue?

Color of Umpire Uniforms

From youth baseball all the way up to minor league baseball umpires wear blue uniforms.  The color of these uniforms is usually a light, sky blue color, but may also be more of a dark, navy blue.

In Major League Baseball, umpire crews often wear black shirts with charcoal gray pants, although light blue shirts are worn occasionally.  In cold weather, umpire coats are typically black but may have blue highlighting mixed in also.

Umpire Names

Another reason baseball umpires are often called “blue” is they do not have names on their jerseys. At the professional level, players and coaches know umpires by name due to familiarity.  Youth baseball is not the same.

In youth and pee wee baseball, umpires are not full-time employees.   Umpires travel from league to league and field to field and rarely develop first-name rapport with coaches and players.

Even if they did, fans do not know the names of umpires.  This means when players, coaches, or fans argue or question umpires they do so without knowing the umpire’s name.  This opens the door for the term “Blue” to be used in reference to an umpire.

Which Umpire is “Blue” Referring To?

When a player, coach, or fan yells “Blue” they are more often than not directing it at the home plate umpire.

In baseball there are anywhere from 2-4 umpires on the field at the same time.  Major League Baseball games have umpires positioned at each of the four bases.  There may be occasions where the term “Blue” is directed at an umpire not working home plate, but because the home-plate umpire gets the most action during a game, he or she also receives the most interaction from players, coaches, and fans.

Another Nickname for Baseball Umpires

“Blue” is the most popular nickname for baseball umpires but you will also hear them referred to simply as “Ump”.  As we discussed earlier, the term “Blue” may be somewhat offensive to serious baseball umpires as it tends to be the common term used by heckling fans.

The term “Blue” in baseball is similar in tone to the usage of the term “Zebra” when engaging a basketball referee.  Both are delivered with a hint of disrespect and can affect mixed reactions from umpires and referees.

Players and coaches who do not know the umpire by name will likely choose to use the term “Ump” instead of “Blue”.

Other Nicknames in Baseball

Baseball Managers

In baseball, the head coach in the dugout is referred to as the manager.  Other position coaches are referred to as coaches.  Baseball managers are referred to sometimes as “Skipper”, or “Skip” for short.  Unlike the term “Blue” for umpires, “Skip” is usually delivered as a respectful affectionate name that a player will call his own manager.

Baseball Players

Baseball player nicknames often depend on their playing position.  Several generic nicknames can apply to baseball players.  The team’s best starting pitcher is sometimes referred to as “Ace”.  A team’s best hitter may at times be referred to as “Slugger”.  Veteran players are sometimes referred to in short as “Vets”.

Again, those are generic nicknames.  Most nicknames in professional baseball derive from the personal characteristics and qualities of the player himself and are not generic.

How To Become A Major League Umpire

Major League Umpires are experienced professionals that have spent many years perfecting and practicing their craft.

All Major League umpires had to first attend a professional umpire training school.  Umpire school usually only lasts for a month or two, but then the long journey begins.

Most Major League umpires spend 7-10 years working minor league baseball before they are even considered for a Major League umpiring position.  Unfortunately, it is very hard for umpires to ever reach the Major League level.  There are only 68 Major League umpires versus 225 in the minor leagues.

This difficult journey for umpires helps protect the integrity of the game of baseball and assures that only the best and most qualified umpires reach the Major League ranks.

Is Baseball Umpiring Difficult?

Even though it may look easy from the stands or from a television, baseball umpiring can be incredibly difficult and challenging unless you have the right disposition for the job.

Umpires are subjected to heckling and arguing from players, coaches, and fans.  The game of baseball has taken strides over the years to protect umpires and to try and lessen the amount of on-the-field arguments during a baseball game.

In-game replay of crucial calls has also helped reduce the amount of disagreements between players and coaches versus umpires.   Instant replay became a part of Major League baseball in 2008 and was expanded in 2014 to cover much of what it covers still today.

One protection that is given to Major League umpires by the league is that umpires do not have to meet with the media after games to explain crucial calls.  This is a highly debated topic in professional baseball and many players and managers do not appreciate that players and managers are expected to stand in front of the media and explain themselves, but umpires are not.

Many players and coaches feel that umpires should be held accountable to the media for the decisions they make on the field.  Umpires are afforded the luxury of never answering tough questions for mistakes made during a game.  Players and coaches are not so lucky.

The Future of Baseball Umpiring

Every year as technology advances, the future of human umpiring in baseball (and most all sports) becomes more difficult to predict.

In present day, many players are of the opinion that electronic strike zones should be implemented to provide consistency for the game of baseball.  And with cameras able to cover every corner of a baseball field in high definition, some question why on-the-field umpires are needed.  Some suggest that only one or two on-the-field umpires are needed while a team of umpires can review calls instantly from cameras that can provide multiple angles of plays in slow motion.

Despite the advancement in technology, many traditionalists hate the idea of losing human umpires from the game of baseball.  The interaction between umpires and players and coaches is something that the game has known from its beginning.  Some experts fear that removing human personality from the game of baseball will make a slow sport even harder for some to pay attention to.

Likely, human umpires will never be fully removed from baseball.  And that is probably a good thing for the sport.

Paul Johnson

Paul has been with us from our beginnings. He focuses on a wide range of sports, including NFL, NBA, MLB and golf.

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