This feature appeared in the Rogue River Press, an Oregon newspaper, in April 2003.
Moving through the ranks
Scott Letendre looking for move to Triple-A umpiring
By Ed M. Odeven
MESA, Ariz. — Like many folks, Scott Letendre visits the Grand Canyon State in March to enjoy the sunny weather and relax.
That’s precisely what he did for a few days recently, playing golf, seeing the sights and hanging out with his parents.
Then it was time to get to work. Mid-March signaled the start of another baseball season for the 27-year-old professional baseball umpire.
Letendre, a graduate of Rogue River High School, is beginning is seventh season as an ump. He just wrapped up a three-week stint working at the spring training home of the Chicago Cubs. Six minor-league umpires were on hand at the Cubs camp, working in their customary three-man crews and getting prepared for the upcoming season.
This season, Letendre expects to return to the Double-A Eastern League, but hopes he will be promoted to Triple-A, either working in the Pacific League or the International League.
Reflecting on his career, Letendre says it’s been a productive, rewarding one so far.
“I’ve had a couple good years,” he says, lounging on the third-base bleachers after a recent minor league game between the Cubs and Oakland A’s.
“I’ve moved up the ladder fairly fast as a young guy. Now I’ve kind of leveled out to where I am, and I’m three spots away from being promoted to Triple-A. So hopefully things will happen at the end of spring training or the beginning of the year and I’ll get called up to Triple-A.”
Thus, it’s not far-fetched to say this could be the year that Letendre makes the jump to Class AAA. Letendre points to recent history to support this notion.
“History has proven in the last seven, eight years there always seems to be two to three to four to five guys (that) move at the end of spring training,” he says. “There’s a rumor that a guy or two might hang (it) up in Triple-A. You never know what happens in the big leagues. A guy might get hurt. They might desire to hire up more guys, so I would imagine, I’m hoping, and of course I’m praying a little bit, that by the end of April I would be in Triple-A.”
What’s so important about getting to Triple-A?
“Ultimately, your first goal is to get to Triple-A, go to Triple-A, and once I get to Triple-A the big leagues supervise us,” he says.
The primary job of these supervisors is to conduct evaluations of the Triple-A umpires. These evaluations are done at random during the course of the 140-game season. Each umpire is evaluated nine times: three times behind home plate, three games at first base and three games at third.
This doesn’t leave much margin for error. And that is something, Letendre says, that umpires must be conscious of, and they must realize how important it is to do a quality job on a consistent basis.
“They just come when they come … so it’s not a lot when you think about it,” Letendre says.
According to Letendre, umpires generally get promoted to the big leagues when they are about 35. He turns 28 in May.
“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think I had a legitimate shot,” he says.
In other words, Letendre wants a chance to prove himself.
“If I go to Triple-A, I’ll get my look. That’s all you can ask for,” says Letendre, who before reaching the Eastern League in 2000, worked at the spring training camps of the Seattle Mariners and Cubs, in the Northwest League, the Midwestern League, and the California League, attended the Instructional League in Arizona, taught at the Jim Evans Professional Academy of Umpiring, etc.
“If you like me, give me the fall league (Arizona Fall League), give me big-league spring (training). If you don’t like me, tell me I’m not what you’re looking for in the big leagues and let me move on with my life.”
If he doesn’t fulfill his dream of making it to “The Show,” Letendre has other options, too. His life away from the baseball diamond is busy during the off-season. For the past two years, he’s worked at a mortgage broker in Mount Shasta, Calif., where he now resides. He’s also trained to sell living trusts and is thinking about getting an insurance license in the near future.
And, oh, he’s a basketball referee. Letendre officiates high school hoops in Northern California and Division III men’s basketball games, mostly in Oregon, Washington and Idaho. Some weeks, he’s working games six nights a week. It’s his hope to one day be a Pac-10 Conference official.
Running up and down the hardwood provides him with plenty of off-season exercise. He also likes to shoot hoops, play racquetball and golf.
The life of an ump
Billionaire owners pamper their players at the major-league level. Chartered flights and ritzy hotels are two examples of this extravagant lifestyle.
Minor league umpires have a more modest lifestyle. They travel from town to town by automobile and stay in small motels.
Letendre feels fortunate to have this job.
“One of the great things about being an umpire is that I have seen and done more than probably 90 percent of the people at my age in this country because of baseball,” he says. “I’ve been blessed to see all the places that I have seen because of it. And hopefully, I can get to Triple-A and see even more, because there are still a few cities and places I haven’t been.”
What Letendre and his fellow men-in-blue usually develop is thick skin, an ability to tune out the verbal abuse from the field, dugout and the stands.
Still, certain games are hard to forget.
“There was a game last year that probably stands out in my mind,” Letendre says. “It was with the New Britain (Conn.) Rock Cats, the Double-A affiliate of the Twins, and they had had a tough stretch. They lost 10 games in a row. We had them on the last four games they lost in a row. Tensions were high. I was working the plate and called a pitch that the first base coach didn’t like and he yelled to pull my head out of my rear, and so I ejected him. I think he was just getting off steam but he went off pretty good. It was degrading and he was out of control … unfortunately most of the time we become the whipping boy and there’s nothing you can do about that.”
What about the positive feedback?
“There was a manager in the Eastern League by the name of Gary Varsho, who is now a big league coach up in Philadelphia,” Letendre says. “He came in as an ex-player. It was funny because I had him in the Midwestern League and he didn’t know a lot about managing — what to argue on. He wanted to argue everything, kind of like a player would at times, and we had a talk with Gary over the year. We were like, ‘Gary, you can’t come out here all the time. Come out on what you need to come out on, that’s fine. But to come out here every single close play gets a little old.’ That was a useful suggestion that taught Varsho to keep his emotions in check.
“Gary learned and he adapted and probably became one of our favorite managers in the league as far as respect-wise. If you hustled out to center field or out to left field on a home-run ball that might be trouble, you’d come running back to third base and he’d be like, ‘Good hustle, good job getting out there.’ Or if you had a solid game on the plate, and you know you were nails, he’d come out the next day, ‘Hey, nice job last night.’ And they could have won or lost.”
In the minors it’s rare for games to be televised. Thus, umpires don’t get to go back and see how they called the games on a regular basis. When the games are on TV, umpires relish the opportunity to see those games as a learning tool.
“In the Eastern League, you probably get three or four, maybe five televised games a year, especially if you are working the plate. … The plate work really does help us, because that’s our only feedback besides our supervisors,” Letendre says.
Any time I have a TV game I go out of my way to make sure I get a tape of that game so I can watch it. It helps me to learn how I look, how my mechanics are. … I’ll break one pitch down for 10 minutes to try to talk to myself into or talk myself out of: Was that a good pitch, or wasn’t it a good pitch That’s the only way I’m going to get better. The key is: If I had that pitch three innings later, did I call it the same way Am I consistent with that pitch?
To maintain consistency behind the dish, Letendre says umpires follow a mental checklist known as plate criteria. The list includes the following questions:
*Where is my stance?
*Where is my head height?
*Am I in the slot?
*How’s my lean?
*How’s my squat?
The list, Letendre said, helps him make on-the-fly adjustments during games if he feels he’s not doing a satisfactory job behind the plate.
So far, his career has been quite satisfactory.