Inside the mask: An umpire crew chief on mound visits, mad managers and having your call overturned

In a rare conversation with a major league ump, 20-year veteran Ted Barrett discusses everything from how MLB's new rule changes will work to strange manager arguments and the most talkative star hitter. Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire

Ted Barrett has been a major league umpire since 1994 and a crew chief since 2013. He has worked nine postseason division series, eight championship series and three World Series. He's well-respected among his peers, players and managers. After a recent spring game, he sat down for a Q&A, which included everything from the new limit on mound visits to instant replay to the strike zone -- and plenty in between.

How will this work, logistically? How will umpires keep track of mound visits?

Ted Barrett: They plan on putting it on the scoreboard for everyone to see. Something new this year will be a direct [phone] line to the press box in case there's a mix-up. We can go right over to the dugout between innings or even call timeout and get it taken care of.

We've gotten that question from pitching coaches and managers. You'll see the umpire signal one, and then it will go on the board.

That's the easy question. Now the tough one: What's going to constitute a mound visit outside of the obvious ones?

We're still working on it. The iffy ones are when the infielder goes in. We're still working on some defining points, like if you go on the [mound] dirt or something like that. There has to be some guidelines for everyone. Halfway to the mound and stuff like that will get worked out. That's why they put the rule in regarding infielders. They didn't want teams finding a loophole. You know, instead of catchers going out there, they might send the third baseman. By Opening Day, there will be no gray area.

Have you heard of some of the various scenarios in which there might be a visit that doesn't slow the game down? For example, a long home run trot. Can a catcher go out there while the batter is running around the bases without it counting?

Yes, those will be allowed and won't count. If it doesn't slow the game down, we'll use some common sense. If a pitcher covers first base and the first baseman and he have a quick conversation as he walks back to the mound, that won't count. Or the home run trot thing. The catcher just has to be back behind the plate for the next hitter. And there will be scenarios we don't anticipate. Hopefully, it will be obvious for everyone.

One exception is a pitcher/catcher cross-up. But who is going to determine when that happens?

That's another one where I think it's going to be obvious. The catcher missed it. It hits the umpire. "OK, get out there and straighten that out." The abuse could come in if he says to me, "Hey, we need to get our signals straight." We're not going to allow that. A cross-up has to happen. I don't think guys will do that on purpose just to get a mound visit.

What about the hitter? Have you been instructed to speed them up?

To start the inning, we want the hitter in the box as the catcher throws down to second. There seems to be a lot of dead time there. Sometimes the hitter waits for his name to be announced and stuff like that. We still have the rules in place where a hitter can't step out after a pitch.

Can you give me your opinion on a pitch clock?

I'll say this: When I came into the league in 1994, guys were quicker about going about their business. That has slowed down. I do think the people at the top are smart in thinking about the future. They're smart thinking about young kids.

I've always been a purist. I don't like change, but since I've been in the big leagues, all the changes have eventually worked out.

Have your feelings on replay changed over time?

I was always happy with the fact that you can go out there without the fear of having a play named after you. The "Jim Joyce" play. The "Don Denkinger" play. There's a lot of pressure. Then in the World Series, you don't want to be the story. With replay, that's taken that away.

It is tough to make a play, go to replay, stand there and get overturned. We know what the players feel like when they make an error or strike out. My thing was always, like, "You struck out, so what? It happens." Now we understand what it feels like.

What's that like? To get overturned?

At first, it was tough. I'm sitting there looking at the board thinking I'm still right -- and then it's overturned.

My crew was one of the last to rotate in there [the replay booth]. Once you're in there, you see the technology. You see the way you can freeze things. That has made it easier. And another thing that's big is those are fellow umpires in there. I trust them. But anytime you fail, that's tough. You have to get over it. And it's not just when the game is on the line: I would feel bad if I cost a guy a base hit.

What about arguments with managers? They've changed because of replay.

It's more like, "I'm just the messenger." A lot of managers will say, "I know it's not your call. I'm just upset about what they're seeing in New York."

Have you even once called blocking the plate, live, as it happens?

I've never called it. If I see it, I'd call it, but it's a tough one. There is so much going on during a play at the plate. It's a constant moving, changing situation. Focusing on tag and slide is hard enough. It's tough to see blocking live. If it's blatant, I'll call it. Otherwise, replay will do the overturning.

How frustrating is the pop-up slide thing, where a guy comes off the bag by the smallest of margins?

There are some things that happen that you don't have the ability to see with the human eye. That's difficult. I think pickoffs at first have increased because of it. You know, the NFL has talked about changing the definition of a catch. We may have to change the definition of a tag. Umpires are used to using sound. When someone pops up off the bag for a split second, that's a whole other thing. Those are hard.

The elephant in the room is balls and strikes. You must be aware of the scrutiny now with the combination of technology and social media.

We're aware of it. We're aware there are websites that rank us and stuff like that. We also know there are different technologies.

It's really hard to go out there and try to do your job when you know you're not going to be perfect. That's why I'd like to think we're a special breed of men. We can lock out the external stuff, run a ballgame and do the best we can. We stick together. I'll be in replay and afterwards text a guy and tell him he did a great job.

How much post-analysis do you do? Do you try to get better within your strike zone even after all these years?

The technology has helped. And it's getting better and better. The day after running the plate, I'll get on the computer and watch every pitch that I called -- maybe not every pitch but those that I knew at the time were borderline or a hitter will say something.

If I'm consistently missing pitches in the same spot, now I know I have to make an adjustment. I'll give you one from early on. Left-handed batters, I had a tendency to call a strike too far on the outside corner. I positioned myself better to get a better look at the corner.

Even now, I'll go back and look, "Is my head height too low? Am I being blocked out? Am I in the slot enough?" Lots of things I look at with my stance.

Can you have a weakness on a certain pitch?

Possibly, if you're not tracking the ball with your eyes. Pitches that have a lot of movement and I'm calling too soon, I'm probably not tracking all the way with my eyes.

It's a never-ending self-analysis. That's the biggest thing I want to get across to people that say, "Big league umpires have no accountability." Every play and pitch we call is analyzed. We get reviewed on everything. It's not always public, just like internal things with players and teams aren't always public. We make every effort to be at our best.

Over the past year, you guys have created a Twitter account for umpires. Why?

We found that the NBA was able to kind of get their point of view out sometimes using Twitter. We're just following their lead. We haven't done a lot with it, but we might look to just get our side out on a play the baseball world is talking about.

What about fans? Do you hear their taunting?

I try to block it out. My brother was an actor. He called it the fourth wall. You just pretend like they're not there. It's worse in the minors, when it's nickel beer night and they are just wearing you out. You want to go up in the stands and go after them. My blood would start boiling.

Here's one good story from the minors. I was working with Bill Miller, and we had a play at third end the game, and as we were leaving the field, some fan sticks his glasses in our face, and he's yelling, "You need these, you need these." So we take them and whip them down into the dugout, and we're kind of laughing, saying "Way to go, way to go." All of a sudden we see the guy. And he has a walker. And he's trying to find his glasses. We felt about 1 inch tall.

What are your favorite interactions with a manager?

I remember throwing out [former Dodgers manager] Jim Tracy. Paul Lo Duca was catching, and he had two plays at the plate. Lo Duca was giving me crap on both of them. So Tracy comes out and says he had a perfect angle on both of them and I was right, but you have to throw me out. So he's yelling and screaming, and I throw him out, and he goes to kick the chalk, and he stubbed his toe. So he comes hobbling out to home plate the next day and says, "That's what I get for putting on a show. I broke my toe."

What's worse: 30 degrees or 95 degrees?

Ninety-five in Phoenix is good. Ninety-five in Chicago or one of those [humid] places is not good. Now that the AstroTurf is gone in Kansas City, it's better. My feet used to be on fire. I'd choose cold because you can always layer up. Hot you can't do anything about.

I know you're not allowed to answer which pitchers have the best stuff or questions like that, but can you tell me who's the most talkative player and who's the most serious on the field?

Talkative is an easy one because I'm a boxing fan, and Joey Votto is a big boxing fan, so I talk to him all the time. In fact, if you see me talking to a lot of players, it's usually about boxing. A former player that was nice but very serious was Darin Erstad. He was very classy and hard-nosed. He would say hi and that was it. I used to tell my sons to watch him.

Do you focus on officiating when you watch other sports?

Yeah, it's really a pain. It's kind of ruined sports for me. I used to love watching the NBA, and all I do now is watch the refs. I go to the Coyotes games in Arizona here, and I watch the officials. It's amazing how they skate and avoid pucks.