As a kid growing up in Eugene, Ore., Dale Scott was a Los Angeles Dodgers fan. When he went to visit his grandfather in Los Angeles in 1973, he attended his first Major League Baseball game and in a game against the New York Mets, he witnessed the legendary Willie Mays in his final season as a player.
Scott wasn’t just drawn to watching the players though; he was also watching the umpires. Even in his hometown, when he was attending the games of the local minor league team, the Eugene Emeralds, his eyes were on the umpires.
Next week when Scott starts his 31st season as a MLB umpire, he will be doing so as the only openly gay umpire in Major League Baseball. Ever since quietly coming out in an interview at the end of 2014, it has been “business as usual” for Scott.
“I came out after my 29th year and I was already an established veteran umpire,” Scott says. “All the guys I work with already knew about me, but I kind of thought I would receive some backlash from the fans.”
He didn’t hear a single remark but what did happen was that players, trainers and even a ball boy gave encouraging remarks. About 200 emails flooded into his inbox from police officers to sports officials and Scott answered each.
“I didn’t know what would happen after I came out, but I was surprised that all the comments were so uplifting,” Scott says. “It was a relief for me and I felt free.”
Scott’s career in baseball began as a little league player who spent a lot of time on the bench, where he started watching the umpires. At 15 years old, he quit playing and began umpiring in little leagues around the Eugene area.
After graduating with an associate of science degree in radio and television broadcasting, Scott headed off to Blue U, slang for an intensive umpire training program authorized by Major League Baseball at two separate locations in Florida. Each school sends its top students to the Professional Baseball Umpires Corporation evaluation course, also in Florida.
Not everyone who advances finds a place in Major League Baseball. There are only 76 umpires in MLB, which includes the 19 crew chiefs. For those selected from the evaluation course, the launching pad begins in the various minor leagues.
Scott advanced quickly and began his first year as a MLB umpire in 1986. Shortly thereafter, he started dating his partner Michael, whom he married in 2013. Umpires aren’t given a particular region to work and they end up doing a lot of travel. During the main baseball season, they receive four one-week breaks where Scott usually heads home. His husband also travels with him on occasion.
So what do umpires do in the off season?
These days Scott spends time at his vacation home in California, but for 18 years he refereed in the sports of basketball and football. He says it was partially for exercise, but the similarities between the sports kept him sharp for his MLB position.
“Even though the rules are different, every sport has components that are the same for a referee,” Scott says. “There is game control, dealing with the players, coaches and fans, understanding the rules and just having the right instincts on the fields.”
In September 2001, Scott was elevated to the position of crew chief, which means he is accountable for the other three umpires in his crew. They rotate field positions and every fourth game, Scott is behind the plate. In situations such as a mishandled beanball or a screw-up on a rule, Scott has the ultimate responsibility for the final call. A bad call on his part can result in a suspension or fine.
Learning to trust the judgment of his crew has been less stressful for Scott than what he considers his biggest responsibility — rain.
Because of the implications, Major League Baseball is contracted with WeatherBug and each team has ties to local meteorologists.
“There is a lot of money at stake at each game and the best weather information isn’t always accurate,” Scott says. “We try to weed through all the factors, but a bad weather call impacts so many things including travel days for the teams. It is very stressful.”
When trying to sum up his career, Scott mentions things like the concussions from foul balls, the first player he ejected from a game, the run-ins with colorful characters like Tommy Lasorda and the fact that he is 220 games short of 4,000 games as a MLB umpire.
“It is amazing to me that I am starting my 31st year and that I have umpired in three World Series and three All-Star Games,” he says. “It is also amazing that the direction of our country is allowing me to openly be who I really am.”
The first game of the spring training season is Thursday, March 3.