Umpire is still a pro in the GBL
Appeal Sports Writer
Ron Barnes remembers the date and time all too clearly. It was 5:09 p.m. on March 24, 1998.
When your dream is taken away, you’re not likely to forget anything connected with that day.
It was the last day of spring training, and Barnes, who was based in Florida at the time, was told by Major League Baseball that his services were no longer required.
“I came in from the ballpark, and the red light on the phone was on,” Barnes said. “I was told to go home and that they would pay me for tomorrow.”
The news hit Barnes, who had worked more than 500 National League games as a vacation fill-in umpire and was a crew chief in the Pacific Coast League for nine of his 13 years at Triple-A, like the proverbial ton of bricks.
“Paul Runge had came in (head of umpires) and thought other guys were better,” said Barnes, who was in town to work the Silver Sox-Surf Dawgs series. “I have no regrets about my career. I gave it all I had.
“I knew it was decision time. I’d been around for so many years. They try to keep things moving. There is always a possibility of being released. It’s all timing. It was difficult for me to watch Major League games.”
The key year for Barnes was probably five years previous. Tampa Bay and Arizona came into the league, and there were six full-time jobs available. Barnes was passed over.
“That left a bad taste in my mouth,” he said.
And, like any business, umpiring is very much political. Other supervisors might have liked Barnes, but Runge, for whatever reason, didn’t like him enough to promote him.
Barnes didn’t go down quietly, however.
Barnes hired a lawyer in New York and sued Major League Baseball after he was fired. The sides settled in 2000.
“It was a grueling process,” Barnes said over lunch. “They gave me two years in the Pacific Coast League and two years spring training.
“When I was released, I think they knew there would be litigation. They didn’t have a whole lot of paper on me. I was rated the top prospect four of my years in the Pacific Coast League.”
Barnes worked the 2001 and 2002 seasons in the PCL, and worked the 2003 season as a PCL supervisor. He was never so happy to be back on a professional baseball field.
“That’s all I ever wanted to do was umpire,” said Barnes, who grew up in El Cerrito, Calif. “When I was 12 I started umpiring.
“I played baseball at Salesian High, but I quit my senior year in high school to umpire JV baseball. My mom used to write notes to get me out of school so I could travel to places like Fairfield and Vacaville to do my games.”
Barnes said he used to go watch the Giants play at what was then Candlestick Park, and he found he was spending more time watching the umpires than the players. Quite simply, he had found his calling.
In 1979, Barnes went to umpire’s school, and landed a job on his first attempt. He was hired to work in The Northwest League, which is a short-season rookie league. He worked his way up the ranks – California League, Texas League and the PCL.
He never forgot his roots, though. He established the North East Bay Umpires Association in 1979, a group that works high school baseball games, and he still works a handful of games for them every year. He also helps run a junior college umpire association with long-time friend Mark Beller and Ruben Candeleria, both of whom are Pac-10 umpires.
Barnes now works in the Mountain West, Big West and West Coast conferences during the college season, and he works junior college and high school games as well. He worked 123 baseball games last season.
BARNES BACK IN GBL
Now, Barnes finds himself back in the Golden Baseball League. Barnes worked during the season’s first year in 2005, but the GBL went from three-man crews to two-man crews in an effort to cut expenses, and there were some problems with some of the more-experienced umpires.
However, there was so much complaining by managers during the all-star break in Chico that the GBL needed to make a change. For the rest of this season, there will be at least one umpire with professional or Division I experience working with the less-experienced umpires. In some instances, like this weekend in Reno, there will be two former professional umpires.
Reno Silver Sox manger Les Lancaster welcomes the league’s decision with open arms.
“That (umpiring) was one of the issues we complained about,” Lancaster said. “We’re trying to get experienced guys like (Ron Barnes) back in there.
“We were kind of spoiled last year to have three umpires. I’m sure money had something to do with it (going from 3 to 2 this year). I can understand cutting to two. You need one guy (on the crew) that can take charge. We’re going to take this into winter meetings. I think they need to upgrade. We’ll have better games if you do that.”
Barnes was umpiring in the National league when both Lancaster and Reno pitching coach Mike Hartley played in the National League.
“I remembered Ron,” Lancaster said. “He does a good job. I like it, because if he calls a ball, he’ll let you know where a pitch missed.”
Barnes commands instant respect out there from both players and coaches. His first game behind the plate Wednesday night, you didn’t hear anywhere near the normal grumbling from fans or players that you did when the local umpires worked. That’s to be expected. Barnes has been doing it so long, and the umpires Reno used in the first half were guys with potential but no real experience at this level.
GBL commissioner Kevin Outcalt said that Yuma and Reno were lacking in experienced people, according to what the league office was hearing. Outcalt said the practice of one senior umpire will continue next season.
And, so it’s Barnes to the rescue. The lanky Barnes will be working today and Sunday at Peccole Park, and Outcalt said that Barnes will also work the best of five championship series.
That’s only right. You want the best guys in the big games, and Barnes is the right guy for the job.