The Boy of Summer
By Scott Fields
Published Oct 1, 2010 9:00 AM
Bill Miller '89 redshirted for the UCLA baseball team his freshman year, but it didn't take long for him to realize he hadn't much hope of a professional career in the game. Instead, he realized his passion by becoming a part of baseball history — or a target, depending on whether your team got the call — as one of only 68 Major League Baseball umpires.
"It definitely takes conviction," Miller says of umpiring. "We can switch our decisions, but for the most part we just have one shot."
Miller goes big time
Check out this late-breaking news: Miller was just chosen to umpire the 2010 World Series.
Miller has been calling balls and strikes for three decades. Growing up in the Santa Cruz area, he was first exposed to umpiring in a seventh-grade sports officiating class. While playing baseball for his high school, he called Little League games on the side, continuing to umpire at inner-city Los Angeles high schools while majoring in history at UCLA. Following graduation, he entered professional umpire school in Florida and in 1990 started working in Minor League Baseball.
"The pay is brutal and the travel is terrible," Miller says of the parts of 10 seasons he spent in the Minors. "As you move up the ladder, the hotels get better. But the Minor League is the Minor League."
In 1997, Miller umpired his first game in The Show, and by 1999 he was full time in the Major Leagues. He began traveling the country in a squad of four umpires.
"They try to keep us from working with the same teams over and over in case there's animosity between a team and a particular umpire," he explains. Still, the occasional altercation with players and managers is unavoidable. "When the player is under stress or the team is struggling, and something doesn't go their way, they're going to lash out," says Miller. "It's our job to make sure the players stay in the game. If we allow one team to start screaming and yelling, it's contagious."
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As for irate fans, "Getting booed used to bother me," he says. "But eventually you realize it's just part of the experience. Fans get passionate about their teams and it's a good thing. Otherwise, it would be a very boring game."
Miller maintains his connection to UCLA through the lasting friendships he made at Sigma Chi. "When we went to the Notre Dame game last season, there were 70 of us," he says of his fraternity brothers. And he attends the UCLA-USC football game every year from his home in La Selva Beach, near Santa Cruz, where "I'm Mr. Mom to my three daughters in the off-season."
Speaking of life off the field, has the off-duty Bill Miller ever had a problem with overzealous fans? Nope, because umpires are almost never recognized out of uniform. "That's why we wear a mask," jokes the Bruin ump.