By Jonathan Hodgson
His career achievements have made him one of baseball’s most accomplished and reputable umpires among his colleagues and with players across Major League Baseball. Still, if you ask Ted Barrett, a twenty-year major league umpire and veteran crew chief, he’ll tell you that choosing a relationship with Jesus is the best call he has and will ever make.
“I don’t have the ability to do a lot of what I’ve done on my own,” Barrett said, in reflecting on some of the highlight moments of his career. “It’s all Jesus working through me,” he said.
Barrett completed his 20th season as a full-time major league umpire in 2018, and capped it off by serving as World Series crew chief. It was Barrett’s second World Series as a crew chief and the fourth he has umpired overall.
Game three at Dodger Stadium between the Dodgers and Red Sox set a record for the longest World Series and postseason game in baseball history by innings and by time, going 18 innings and lasting seven hours and 20 minutes.
“At Dodger Stadium, in the late innings, you can look to the upper portions of the stadium or the outfield, and you see people start filing out,” Barrett said. “I looked around in the late innings and nobody had left, so I knew this was important.”
Barrett said a simple approach and steady prayer was key as the game went deeper into the night.
“I had to constantly forget about things like fatigue, hunger, and thoughts like ‘oh, my legs are sore,’ Barrett said. “I had to lock in, stay focused, and pray to the Holy Spirit for strength,” he said.
Barrett prayed between innings and said he could tell that others were praying for he and his crew as the game stretched longer.
“I was repeating certain verses in my head, like Philippians 4:13,” Barrett said. “And this
might sound a little weird, but the way I would describe extra innings is it became like an out of body experience and the Lord just took over.”
I can do all this through Christ who strengthens me –Philippians 4:13
Barrett said that when his crew was informed after the game how long they had been working for, he couldn’t believe it.
“I prayed for God to take over and be glorified, and I believe that he was,” Barrett concluded.
Allowing God to take over and be glorified is something that Barrett has worked on throughout his career and life.
A native of North Tonawanda, NY, Barrett was one of four boys in a family of six, plus the family St. Bernard.
Barrett played four sports growing up including football, basketball, baseball and boxing.
“It was nothing but sports growing up,” Barrett recalled.
Faith was introduced to Barrett at age eight, when his uncle invited him to church on Easter Sunday.
“I didn’t understand theology at that point in time, but I knew Jesus was the way, so I gave my life to God,” Barrett said. “God began doing a work in me at a young age; I went to Sunday school, evangelizing and inviting friends to church,” he said.
The seeds for Barrett’s officiating career were planted when he worked his first game at age 14.
“A buddy of mine was doing a little league game and asked if I’d come along, and I did” Barrett said. “You either love umpiring or you hate it, and I loved it.”
Barrett umpired through high school and by college was earning $57 per game to work high school varsity games.
“I thought I was the luckiest kid in the world,” Barrett remembered. “That’s when I really started to think that this would be a cool thing to do for a living,” he said.
At age 16, Ted’s family relocated to California, and he went “kicking and screaming” but his attitude warmed up with the weather as he settled in.
Soon, Barrett was a student athlete as a boxer at Cal State Hayward.
“I went to chapel there, but I used it more as a good luck charm at that point,” Barrett said of his time at Hayward. “From around age 14 until 21, I kind of lost my spiritual compass. I was not in fellowship with the right people and fell into some of the other alternative spiritual influences of the time,” he reflected.
Barrett began to find his bearings again after attending football team chapel, which was led by Campus Crusade for Christ (CRU).
“I went out for lunch with our chaplain,” Barrett explained.” “He got me memorizing scripture, studying the Word, and really doing my homework. That really rekindled my fire for God.”
Barrett said at that point in his life, he was comfortable talking about faith among other believers, but his comfort was about to be stretched.
“One day we were told that we were going to evangelize and talk to people,” Barrett said. “I was scared because I didn’t know what people were going to think. I called myself a Christian but I wasn’t living it out. I was doing things but not talking about it,” he said.
Barrett began his career umpiring professional baseball at extended spring training in 1989. He worked that season in the short-season Northwest League, and much like a player would, Barrett worked his way up the minor league ladder to the California League (advanced-A), Texas League (double-A) before he finally reached the triple-A Pacific Coast League (PCL) in 1993.
During a PCL game in 1996 between the Chicago White Sox triple-A affiliate, the Nashville Sounds and the Phoenix Firebirds, affiliate of the San Francisco Giants, Barrett had a verbal exchange with a coach from the Chicago White Sox affiliate in which both parties used off-color language.
Afterwards, Chris Singleton, an outfielder with Phoenix at the time, approached Barrett.
“He told me, ‘I know you’re a Jesus follower. You should watch what you say because people listen,” Barrett said.
Barrett admits that he angrily rebuffed Singleton in the moment, but that was not the end of it.
“That night, God said to me ‘you can’t have one foot in the world and one following me’,” Barrett recalled. “I was learning as I went to men’s groups and things like that, but I still thought I had to be a certain way on the field,” he said.
“It was time to get off the fence,” Barrett said.
Barrett was elevated to the full-time major league umpiring staff for the 1999 season, and was appointed as a crew chief in 2013. He has gone on to earn numerous playoff assignments in addition to the 2007 All Star Game, 2004 Japan All Star Tour and 2017 World Baseball Classic. Barrett is the only umpire to ever work home plate for multiple perfect games (David Cone, 1999 & Matt Cain, 2012). Finally, Barrett is tied with Eric Cooper for the most no-hitters worked as a home plate umpire with three.
Before he reached the majors, there was a time when Barrett believed that full time ministry was going to be his path, but upon reaching the major leagues, he realized that umpiring was his ministry.
In 2004, Barrett co-founded Calling For Christ, a fellowship of Christian umpires in the major leagues and the minor leagues, with fellow MLB umpire Rob Drake. 60 umpires participated in 2018, including 15 from the major leagues.
Barrett also serves with UMPS CARE Charities and this fall, joined the advisory team of Sport Officials Surrendered (S.O.S). He has been confirmed as a speaker at REF Conference 2019, hosted by S.O.S on August 17, 2019 in Mason, Ohio.
Barrett, who has a doctorate in theology, has found that scripture can be personalized to directly apply to umpires.
“2 Timothy 1:7 tells us that we’ve been given self control and not timidity; that’s a great umpire!” Barrett says.
For the Spirit of God does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. -2 Timothy 1:7
He also personalizes Colossians 3:15.
“I read it as, ‘let the peace of God be the umpire of your hearts’. If it brings you peace, it’s of God,” Barrett said, adding that peace is not the absence of conflict, but the resolution of it.
Let the peace of God rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. –Colossians 3:15
Finally, Barrett explains what he has learned about the meaning of being meek.
“As a kid, I didn’t like The Sermon on the Mount,” he said. “I thought, ‘who wants to be meek?’ Well, I studied it in seminary and learned that it means ‘power under control’, and I think that is a great characteristic for an umpire to have,” Barrett concluded.
Barrett also said that Philippians 4:13 can be applied to the challenges that umpires face due to the isolation brought on by the nature and demands of the job.
“People take that verse out of context,” Barrett said. “In that verse, Paul is saying ‘I have grown content in all circumstances’. I want to be like Paul,” he said.
“It’s imperative to stay in contact with colleagues and crew members, to keep pressing in to God’s Word and living it out together,” Barrett said. “I consider myself a pastor to my flock,” he begins. “Sometimes it means staying up for that 3:00 AM phone call to a guy who just finished a game on the west coast where it’s midnight,” he said.
Barrett now makes his home in Gilbert, AZ with his wife of 30 years, Tina. Their son Andrew is an umpire who worked the 2018 season in the Texas League.
Even with 20 years in the majors and 30 in professional baseball, Barrett says it remains simple for him to squash any unhealthy pride or ego.
“After I worked the 2011 World Series that went seven games, I went home and was picking up dog poop,” Barrett joked. ”It’s hard to develop a big ego when you do that,” he laughed.
As he reflects on his career, it’s not the accomplishments or accolades that stand out to him first, but the heart transformation that God has worked in him.
“As I grew in my faith, I went from not wanting to talk, to where I now share for groups, preach and give sermons for churches and bring God’s word to people,” Barrett said. “I enjoy it. It’s a blessing.”