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The pressure of being a rookie MLB umpire? This Compton native dealt with a lot more


Malachi Moore’s first season as full-time major league umpire it will be stressful enough, with the bigger stadiums, higher stakes, hostile crowds, improved sticky stuff controls, travel demands, and the “Umpire Scorecards” website that tracks every missed player’s call from 32 years.

Add the new pitch clock, which will require plate umpires to keep a closer eye on the pitcher’s and batter’s pre-pitch, be mindful of the buzzer on your wrists, master a new set of hand signals, communicate with pitch time coordinators field in the press box via a headset and microphone, and, oh, you have to call balls and strikes, and the job seems downright daunting.

Not for Moore, the former Compton Dominguez High and Compton College infielder who has faced and conquered far greater challenges and absorbed more trauma than any angry manager, player or fan could inflict on a baseball field.

When Moore was 15, he made the decision with his mother, Neva, to take his older brother, Nehemiah, off life support after Nehemiah was shot and killed in Compton. Nehemiah died the next day.

“I’ll never forget that feeling,” Moore said before working on a recent Cactus League game. “It was just a weird, creepy feeling. Like you don’t even know what to think. You don’t know what to feel. You can’t eat. You can’t sleep. It’s probably the most difficult experience I’ve ever had. That day literally changed my life forever.

“So when we talk about the officiating, the shot clock and the pressure, about being in Yankee Stadium with a full count on Aaron Judge in the ninth inning … I’m numb to all of that, because after going through what I passed, nothing fazes me. If I can get past that, everything else is a piece of cake.”

Moore, who grew up playing and working at the MLB Youth Academy in Compton, is the first product from any of the 11 MLB youth academies in the US to reach the major leagues as an umpire.

He always dreamed of making it to the big leagues, but when it became clear he wasn’t going to get there as a player, he thought he would as an outfielder.

Moore worked at the academy through college, waking up at 5 a.m. every day to haul fields, mow, and repair sprinklers before school and returning after classes and practice to tend fields and close facilities. .

“It was a full 12-hour day,” Moore said. “They paid me $10 an hour, but I didn’t care. It’s almost like, wow, I get paid, this is not work for me.”

Moore’s career arc took a dramatic turn in November 2010 when he and several college teammates served as “guinea pigs” during a one-day umpire camp at the academy, taking at-bats, making plays and running the bases so aspiring umpires could make decisions. .

Moore caught the eye of then-MLB umpire Kerwin Danley, who was working at the camp and asked Moore if he had ever tried to umpire.

Malachi Moore was one of 10 umpires promoted to full-time major league positions for the 2023 season.

(Caitlin O’Hara/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

“I told him, ‘No, I never thought about that, I didn’t care,’” Moore said. “And he says, ‘Come on, let’s go to the cages, put on some gear and try it out. I politely declined. Long story short, we went to the cages and he had me try a three hit mechanic.

“I was there with (former MLB umpire) Chuck Meriwether, God rest his soul, and (MLB umpire supervisor) Cris Jones. They saw me and said, ‘Hey, you’re having fun. You are collecting things. Take it a little more seriously. You never know what can happen. ”

Moore was invited to a week-long subsequent umpire camp, where he was offered, and accepted, a scholarship to the Harry Wendelstedt Umpire School in Daytona Beach, Florida.

Before leaving for Florida, Moore was asked to referee an exhibition for a Japanese team at the youth academy. There was an aha moment.

“It was a seven-inning game, it lasted an hour and a half, and they gave me $80 cash in an envelope,” Moore said. “I thought he was stealing someone’s money, and I politely turned him down. They said, ‘No, that’s yours, you earned it.’ I was like, ‘Oh wow, can you make money doing this?’ Then it transformed me when I went to referee school.”

The five-week stint in Daytona Beach did not lead to a job offer for Moore, who was 20 at the time, but instructors told him he had potential and there was no need to rush him into professional baseball.

Moore returned home and began umpiring high school games in the South Bay in 2011. That summer, he worked in the Northwoods Collegiate Wood Bat League in the Midwest, earning $1,500 per month. He returned to the Harry Wendelstedt School that fall and this time graduated.

Thus began an 11-year umpiring journey that began in the Arizona rookie league and included stops in the short-season Class A Northwest League, the low-A Midwest and South Atlantic Leagues, the California League high-A, the double-A Texas League and the triple-A Pacific Coast League.

The day he and his wife, Sophany, had their second child, Isaac, in 2020, Moore was informed that he would be working major league games as an umpire, filling in for vacation regulars.

Malachi Moore works home plate in a game between the Dodgers and the Giants on July 24, 2022.

Malachi Moore works home plate in a game between the Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants on July 24, 2022 at Dodger Stadium.

(Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press)

After working 156 major league games over the past three seasons, Moore was one of 10 umpires promoted to full-time positions in January, a job that comes with a starting salary of $150,000. He is the second youngest of MLB’s 76 full-time umpires.

“You almost pinch yourself because you’re thinking, ‘Wow, this is like a dream,’” said Darrell Miller, director of the Compton youth academy. “Malachi is a great human being, very hard working and has a great story.

“He has overcome so many difficulties and difficult situations. He’s just been a blessing to everyone around him, and we’re so lucky to have such a great young man come out of our academy.”

Moore, who in 2021 bought his first home in Buckeye, Arizona, is the 10th black umpire in MLB history. He wears the number 44 in honor of Danley, baseball’s first black crew chief who retired last year. He now serves as an instructor at the Harry Wendelstedt Umpire School and returns to the Compton Youth Academy for umpiring courses every winter.

“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the academy,” Moore said. “It all started there: my passion, my love for baseball, the discipline. You are held to a higher standard the moment you walk in there.”

His only regret is that his brother is not here to witness his success. Nehemiah was 19 years old when he was murdered on June 8, 2006 in Compton.

“It was gang violence,” Moore said. “I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Basically, someone got out of a car and started shooting into the crowd, and my brother was hit. They shot him in the head.”

Malachi was preparing to play a match at the youth academy when he received the news that his brother had been shot. He left the facility with his uncle and trainer, Mark Huff, to go to the hospital. He came back the next day, the day Nehemiah died, to play a game.

“We were all sitting there crying, trying to comfort him,” Miller recalled, “and he came out and played because he said my brother would want me to do this.”

Seventeen years later, Nehemiah’s death still stings and motivates Moore. Malachi named his first son, born in 2013, Nehemiah. He had the name of Nehemiah tattooed on his left shoulder. It was Nehemiah, who was drafted by the Minnesota Twins out of high school, who got Malachi involved in baseball when he was young.

“I know he would be proud of me,” Moore said. “I know he would try to be at every game he could, be supportive in any and every way.”

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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