On June 13, Matt Cain threw one of the most dominant games in the history of Major League Baseball (MLB), recording 27 consecutive outs and 14 strikeouts becoming the 23rd pitcher ever to throw a perfect game. Ted Barrett, the man calling balls and stirkes for Cain’s game, was not only the first umpire in history to be on the field for three perfect games, he is also a Los Altos High School graduate.
“It’s really cool to be on the field for these perfect games,” Barrett said. “When you think about the history of baseball – 162 games a season for around 150 years – but there have only been twenty-something perfect games.”
Barrett moved to the Bay Area from Western New York in 1981 and started at Los Altos High as a junior. At the school, Barrett succeeded in football, basketball and baseball. He graduated from the school in 1983, attended Foothill College and finally matriculated from California State University, East Bay (CSUEB).
Barrett’s first experience umpiring came at age fourteen in a New York Little League game. In California, his basketball coach, Vance Walberg, would send the players on his team to Egan to umpire baseball and softball games. The money that they would earn for umpiring would then go to the basketball program.
“All the guys I was working with, they had no training. But they were like ‘Wow, you are really good at this,’” Barrett said.
When Barrett began to umpire high school games, he was introduced to umpiring school by another umpire. He attended school and worked in the minor leagues from 1989 to 1999, at which point he was hired as a full time MLB umpire.
In his first season on the job in 1999, Barrett was the home plate umpire in a perfect game pitched by New York Yankees’ pitcher David Cone.
Last June, he found himself in the midst of another one. During the Cain perfect game, Barrett realized Cain had a perfect game going and tried to make sure that he didn’t get caught up in the moment and miss a call. Despite the emotion from the fans, Barrett knew he had a job to do, and he just wanted to get the calls right.
“The biggest fear that you have is to miss a play, like what happened in Detroit last year in the Armando Galarraga game [when an umpire missed a call on the last out],” Barrett said. “It would be terrible to be in Jim Joyce’s position, where you cost a guy a perfect game. But on the other hand, the way the media is and replays are, you don’t want to miss a call where they come back and say that he didn’t really earn a perfect game. We had a call in the Cain game where there was a ball that was hit foul down the first base line and there were people who were trying to say that it hit the bag, so blowing a call is definitely in the back of your mind when everything is happening.”
Although Barrett loves his job, it is not as glamorous as people can make it out to be.
“The worst part of the job for me is the travel, because of dealing with airports in the post 9/11 era with going through security, waiting in lines, and having to deal with things like weather delays,” Barrett said. “The part of the job that I actually do like, is when I actually get to go out on the field. I think when a lot of people go see a Giants game, they believe that the umpires are all from the Bay Area. But we’re not, there are 68 of us from all over the United States. And when they make the schedule, they don’t care where we live, it’s just kind of computer generated. So it’s just constant travel, three days in one city, then you jump on a plane and go to the next city.”
What really helps Barrett get through the rigors of his schedule are the special moments he experiences on the field.
“The day to day grind of the season really gets to be a grind, year after year, game after game,” Barrett said. “But it’s kind of cool when you have these milestone type of games where something cool happens. I was behind the plate for Greg Maddux’s three hundredth win, I was working second base when Sammy Sosa’s bat broke and there was cork in it and of course the perfect games. When you work so many games these are the ones that really stick out and stay in your mind.”