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

Malachi Moore’s first season as a full-time major league umpire will be stressful enough, with bigger stadiums, higher stakes, hostile crowds, better sticky stuff checks, travel requests and “Umpire Scorecards” websites tracking each of the 32. -year’s missed calls.

Put in a new pitch clock, which will require plate umps to follow closely before handing off to the pitcher and batter, mind the wrist buzzer, master a new set of hand signals, communicate with the timing coordinators in the field. hit the box through a headset and microphone – and, oh, you have to call balls and strikes – and the job looks downright awesome.

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

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

“I’ll never forget that feeling,” Moore said before pitching in one final Cactus League game. “It was just a weird, weird feeling. Like, you don’t even know what to think. You don’t know what to feel. You can’t eat it. You can’t sleep. It is probably the most difficult experience I have ever had. That day literally changed my life forever.

“So when we talk about the umpiring and the pitch clock and the pressure, Aaron Judge being given a full count in the ninth inning at Yankee Stadium … I’m crazy about all of that, because after going through it. I went through it, nothing surprises me. That if I pass, 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 of MLB’s 11 U.S. youth academies to reach the major leagues as an umpire.

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

Moore worked at the academy in junior college, waking up at 5 a.m. every day to rake fields, mow grass and fix sprinkler heads before school and after classes and practices to tend fields and close facilities.

“It was a full 12-hour day,” Moore said. “He was paying me $10 an hour, but I didn’t care. Almost, well, I’m getting paid, this is not the job for me.’

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

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

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

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

“I said, ‘No, I never thought about it, I didn’t care,'” Moore said. “And he said, ‘Well, let’s go to the cages, let’s get dressed and try it. I politely refused. Long story short, we went to the cages and he tried a mechanical three strike on me.

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

Moore was invited to the next week’s umpire camp, where he was offered and accepted a scholarship to the Harry Wendelstedt Umpire School in Daytona Beach, Fla.

Before moving to Florida, Moore was asked to direct an exhibition of a Japanese group at the youth academy. An aha moment happened.

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

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

Moore returned home and began refereeing high school games in the South Bay in 2011. That summer, in the Northwoods League in the Midwest, he earned $1,500 a month. Harry Wendelstedt returned to school in the fall, and this time he graduated.

So began an 11-year umpiring journey, from the Arizona Rookie League to the short-season Class-A Northwest League, the low-A Midwest and South Atlantic Leagues, the high-A California League, double-A. Texas League and triple A Pacific Coast League.

On the day he and his wife, Sophany, had their second son, Isaac, in 2020, Moore was informed that he would be serving in big league games as a call-up umpire, filling in for regulars during the holidays.

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

Malachi Moore works during the 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 roles in January, a job that carries a starting salary of $150,000. He is the second youngest among MLB’s 76 all-time teams.

“You almost crack yourself up because you’re thinking, ‘Wow, this is like a dream,'” said Darrell Miller, director of Compton’s youth academy. “Malachi is a great human being, a hard worker, and he has a great story.

“He has overcome so many difficulties and difficult situations. He has been a blessing to everyone around him, and we are very fortunate to have such a great young man come out of our academy.”

Moore, who bought his first home in Buckeye, Arizona in 2021, is the 10th black umpire in MLB history. He wears No. 44 in honor of Danley, the manager of baseball’s first black team, who retired last year. Harry currently serves as an instructor at the Wendelstedt Umpire School and returns to the Compton Youth Academy every winter for umpire clinics.

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

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

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

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

“We were all sitting there crying, trying to comfort him,” Miller recalled, “and he went outside and played because my brother said he wanted me to do this.”

Seventeen years later, Nehemiah’s death still stings—and drives—Moore. Malachi named his first son, born in 2013, Nehemiah. Nehemiah’s name was tattooed on his left shoulder. It was Nehemiah, drafted out of high school by the Minnesota Twins, who got Malachi involved in baseball as a youngster.

“I know he would be proud of me,” Moore said. “I know he’s going to try to be there every game he can, be supportive in any way he can.”

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