PHOENIX — Malachi Moore would set the alarm for 5 a.m. every morning, head over to MLB’s Youth Academy in Compton, Calif. and start his day.
There was grass to be mowed.
Fields to be raked.
Sprinkler heads to be fixed.
And then do it all over again after school and baseball practice.
The part-time job paid $10 an hour, but a junior-college second baseman with no money and willing to do anything just to stay involved in baseball, Moore wasn’t about to complain.
Sure, maybe the dream of becoming Compton’s next star wasn’t going to happen, but Moore always had faith that one day he was going to make it, too.
And make it big.
Well, it happened.
Moore, 32 is now a full-time major league umpire, becoming the first person from the Compton Youth Academy to make it to the big leagues as an umpire. He’s only the 10th Black umpire in MLB history, and will proudly wear No. 44 in honor of recently retired Kerwin Danley, baseball’s first Black crew chief.
“My God, what a miracle,’’ said Darrell Miller, director of the Compton Youth Academy. “It’s pretty amazing. He’s just such a testament to never giving up, never giving up on your dreams. This guy tried everything to stay in the game. What a wild ride.’’
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Moore tried his hand in making the big leagues as a groundskeeper, hoping he could be in charge of the fields at Dodger Stadium or Petco Park. He thought about the possibility of a coaching job, or a front office position, perhaps one day becoming a general manager.
Never, ever did he imagine becoming a major league umpire.
“Can you believe it?’’ Moore said excitedly from his Phoenix-area home. “This was God’s plan, a kid from Compton being a major league umpire. Unbelievable.
“It’s been a long time coming. A lot of hard work, dedication, sacrifice. I am so blessed.’’
Moore grew up in a 1,400-square foot house with his brother, mother and grandparents in East Compton. The windows were shielded by metal bars, but it couldn’t silence the ugly sound of sirens, sprinkled with gunshots. He was just 15 years old when his older brother, Nehemiah, was shot and killed in a drive-by, a victim of mistaken identity in a gang shooting.
Moore vowed to live out the dreams of himself and his brother, and as much as he loved Compton, one day he would move out, have a family, and purchase his own home with a swimming pool.
Today, he’s one of baseball’s rising stars, going from earning $1,500 a month in his first job as an umpire in the summer Northwoods League in 2012, to $3,500 a month umpiring in Triple-A, and now earning at least the minimum $150,000 as a big-league umpire in the show.
“I still remember the first game I umpired at the Academy,’’ Moore said. “They handed me an envelope with cash. There was $80 in it. I thought it was a mistake. I gave it back and said, ‘I think you gave me the wrong envelope.’
“I worked 1 ½ hours for a seven-inning game, and got that. I was like, ‘Wow, you can fun and make money doing this.’ I’m in.’’
Danley, who retired a year ago, is the man most responsible for Moore’s career path. Moore was simply hanging out with his Compton College teammates in November 2010, when there was a one-day umpiring camp at the Compton Academy. The umpires asked the players to participate, seeing if they had any potential ability.
Moore gave it a shot during a few drills, was amused pretending to be an umpire, and started walking away when Danley shouted out to him.
“Hey, I want you to walk with me to the batting cages,’’ Moore said Danley told him.
Moore politely declined.
“I remember telling him, ‘I’m good,'” Moore said. “I was a second baseman and outfielder. I’ll never put on catcher’s gear.
Danley: “No, I don’t think you understand what I’m saying. You’re coming with me! You’re putting on umpiring gear.’’
Danley sat Moore down and gave him some reality to his face.
“Young man, you’re playing on this junior-college team,’’ Danley told Moore. “You don’t start. You sit on the bench. Where are you going dude?”
“Look, I was a first-team All-American, and I didn’t even get drafted out of college [San Diego State]. So there are alternatives. Why not try umpiring? What can it hurt?’’
The next thing Moore knows, he’s going to the Harry Wendelstedt Umpire School in Daytona Beach, Fla. He arrived wearing sweatpants, a hoodie and flip-flops and looked around to see everyone else is wearing a suit and tie. And everyone brought umpiring gear except for him.
“I said, ‘Oh, snap!’ ” Moore said. “That was my first wakeup call.’’
Moore missed the cut and didn’t graduate from the famed umpiring school his first year, so he returned to Compton, kept working at the Youth Academy, and went back a second year to the umpiring school.
This time, he was a graduate.
Moore began his career in the Arizona Rookie League in 2012, slowly moving up along the way to the South Atlantic League, the California League, the Texas League, the Pacific Coast League and got a huge break during the 2020 COVID season when 11 veteran umpires opted out.
“It’s such a long process,’’ says Moore, married with two children, and now a first-time homeowner. “The odds of you making it are slim to none. There are only 76 full-time umpires. But I was so focused on doing this, I didn’t have a Plan B, to be honest with you.
“It was either the major leagues or just another guy that didn’t make it out of Compton.’’
Well, he made it all right, and at the young age of 32, should be on a major league field for the next three decades, with kids from the MLB Youth academies across the country wondering if one day they could be the next Malachi Moore.
“He’s such a role model,’’ Miller said, “and we have kids now who are umpiring in the minor leagues because of Malachi. He’s giving hope to so many.’’
Moore never forgot his roots. He kept returned every winter to the Compton Youth Academy to instruct kids. He has an umpiring camp every year at the academy. He spent a recent weekend at Chase Field in Phoenix to work with the charitable UMPS Care. And he’s going to keep volunteering his services, hoping that there will be plenty of others, who look just like him, following in his footsteps.
“I’m so proud of him,’’ Danley, 61, says. “You never know what can happen. Look at Malachi. I didn’t know anything about him. I just saw a young Black kid, a baseball player who came from the same kind of neighborhood I came from, and someone who had a desire to stay in the game.
“He’s going to have a long future in this game.’’
And, you better believe Moore says, he plans on paying it forward.
“I remember being hell-bent on being the head groundskeeper for the Dodgers or Padres, which would have been just fine,’’ Moore says. “But, man, being a big-league umpire, what a blessing. I owe the Compton Academy and umpires school so much, believe me, the least I can do is try to inspire others. I love to help. I love the feeling of helping others. So many people impacted my life.
“Shame on me, if I don’t impact others, too.’’
Hall of Fame corner
How cool was that video seeing Scott Rolen telling his parents that he was elected to the Hall of Fame?
There are so many Hall of Famers whose parents aren’t alive to see their son receive baseball’s highest honor, and seeing the look on their faces was beautiful.
When Rolen, a seven-time All-Star and eight-time Gold Glove winner, was asked how he was able to stay humble throughout his career, he didn’t hesitate:
“Well, I’m from Jasper, Indiana,’’ he said. “It’s a hardworking community that values going to work, getting your job done, doing things right and treating people well. On top of that, I am Ed and Linda Rolen’s son, Todd and Kristin’s brother, and that just didn’t fly in our house.”
Just what kind of person is new Hall of Fame third baseman Scott Rolen?
When Dusty Baker’s father died in 2009, and the family and friends gathered at Baker’s home, a huge shipment of food was delivered.
It was from Rolen, who had played only 40 games for Baker at the time with the Cincinnati Reds.
“I couldn’t believe it,’’ Baker said. “I’ll never forget that. What a beautiful person.’’
Rolen cleared the 75% threshold by just five votes, making him just the sixth Hall of Famer to win an election by five or fewer votes, and avoiding the second shutout in the last three years by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
Rolen and Fred McGriff, who was elected in December by the Contemporary Era Committee, will be sharing the stage together on July 23 in Cooperstown, N.Y.
While just two Hall of Famers have been voted in by the writers in three years (David Ortiz last year), tying the fewest since their annual voting in 1966, that will soon change.
Third baseman Adrian Beltre (3,166 hits, 477 homers, five Gold Gloves, four Silver Sluggers) will stroll into the Hall of Fame on his first year on the ballot, collecting at least 90% of the vote. He may even challenge George Brett’s 98.2% record percentage by a third baseman.
Colorado Rockies first baseman Todd Helton is a lock to be inducted next year after receiving 72.2% of the vote, a massive leap from his 52.0% of a year ago. Every player who has accumulated that high of a voting percentage was inducted the following year.
Closer Billy Wagner should be joining them, too, after receiving 68.1% of the vote, with two years remaining on the ballot. If he’s elected in 2024, he certainly will be there in 2025, standing alongside Ichiro Suzuki and CC Sabathia.
Catcher/first baseman Joe Mauer, who will be on the ballot next year, could also squeeze onto the stage with second baseman Chase Utley making a case.
Center fielder Carlos Beltran, who debuted at 42%, should one day be inducted, too. There has never been a player who debuted with at least 42% of the vote who weren’t eventually elected.
Center fielder Andruw Jones, whose popularity has dramatically increased, going from 7.5% his second year on the ballot to 58.1%_ an increase of 194 voters_also has a shot before his eligibility expires in four years.
Why, the huge increases by Helton, Wagner, Jones and Sheffield marked the first time in the Hall of Fame balloting that four players saw an increase of at least 14% from the previous year, according to Hall of Fame writer Jayson Stark and STATS Perform.
The one potential Hall of Famer who never did draw the attention of voters was second baseman Jeff Kent, who had the greatest power-hitting numbers by a second baseman in history. Yet, he stalled out at 46.5% and will no longer remain on the ballot.
“The voting over the years has been too much of a head-scratching embarrassment,” Kent told the San Francisco Chronicle in a text message.
“Baseball is losing a couple generations of great players that were the best in their era because a couple non-voting stat folks keep comparing those players to players already voted in from generations past and are influencing the votes. It’s unfair to the best players in their own era and those already voted in, in my opinion. Steroids clouded the whole system, too, and with the reduction of eligibility years, to clear the ballot deck, I got caught up in it all, I guess.”
Certainly, there are fewer writers casting votes these days with stricter regulations on voting eligibility. The 389 ballots were the fewest since 1983, according to writer Jay Jaffe. And those that did vote averaged just 5.86 votes per ballot, the lowest since 2012.
There were 8.46 votes per ballot in 2018, with 50% of all voters checking off the maximum 10 names, back when Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling and Sammy Sosa were on the ballot.
2024 Hall of Fame Prediction: Adrian Beltre, Todd Helton, Billy Wagner.
Around the basepaths
– It was no surprise to Angels owner Arte Moreno’s friends that he changed his mind and decided not to sell the franchise. He recently had been discussing plans for the Angels through at least 2026.
It might have been different, of course, is Moreno received a bid to his liking.
Moreno was seeking at least $2.5 billion for the franchise, and hoping for $3 billion. Yet, he never received a single proposal that interested him since he announced last October that he was putting the team on the market.
– New Houston Astros GM Dana Brown interviewed for the Seattle Mariners GM in 2015, which went to Jerry Dipoto, and informed Mariners officials that if he got the job, he planned to hire Dusty Baker as his manager. Yes, the same manager who expressed strong interest in the last three Mariners’ managerial openings but was snubbed each time.
Now, seven years later, they are finally together, posing as the Mariners’ biggest nemesis in the AL West.
Brown and Baker also are making history. They are only the second Black GM and Black manager tandem in baseball history, following Ken Williams and Jerry Manuel in 2000-2003 with the Chicago White Sox.
Interestingly, Brown wasn’t the only Atlanta executive to interview for the Astros’ opening.
They also interviewed Jonathan Schuerholz, special assistant/scouting operations, and the son of Hall of Fame executive John Schuerholz.
While Brown is inheriting a juggernaut with the Astros, who have two World Series titles and four AL pennants in the past six years, executives familiar with the organization say that their window could be closing in two years if they don’t start replenishing their farm system.
All-Star second baseman Jose Altuve and third baseman Alex Bregman will be free agents after the 2024 season and ace Framber Valdez after the 2025 season.
– There has been no official decision, but Scott Rolen and Fred McGriff likely will decide not to have a team logo on their Hall of Fame plaques, a trend in this era of precious few players spending their entire careers with a single team.
McGriff played for five different teams, five years apiece with Toronto and Atlanta, and Rolen played for four teams, including seven years in Philadelphia and six years in St. Louis.
– Michael Wacha, who was terrific for the Red Sox last season with an 11-2 record and 3.32 ERA, remains the best remaining pitcher on the free-agent market. Yet, teams still are unwilling to meet his request for a two-year, $30 million deal.
– Left-handed relievers Andrew Chafin, Zack Britton and Matt Moore also remain on the market. They are each seeking about $9 million in their talks with teams.
– The Kansas City Royals are highly optimistic in their talks with Zack Greinke that he will re-sign with them on a one-year contract.
– The Angels continue to have strong interest in Britton if his price-tag drops, but they are not pursuing free agent catcher Gary Sanchez.
– Free agent first baseman Yuli Gurriel thought he had a deal with the Miami Marlins, but at least one high-ranking Marlins’ executive balked at the price-tag. The Houston Astros still remain interested in re-signing Gurriel, along with the Minnesota Twins.
– Those close to Shohei Ohtani predict he’ll stay out West when he becomes a free agent simply because of his lifestyle. He rarely ventures out, his friends say, and thoroughly enjoys his privacy.
When he was a free agent coming out of Japan in 2017, he narrowed his choices to seven teams: The Angels, Padres, Dodgers, Mariners, Giants, Rangers and Cubs. The Cubs were the lone finalist not in the NL West or AL West.
– GMs have informed MLB officials that it will be impossible to abide by the unwritten rule of having at least five regulars play in spring training games.
Simply, with so many stars playing in the World Baseball Classic, lineups will be consisting of mostly minor-league players for much of the spring.
The Angels will have 15 players participating in the WBC, including their entire starting rotation and catcher, while the Mets will be without their entire starting infield.
“It’s going to be a mess,’’ one GM said, “but what are you going to do? You just hope everyone gets their work in and comes back healthy.’’
– The Padres may be the only game in town in San Diego, but their popularity these days is stunning.
The Padres are stopping season-ticket sales on Feb. 4, which has already eclipsed a franchise-record 23,000 full-season tickets, more than double their total from just three seasons ago.
The Padres, who have a projected franchise-record $251 million payroll this season, are expected to break their all-time attendance record of 3,016,752 in Petco Park’s inaugural season in 2004.
Can you imagine if they ever win their first World Series?
– Atlanta has no intention to replace Brown as their vice president of scouting, saying the job was tailored strictly for him.
– Kudos to Atlanta GM Alex Anthopoulos, who has had two of his long-time assistants become GMs in the past two years with Brown and Angels GM Perry Minasian.
– The Yankees still would like to bring in another outfielder, but continue to be put off by free agent Jurickson Profar’s asking price. Profar opted out of his contract with the Padres that would have paid him $7.5 million, which he is having trouble achieving on the free-agent market.
– San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy’s father, Shawn Purdy, was a minor-league pitcher in the 1990s, pitching 267 games from 1991-1998 in the Angels, Giants and Atlanta organizations.
– The cover of a 1986 Sports Illustrated featured pictures of the 36 players who earned $1 million or more, with 17 of those players later inducted into the Hall of Fame.
This year, there are 51 players who will earn at least $20 million, including 17 earning $30 million or more.
It’s hard to believe that half of those players will be in Cooperstown one day.
– Minnesota Twins center fielder Byron Buxton had a good excuse missing TwinsFest this weekend.
His father, Felton, was being ordained as a deacon.
– You want to dream big?
Pitcher Jeffrey Springs, the 888th player drafted in 2015 out of Appalachian State in the 30th round, and given a mere $1,000 signing bonus, signed a four-year, $31 million contract with the Tampa Bay Rays.
Yep, the same guy who was twice designated for assignment by the Rangers, once by the Red Sox, and twice traded.
“I don’t even know if it’s fully sank in quite yet,” said Springs, who went 8-5 with a 2.65 ERA last season, on a conference call. “I’m kind of at a loss. The whole thing, I was holding my breath until it was officially signed for no other reason than this is just something that is kind of hard to believe, to be honest.”
The Rays also signed third baseman Yandy Diaz to a three-year, $24 million contract and reliever Pete Fairbanks to a three-year, $12 million deal the past week.
– The Mets believe that third baseman Eduardo Escobar will have a much improved season after enduring family issues last season that left him emotionally spent by game time.
– There are 14 teams in Major League Baseball who have a regional sports network with Bally Sports that are sweating profusely. The Diamond Sports Group, the Sinclair Broadcasting-owned subsidiary that operates Bally Sports, is in danger of filing for bankruptcy, according to Bloomberg.
The 14 teams televised on Bally Sports: the Arizona Diamondbacks, Atlanta, Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Guardians, Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals, Los Angeles Angels, Miami Marlins, Milwaukee Brewers, Minnesota Twins, St. Louis Cardinals, San Diego Padres, Tampa Bay Rays and Texas Rangers.
Most of these are small and mid-market teams who could ill-afford a drastic the financial hit.
– It remains unknown whether White Sox starter Mike Clevinger will be suspended by MLB for domestic violence allegations, but MLB cannot place him on administrative leave under the start of spring training.
– It’s hard to believe that Atlanta hitting coach Kevin Seitzer, who is entering his ninth season, is the longest-tenured hitting coach in major league baseball.
There are 10 new hitting coaches alone this season as teasm continue to seek improvements with just 4.28 runs and 8.16 hits per game last season.
– The Boston Red Sox rewarded All-Star closer Matt Barnes with a two-year, $18.75 million contract in July 2021.
He immediately struggled, yielded a 6.48 ERA after the All-Star break, lost his closer’s job, and last week was notified that his services no longer are needed.
The Red Sox designated him for assignment while still owing him $10.6 million.
– Congratulations to World Series champion manager Dusty Baker, who received the lifetime achievement award last week by the Positive Coaching Alliance.
– The Toronto Blue Jays are the latest team to bring in the fences to enhance their offense.
The biggest change is the right-center-field wall moving in from 375 feet to 359, and the right-center power alley moving in from 383 feet to 372.
– So why is Atlanta starter Spencer Strider, who wore No. 65 in his rookie season, switching to No. 99?
Yep, you guessed it, his favorite movie is “Major League,” and Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn (played by Charlie Sheen) wore No. 99 in the movie.
Follow Nightengale on Twitter: @Bnightengale