Why Are Umpires Called Blue?

Unraveling the Mystery of Why Umpires in Baseball Are Known as "Blue"
Written by Mark Bailey
Last updated on

The nickname “blue” for umpires harks back to the traditional dark blue uniform they wear. Dive into the history and traditions that link umpires with this cool moniker.

  • Umpires in baseball are often referred to as “blue,” and the origin of this moniker is uncertain, with theories suggesting it may be related to Puritan blue laws, authority, or the Civil War.
  • The earliest recorded use of the term “blue” to refer to umpires dates back to the late 19th century when they adopted blue woolen uniforms that were easily distinguishable from players.
  • Umpire uniforms have evolved over time, but blue remains a consistent feature in the sport’s history and culture.
  • The term “blue” is deeply ingrained in popular culture, with references appearing in books, movies, television shows, video games, and other forms of media.
  • Other terms used for umpires include “ref,” “official,” “ump,” “arbiter,” and “zebra.” Variations of the term “blue” are also used in different sports or regions.

Origin of the term blue

Theories and speculations abound regarding the origin of the term “blue” as a nickname for umpires. One possibility is that it comes from the concept of “blue laws,” which were strict moral codes enforced by Puritan colonists in America during the 17th and 18th centuries. These laws were often enforced by men who wore blue uniforms, and it is possible that the term “blue” was transferred to umpires who also enforced rules in a similar way.

Another theory suggests that the term “blue” is related to the authority of umpires. The color blue is often associated with authority, such as with police officers who wear blue uniforms. Similarly, umpires are charged with maintaining order on the field, and their decisions are final. It is possible that the term “blue” became associated with their authoritative role.

The association of blue with umpires may also have its roots in the Civil War. During this time, soldiers from the Union Army wore navy blue uniforms. Umpires, who are often considered impartial arbiters of the game, may have been compared to Union soldiers, who were also seen as impartial enforcers of law and order.

The earliest recorded use of the term “blue” to refer to an umpire dates back to the late 19th century. It is said that the term originated from the bluish tint of the woolen uniforms that umpires wore during that time period. These uniforms were made of blue serge, a lightweight woolen fabric popular for its durability and comfort. As umpires became more prominent in baseball, the term “blue” became more widely used to refer to them, eventually becoming a fixture in the sport’s lexicon.

The use of the term blue in baseball

The term “blue” started being used in baseball in the late 19th century, when umpires became an integral part of the game. At that time, umpires wore blue uniforms that were easily distinguishable from the players. Fans and players alike began to refer to these officials as “blues,” and the term quickly caught on. Today, “blue” is a common term used to refer to umpires in baseball and is used in various contexts.

One of the most common contexts in which the term “blue” is used in baseball is to describe an umpire’s call. For example, if a player disagrees with a call made by the umpire, he might say something like, “Come on, blue, that was a ball!” or “You missed that call, blue!” The term is also used to refer to the umpire’s overall performance, as in, “The blue had a great game today” or “That blue needs to get his eyes checked.”

The term “blue” has a significant cultural significance in baseball. It symbolizes the authority and impartiality of the umpire, who maintains order and fairness in the game. The use of the term “blue” is deeply ingrained in baseball culture, and it has become part of the sport’s rich history and traditions. Baseball fans often use the term with affection and respect, recognizing umpires’ important role in the game. At the same time, the term can also be used in a negative context, as players and fans alike may express frustration or disappointment with an umpire’s calls.

Evolution of umpire uniforms

Umpire uniforms have undergone significant changes throughout baseball’s history, and these changes have contributed to the “blue” moniker. 

In the early days of baseball, umpires often wore suits and ties to officiate games. However, as the sport became more organized, umpire uniforms began to evolve. By the late 19th century, umpires were wearing blue woolen uniforms similar in style to those worn by police officers. The use of blue uniforms helped distinguish umpires from players and spectators and gave them an air of authority.

Over time, umpire uniforms have continued to evolve. In the early 20th century, umpires began to wear caps to protect their heads from the sun. By the 1920s, the woolen uniforms that had been popular for decades were replaced by lighter and more breathable materials like cotton and polyester. In the 1970s, umpires began to wear chest protectors and shin guards to protect themselves from foul balls and other hazards on the field.

Today, umpire uniforms have changed significantly, both in terms of style and materials. In the early 20th century, umpires began wearing more streamlined uniforms that were less bulky and more form-fitting. These uniforms were made of lighter materials, such as cotton and polyester, and they were designed to be more comfortable and breathable for the umpire. The color of the uniform also evolved, with them now wearing black uniforms instead of blue. MLB now features modern materials and designs that are functional and stylish for umpires.

Throughout all of these changes, however, the blue uniform has remained a constant. The use of blue uniforms has helped to cement the term “blue” as a nickname for umpires, and it has become an important part of baseball culture. Umpire uniforms may continue to evolve in the years to come, but the “blue” moniker will likely remain a fixture in the sport’s lexicon for many years to come.

Pop culture references

The term “blue” has made its way into popular culture, often used to refer to umpires in books, movies, television shows, and other forms of media. 

In the classic baseball movie “The Natural,” the umpire’s character is called “Blue.” In the film, the umpire’s role is portrayed as crucial to the game, and the use of the term “blue” reinforces his authority and impartiality. Similarly, in the movie “Bull Durham,” the main character, Crash Davis, refers to the umpire as “Blue” throughout the film, further cementing the connection between umpires and the color blue.

Moreover, in the 1989 movie “Major League,” the character Harry Doyle, played by Bob Uecker, refers to the home plate umpire as “blue.” In the popular book “The Art of Fielding” by Chad Harbach, the protagonist is a college baseball player who dreams of becoming an umpire and is nicknamed “The Blue.”

Another example of the use of the term “blue” can be seen in the video game “MLB: The Show.” In this game, players can interact with umpires and argue calls, and the umpire is often referred to as “blue” during these exchanges. The use of this term in the game reinforces the cultural significance of the term and its association with the game of baseball.

The significance of this cultural reference lies in how it reinforces the authority of umpires and other figures in positions of power. By associating these individuals with the color blue, they are elevated to a position of authority and respect. At the same time, the use of the term “blue” can also be used to subvert or challenge authority, as seen in movies like “The Natural” and “Bull Durham,” where the characters use the term to express frustration or dissatisfaction with the umpire’s calls.

Other terms for umpires

While the term “blue” is most commonly used in baseball to refer to umpires, variations of this term are used in other sports and regions. 

In basketball, for example, the term “ref” is commonly used to refer to referees. Similarly, in football, the term “official” refers to the officials who enforce the game’s rules. In soccer, referees are commonly called “officials” or “whistleblowers.” In cricket, umpires are called “umpies” or “men in white.” In rugby, referees are called “ref” or “whistleblower.”

In some regions of the United States, variations of the term “blue” are used to refer to umpires. In the Midwest, for example, umpires are sometimes referred to as “blueshirts” or “bluecoats,” while in the South, they may be called “bluesmen” or “bluejackets.” These variations reflect the unique cultural and linguistic traditions of different regions of the country.

Other terms used to refer to umpires in baseball include “ump,” “arbiter,” and “zebra.” The term “ump” is a shortened version of “umpire” and is commonly used in informal settings. The term “arbiter” is a more formal term and is used to refer to the impartial and authoritative role of the umpire. The term “zebra” is used to refer to umpires who wear black and white striped uniforms, which are sometimes used in amateur or recreational leagues.


Is calling an umpire blue an insult?

The answer to this question is not straightforward, as it depends on the context in which the term is used. In general, the term “blue” is not considered an insult. Rather, it is a longstanding part of baseball culture and is often used affectionately or with respect. However, in some situations, such as when a player or fan is angry about a call made by the umpire, the term can be used in a negative or insulting way. As with any nickname or label, the tone and intention behind the use of the term “blue” will determine whether it is considered an insult or not.

Do umpires always wear blue?

While umpires in baseball are often associated with blue uniforms, this is not always the case. In fact, umpires today typically wear black or dark-colored pants and shirts and distinctive caps. However, using blue in umpire uniforms is still prevalent, particularly in lower levels of play. Umpires in other leagues may wear a variety of colors, including black, gray, or navy blue. Additionally, the term “blue” has become so closely associated with umpires that it is still used as a nickname even when the umpires are not wearing blue uniforms.


The term “blue” has become an integral part of the language and culture of baseball, and its origins are deeply rooted in the history of the sport. While the exact origin of the term remains a mystery, theories, and speculations suggest that it may be related to the color of the woolen uniforms worn by umpires, the authority and impartiality of these officials, and the historical context of the Civil War. 

Over time, the term “blue” has become synonymous with umpires, and it is used in various contexts to describe their role and performance on the field. The evolution of umpire uniforms has also contributed to the development of the “blue” moniker, as distinctive and recognizable clothing has become a hallmark of the umpire’s role in baseball. 

Ultimately, understanding the history and culture of sports, including the origins of terms like “blue,” is important for appreciating the unique traditions and legacies of different sports and for recognizing the crucial role umpires and other officials play in maintaining the integrity of the game.