Culbreth has umpired in five Division Series, six League Championship Series, two World Series and one All-Star Game, as well as the National League's single-game playoff in 2007. He was one of the umpires when a Tampa Bay Rays pitcher threw a no-hitter for the first time in team history, and he was behind the plate when the New York Mets achieved the same distinction. Prior to the 2013 Major League Baseball season, Culbreth, Ted Barrett and Jim Joyce became crew chiefs after the retirements of Ed Rapuano, Tim Tschida and Derryl Cousins.
Culbreth has umpired in the American League Division Series in 2002, 2007, 2012, and 2014; and the National League Division Series in 2004 and 2008. He officiated in the American League Championship Series in 2000, 2009, 2010 and 2011; and the National League Championship Series in 2003 and 2006. Culbreth umpired in the World Series in 2008 and 2012. Culbreth has officiated in 67 postseason games through the 2012 season, being the plate umpire for 11 of those contests. He was also a member of the crew for the 2006 MLB All-Star Game in Pittsburgh. The American League defeated the National League, 3–2.
Culbreth, Ted Barrett and Jim Joyce were promoted to crew chief positions prior to the 2013 season, after former crew chiefs Ed Rapuano, Tim Tschida and Derryl Cousins retired. At the age of 49, Culbreth became the second-youngest active crew chief, with only Barrett younger at the age of 47. Culbreth's 2013 crew consists of Brian O'Nora, Bill Welke and Adrian Johnson.
According to Retrosheet, Culbreth has issued a total of 38 ejections during his major league career through the 2014 season. His highest single-season ejection total was six in 1997. Through 2012, he has officiated in a total of 2,512 games, and he has served in more than one hundred games each season since 1997.
Culbreth had never umpired prior to attending umpire school in 1987. He did not take long to reach the major leagues, where he made his first umpiring appearance on August 13, 1993. On that day, Culbreth umpired at second base in a game played at the Kingdome between the Seattle Mariners and the California Angels.
Culbreth became a member of the official AL umpire staff in 1999, when multiple call-up umpires were hired to take the place of umpires who had participated in a mass resignation. He began his career on the AL staff, but in 2000 MLB merged the umpires from its two leagues. Culbreth wore #42 as an AL umpire, but he had to stop using that number after it was retired in recognition of Jackie Robinson.
During the 2001 season, Culbreth received an email from then-MLB official Sandy Alderson advising the umpire that he was not calling enough strikes and that if he did not make adjustments, he would face criticism from ESPN analysts when he umpired a game that was broadcast by the network.
Culbreth was a part of the umpiring crew when Cal Ripken, Jr. of the Baltimore Orioles joined the 3,000 hit club. He was present when Ripken finally sat out of a game after having played in 2,632 consecutive games. Culbreth was the home plate umpire when Baltimore's Rafael Palmeiro reached the 3,000-hit milestone on July 15, 2005 with a double against Joel Piñeiro of the Seattle Mariners.
On September 16, 2005, Culbreth was involved in a dispute with pitcher Randy Johnson of the New York Yankees. At the time, the Yankees were contending for a playoff spot. After Johnson expressed his displeasure with some of the umpire's calls on balls and strikes, Culbreth ejected Johnson in the second inning. Johnson said that he was "deeply regretful" and acknowledged, "I was wrong for letting my emotions get away from me." Prior to Johnson's apology, Culbreth was criticized by Yankees announcers John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman, neither of whom was aware of what had been said on the field.
Earlier in the 2005 season, Culbreth had twice ejected Philadelphia Phillies manager Charlie Manuel from games, once in April and again in August. During the 2001 season,Culbreth had previously ejected Manuel from a contest; it was held during Manuel's time as manager of the Cleveland Indians. Culbreth has also thrown former manager Mike Hargrove out of three different games, with two of the ejections taking place while Hargrove was with Cleveland and the third during the manager's time in Baltimore.
Culbreth was the left field umpire for the single-game playoff between the Colorado Rockies and the San Diego Padres that decided the NL's 2007 wild card team. The game ended in the 13th inning when home plate umpire Tim McClelland called Rockies player Matt Holliday safe at home plate; the call was controversial and replays did not show clearly whether or not Holliday touched the plate on the play. Colorado won by a score of 9–8.
In the 2008 World Series, which featured the Philadelphia Phillies and Tampa Bay Rays, Culbreth worked behind home plate for Game 3. The Phillies claimed a 5–4 victory due to a walk–off single by Carlos Ruiz. Philadelphia won the Series in five games. In Game 3 of the 2012 World Series, Culbreth umpired behind the plate for the matchup between the Detroit Tigers and the San Francisco Giants. The Giants shut out the Tigers, 2–0. San Francisco won the World Series in the next game.
Culbreth was the first-base umpire for Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Matt Garza's no-hitter against the Detroit Tigers on July 26, 2010. In the third inning, Tigers manager Jim Leyland was ejected from the game by second-base umpire Marty Foster. Garza's no-hitter was the first by a Rays pitcher. Culbreth was at second base on June 1, 2012, when New York Mets pitcher Johan Santana threw a no-hitter against the St. Louis Cardinals. This no-hitter was the first to be thrown by a Mets pitcher. Santana benefited from a close call on the third base line by umpire Adrian Johnson; the Carlos Beltrán line drive appeared to be fair, but Johnson ruled it foul.
During spring training in 2014, Culbreth was part of the first use of expanded replay in a MLB game. After Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons elected to challenge a safe call made by Culbreth, who was umpiring at first base, replay umpire Brian O'Nora upheld the ruling following a video review that lasted 2 minutes and 34 seconds.
During a game in 2013 between the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Culbreth, acting as the crew chief for the game, made an incorrect call in the 7th inning, for which he later received a two-game suspension and a fine. Houston manager Bo Porter made a pitching change, and Los Angeles manager Mike Scioscia called for a pinch-hitter. Porter attempted to make a second pitching change and Scioscia immediately contested it. After discussing the call with his umpiring crew, Culbreth allowed the pitching change, violating the MLB rule 3.05(b). He did not serve his suspension immediately, and he continued working regular games in the weeks following the incident.
Fieldin Culbreth was born and raised in Inman, South Carolina. He attended Mabry Middle School. A former pitcher and outfielder, Culbreth graduated from Chapman High School and attended Spartanburg Methodist College. He studied at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, where he played baseball. He began umpiring in college following an arm injury. He and his wife Claire have three children: Fieldin IV, Celina and Shannon. As a member of an organization called BLUE for Kids, Culbreth has visited and brought presents to hospitalized children on multiple occasions.
Culbreth is five feet and eleven inches tall and weighs 225 pounds.