I have good umpire friend down in Florida who has been a long-time official with the Treasure Coast Officials Association. I was impressed with the question I heard him ask a coach who was grousing about a call, “What other rule would you like me to ignore today, Coach?” His words came to mind yesterday as I was researching old umpire manuals.
In 1875 The Robert M. DeWitt Publishing Company of New York pubished DeWitt ‘s Baseball Umpire’s Guide , a Complete Book of Instructions to the Umpires of the Professional and Amateur Arena, edited by Henry Chadwick. As I was reading through the Guide, the following paragraph leapt off the page.
“The duties of the Umpire in Base Ball are, first, to correctly interpret the laws of the game. Secondly, to see that the contestants do their work on the field and at the bat fairly and as the rules of the game require. Thirdly, to decide all disputed points of play which may occur during the progress of a match game. What he cannot do, however, is to refuse to enforce any section of the code of rules under which he is empowered to act in the postion.“
That is precisely the point my friend was referencing when he asked the dissenting coach, “What other rule would you like me to ignore today, Coach?” Nothing has changed in the umpire’s code of ethics with respect to rule enforcement in the past 135 years. We are not hired to pick and choose the rules we will enforce and those we will not enforce. We are hired for our knowledge of the rules and our ability to enforce all of them impartially. There is a fine line between not enforcing any section of the code of rules under which we as umpires are empowered to act and being a walking rule-book-accident waiting to happen. That is another reason we are hired; to employ common sense as we facilitate the game through its innings. To the extent that we walk that tightrope carefully, we will be upholding the best demonstrated practices of great officiating, and will have provided the players, coaches, and fans with the oversight of the game to which they are entitled.
Have a great spring, you all, and enjoy your time on the field.
A fellow umpire asked us earlier this week if we had watched the plate umpire when Jacoby Ellsbury stole home against the Yankees in last weekend’s series. The umpire’s mechanic was spot on; he called the pitch first and then the play at the plate. That is the way it is supposed to be done, and when you do it that way, you’ll avoid the trouble that can ensue if you call the play first.
A good friend of mine was behind the plate with a runner on third and a 3 and 1 count on the batter, a very dangerous hitter. It was a tight ball game and the coach elected to have his runner steal home. The pitch was very close to the strike zone, but the catcher quickly caught in and got the glove down just in time to tag the runner before he crossed the plate. A big cloud of dust arose around the action which served as a backdrop for the celebration then launched by the defense when the plate umpire rang up the disappointed runner for the third out.
The third base coach ambled down towards home plate as the umpire was cleaning the dish and the teams were changing sides. ” Blue, that last pitch was a strike, right? A strike.” My friend did a double take, probably because in the excitement, he hadn’t called the pitch before calling the runner out, and now the moment was a bit fuzzy. The pitch was really close; what was it? But, what difference did it make? The inning was over and the teams were moving on.
Yes, the inning was over and the offense had lost its chance to even the score that inning, but if the last pitch had been ball 4, that would have ended the player’s at-bat and the tag ended the inning. However, if the pitch had been strike 2, the batter would remain a batsman, the inning would have ended on the tag at the plate, but the dangerous hitter would be the leadoff hitter the next inning. That is what the coach wanted to be sure would happen.
“Blue, that last pitch was a strike, right?” Remember the mechanic; call the pitch, then the play, and you won’t have to second guess yourself.
At first I thought they were talking about the Cleveland Indians and then I thought they were recruiting players from Native American reservations. I was wrong on both counts. Millions of people competed to see who could throw a baseball faster than all the others. With so many people in India, I guess the odds are much better than looking here in the states where the populations are spread out and the average citizen knows that they would have to be paid millions of dollars.
Check out the following CNN article.
It’s not about umpiring, but still interesting if you love the game of baseball. During my pro ball days, I umpired for Houston Astros teams in the Gulf Coast League and Texas Ranger teams in the Midwest League, Texas League and American Association. In one or more of those stops I spent some time around Tom House who now is the pitching guru of the major leagues. I remember him throwing a football during pre-game activities on the field and in the bullpen during games.
Dr. Tom House is also the answer to the following trivia question:
Who caught Hank Aaron’s 715th homerun blast?
Tom was in the left field bullpen and made the catch while Hammerin’ Hank was rounding the bases which most of us have seen numerous times.
Many of you are now involved in state championship games at the high school level or in conference championships at the college level. If you are working those games involving the best teams from the area, then you are part of the very special third team out there, the forgotten all star team of umpires. I just want to take a moment to congratulate you and help you realize the significance of your being assigned those playoff games.
Throughout the season you kept your assignments, even though It may have been at some personal cost; you displayed excellent rule knowledge; you executed mechanics almost flawlessly; you communicated effectively and often with your partners; you effectively facilitated the game for players and coaches, and you demonstrated a desire to be the best umpire out there. I know that for a fact, because otherwise your assignor would have replaced you with someone else. Look around you and see which of your peers are missing from the cadre of post-season officials from your umpire association.
You have just a little bit more of that special stuff that separates the exceptional umpires from the great umpires, just as the teams whose games you are officiating have that little extra bit of talent, hustle, and desire that separates them from the other teams in their division. The difference between the two teams whose game you are officiating and your umpire team is that they have the media and the student body behind them to do their cheerleading. Your team, the forgotten all-star team of top umpires, has only yourselves to applaud your performance over the season, a performance so good that it catapulted you into the playoff arena. Take a minute and pat yourself on the back for a good job well done,
If, this year, you find yourself on the outside looking in on the cadre of umpires from your association who were selected for post-season assignments, and you are feeling a bit miffed about your exclusion from that august body, now is a good time to take stock of things. What are the areas of umpiring in which you could show some improvement next year so that your assignor will put you into the post-season pool? More importantly, what is the game plan you will employ to be sure you make those improvements? What gets measured, gets tended to, and what gets tended to, gets better. Be proactive; take charge of your umpiring behavior, and do what you need to do to show your assignor you deserve to be part of the forgotten all star team.
Finally, to those of you already at the top of your game, to those of you who are representing your association in post-season play, to those of you to whom the game means so much that you make significant sacrifices during the year to get the nod for post-season play I offer my congratulations. By your skill and dedication, you are making it possible for the teams in the championship hunt to have world class officiating calling their games. You are the third team out there, and in reality, it is good that you are forgotten by the players, coaches and fans, because that means you did your job so well they didn’t even know you were out there. Enjoy!
Working as a crew is critical to having a well umpired game. When watching a game, it is easy to see whether there is a crew or individuals working the game within the first couple of innings.
A crew’s work begins long before the umpires arrive at the field. Umpires should contact one another a couple of days prior to the game. Remind one another of the upcoming game assignment, game time and location of the game. This is also a good time to talk about what parking lot you’ll be at and what color shirt you will be wearing that night (for those of you who have an option). There’s no worse feeling in the world then to be at the field waiting and hoping that your fellow umpire remembered the game, or that his assignment accurately listed the time and location. The crew is not starting off on the right foot when we start 30 minutes prior to game time.
The pre-game conference for umpires is critical. It’s just as important if it’s the first time you’ve worked with an umpire or the tenth time. It’s important that the crew talk about when the plate umpire will cover third base, touch and tag reasonabilities, fly ball and line drive coverage, fair foul coverage, and signals that will be used to communicate. Don’t think that your fellow umpire knows what you’re going to do. There could have been four of five games between when you worked with them last.
Having called your fellow umpire, completed a good pre-game conference, you are now ready to step onto the field and start the game. Now communication between umpires is critical. The use of hand signals is key to insuring proper crew coverage. It’s one thing to give the signal that the plate umpire will cover third. It is another thing doing it. Often I see individuals do a great job of giving all the proper signals at the proper time, but the signals have no meaning because they don’t do what they said they were going to do. Where I see this most often is on the time play. Plate umpire after plate umpire will signal time play then go first baseline extended rather than lining up the play and the touch of home. Another thing I see a lot of is one individual giving signals all night long and the other individual standing there doing nothing. It is important that the crew knows that everyone knows what the other is doing. The most important thing to remember is that signals have meaning and all members of the crew must do what they say they are going to do.
A crew will work together when a mistake happens. If the plate umpire forgets to cover third or the base umpire over commits to a single play with multiple runners, the crew is not doing their best to cover the play. Standing there saying ‘that is their call not mine’ is not acceptable.
The finial and most important mechanic working as a crew is TRUST and being TRUSTWORTHY. Individuals may do everything else well, but if they do not trust their fellow umpire to properly cover plays and make the correct calls, then it is impossible to work as a crew. By the same token, we must be trustworthy. If I say I’m going to cover third I need to be there. If in our pre-game conference I agree that I am going to have touches and tags at a base, I need to make sure I watch all of them.
When you begin to work your games more as a crew and less as a single umpire, your games will become much more fun to work, and others will have much more fun working with you. Remember at the end of the game, no one comments about individual umpires but rather the crew. ‘Those umpires were………’.
Coverage of third:
Third base coverage by the plate umpire continues to be a major sticking point for our board. The plate umpire needs to be much more proactive in covering third rather than reactive. When the ball is hit and the plate umpire does not have fair/foul responsibilities they should begin to move (hustle) down toward third base in foul territory. Once they are about three quarters of the way up the line they should read, is there going to be a play on the lead runner at third. If not then they should move (hustle) back to the plate area. If the umpire is proactive they’ll be in great position for any play at third and they are also going to be in great position for any plays at the plate. The worst thing that’s going to happen is the plate umpire is going to hustle and show everyone he’s working hard and part of the crew.
This is an area where I see a lot of umpires look real sloppy. #1 plate and base umpires should only be getting together once or at most twice a game between innings to talk. The crew needs to continue to umpire between innings. The plate umpire needs to keep the game moving, players tend to hustle more if they know the umpire is standing there watching. If the umpire is walking around talking to their fellow umpire players tend to walk and players don’t warm-up the pitcher when the catcher was on base. The base umpire should be watching the infielders, watch how they throw to first. Does one out of every two throws go to the fence? How is the first basemen fielding the throws? Positioning between innings is another thing that we look sloppy, the plate umpire should move a quarter of the way up the foul line. Whether it is the first or third baseline is your personal preference. If one coach is coming out each half inning and talking about plays or shooting the breeze move to the other foul line next half inning. If you’ve had a coach question (argue) a call move to the other foul line. The base umpire should move a couple of steps onto the outfield grass midway between first and second. This is going to accomplish two things, one is you’re not going to have to dodge baseballs when the team in the first base dugout send someone out to warm-up the right fielder and it gets the base umpire away from anyone who may want to question (argue) a call.
Take pride in yourself. I’m not saying shoes should be spit shined, but they should be cleaned. Shining them once or twice wouldn’t hurt. Uniforms should not look like you pulled it out of a pile in the backseat. Uniform shirts should be able to be and stay tucked in. If not maybe it’s a message you’re not the size you were five years ago. Over time shirts fade and should be navy not royal blue. Bottom line–take as much pride in your appearance as you do in getting the call right.
Consistency in Rule Enforcement
No one wins if we don’t consistently enforce rules. Players don’t know what the expectations are from game to game. Coaches are going to be much more likely to question an umpire when enforcement does take place.
Overall I think we do a great job. I question whether any other state has a more dedicated and professional group of umpires. Remember, we can all always work on our signals, mechanics and rules knowledge. Keep up the good work!
Much of the writing over the past few weeks has taken place as sub-topics as people reply to a similar situation looking for an answer. In order to generate more fresh, new post, I appeal to you to send your rule situations and questions to me so I can make new posts for each interesting play. It makes it easier for others to follow threads on this blog.
Reply to this blog post or send your stories and interesting game situations to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Be focused and ready for the unexpected to happen! It’s great to get the best look on the field and know that you are right no matter how much others might question you.
About one-third or halfway through each season, we must take time to reflect on why we encourage our youth to take part in sports. My commitment to officiating comes from my personal passion for “age-appropriate youth sports experiences”. Youth sports create many “teachable moments”. Modeling good sporting behavior while teaching the intricacies of the game set the tone for a rich learning environment and set the scene for truly memorable events. Children learn how to respect opponents, accept losing, and “be good winners”. Youth sports build character and creates the important opportunity for our children to feel that they are earning respect.
We can only be involved if we agree to play by all the rules. Leaving out some rules simply for convenience, because they are tough calls, or since “coaches don’t like them” is not acceptable. All rules carry equal weight. Punishments, however, vary based on the severity of the offense. “See it, think it, call it” makes sense in officiating every aspect of our games.
Remember, the game is always bigger than the officials, and, frankly, the game is much, much bigger than the coaches and players because they are not expected to be versed in the rules. Fair play and the integrity of the game must be first and foremost, and the game officials are responsible for managing the game and demanding expected behaviors. Yes, good sporting behavior is expected. . . so PLEASE enforce it and applaud it when appropriate.
Every once in a while we hear about a great display of sportsmanship, but we all have recent memories of conflict, disputed calls, disrespectful behavior by the coach, or poor choices by a participant. When spectators yell at an opposing child, we know it is wrong. Thankfully, we all appreciate officiating most when we witness the right things happening during our games. Many hesitate or fail to appreciate the power of these moments. I thought I would brainstorm a few and then challenge you, the readers, to respond with good moments that you have witnessed or would like to see. (Just click on “Comments” below.)
Great moments in youth sports happen when:
- opponents help/assist injured opponents,
- apologize/feel remorse for their aggressive foul,
- coaches compliment the officials when they lose the close game,
- players really mean “good game” when they say it to opponents and officials,
- participants and spectators feel empathy for a player that fell short in his attempt at greatness,
- teams are amazed and almost cheer the great plays and hits by the other team,
- a player called out on a close play says, “Good call!” to the umpire, and more.
I believe these moments are too often missing from youth sports competitions. We must remember that youth sports includes high school sports. These educational moments are meant to shape our children for decision-making in their future. For this reason alone, let’s do whatever we can to do our jobs well. The coach and the overall educational experience are very important. Thankfully, the rules clearly lay out the expectation of all parties. Game officials are challenged with the duty to enforce the rules as written. I fail to see many collegiate and professional leagues enforcing their rules as written. That’s a topic for a future article.
Generally problems arise when people try to do someone else’s job. When fans start to coach or officiate, coaches start to officiate, or officials start to coach, trouble ensues. If we all do our jobs with vigor and enthusiasm dedicating ourselves to learn continually as we go, our games are in good hands. The rules are working or the games would require constantly changing rules.
Did you notice that spectator behavior was lacking from this list? The few cordial cheers during the pre-game announcements is about the only times when I recognize the other guys getting “a hand”. Respond and give more examples of “good sporting behavior”. Recognize and appreciate proper behavior in an appropriate way (telling other officials or thanking coaches for modeling good behavior at the game-ending handshake. Just because we expect it, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t applaud it!
Now that I have you thinking about great deeds, check out this news worthy deed that earned national coverage. Despite the fact that the rules were misapplied, this is a great story. Click on title for a news article from ESPN or click on the youtube video to see the post-game interview.
Obstruction and the related base awards and amount of protection always seem to be confusing on the field and in the classroom whenever discussing the rule. Rule 2.00 tell us that obstruction is an act by the defensive team (not just the 9 players on the field) that hinders a runner or changes the pattern of play.
Here are some important things to consider if you wish to better understand obstruction.
- There is no act alone that can be done by the defensive team that can cause obstruction to be ruled.
- The offensive team must be put at a disadvantage (called out, not able to advance to the base they would have and so on) by the fielder’s action before obstruction can be ruled.
- The umpire should always ask himself/herself whether the defensive player’s action had the ability to change the outcome of the play before ruling obstruction.
I think a lot of times umpires rule obstruction too quickly. If unsure whether the act warrants an obstruction call, give the play a second or two to develop before making the ruling. In no way am I saying to wait until the end of playing action, but sometimes the play needs to develop more before a ruling can be made. Sometimes it will be clear that the runner lost a step or two (or more) because of the action and you will then be able to make the call shortly after the point of obstruction.
Twice this year I have seen umpires calling obstruction on a fielder for blocking the base prior to controlling the ball on pickoffs with runners ruled SAFE on the play. On one of these plays, the umpire failed to properly award the obstructed runner second base after making the obstruction call.
An umpire must award one base when obstruction is called. Rule 8-3-2 states: “The obstructed runner is awarded a minimum of one base beyond his position on base when the obstruction occurred. An obstructed runner is always protected and if need be awarded the next base beyond the last base touched.”
An obstructed runner can NEVER be called out between the two bases he/she was obstructed, unless the runner is guilty of interference. Now the same rule states that a runner may be protected or awarded additional bases if, in the umpires judgment, the runner would have reached that base had there been no obstruction.
So what’s the bottom line?
Don’t be too quick to rule obstruction! Once an umpire calls obstruction, it can’t be taken back and an award/protection must be given. If the umpire doesn’t feel the award is warranted then probably the act didn’t affect the pattern of play and obstruction should not have been called. Obstruction is 100% umpire judgment. The defensive team’s action alone does not constitute obstruction. The offensive team must be put at a disadvantage in order for obstruction to be called.
Bucksport, Maine–Saturday April 26, 2008
Can you tell that local Eastern Maine baseball umpire John Curry enjoys what he is doing?
There’s nothing like ringing a guy up on a tag play at the plate, but John’s timing, focus on the tag, and out call are all performed perfectly. And, of course, the player sliding in was out. (It wouldn’t be as much fun if the player were safe and you called him out.)
The same enthusiasm is displayed by partner Chris Parker in the same high school game. Chris lets everyone know that the Bucksport Golden Bucks first baseman did not keep his foot on the base on a throw from the third baseman. Chris made the call, the Bucksport head coach wondered if he got the call right, and Chris did not hesitate to ask his partner if he thought the player might have kept his foot on the base. Plate umpire John Curry confirmed that the first baseman was off the bag and any controversy that might have arisen in this hard fought game was put to rest. Nice teamwork guys and a job well done!
As a sports official, one the most important skills that we need to develop and constantly maintain is the ability to focus on the player activity that is assigned to us per recommended mechanics. Trained eyes make it possible to see most of what we are supposed to see so we can properly officiate our games.
This following video helps me make my point about “focus” and the need for additional officials. How did you do? Could you count the number of passes by the white team? How aware are you of what happened. Please take time to read the rest of this blog entry after watching the video.
Most officials will agree that at the high school level in most sports, we would benefit greatly by having an additional official. The way that basketball has changed over the years (esp. 3-point line and motion offenses), we can serve the game best by having three (3) officials. In football, officials cannot cover some blocking infractions and actions against receivers without five (5) officials. In baseball, we can cover a game best with three (3) which allows umpires to move into the outfield to rule on catches, accurately rule on base-touching and fair-foul balls, and have the ability to create good angles and be close enough to plays. Hockey also needs to move from two to three (3) officials. When you are focused on a potential off-sides call, you are not capable of seeing the whole play related to a possible penalty call.
However, given the financial times and some resistance to additional officials amongst some of our coaches and athletic administrators, we must try to do our best with one less set of eyes. This makes our pre-game conferences and adherance to prescribed mechanics even more important. We must know our responsibilities and strictly follow required mechanics. These mechanics (positioning, signals, and use of the voice/whistle) determine how we view and rule upon what we see. We all know that we make hundreds or even thousands of rulings during each contest we officiate, only to interrupt games (making calls) at appropriate times.
Some officials quickly and easily learn what to focus on early in their officiating careers. Others take a great deal of time to properly train their eyes. Some never master this part of officiating. “Focus” is very important but we must be careful not to focus our eyes or our mind too much on one or more concerns. Looking for that illegal screen/block or holding (basketball, football, and hockey) can sometimes avert our focus from seeing the entire play that is often necessary. With an additional official, you may be able to focus on one thing (and sometimes the mechanics provides for this).
When we say to ourselves/others that we would like to see that play again, do you think we might have focused in on something a little bit too much? I know that I have been caught by this many times. Now that it has come to my attention, I know that I need to add this comment and thought to my pre-game preparation checklist.
What a great day for baseball! It was so good, in fact, that we went 11 innings (this was a countable game). In my second plate game of the early season, I found myself not feeling very comfortable in the early going. Both catchers were moving all over the place. Inside/outside wasn’t much of a problem, but both catchers were moving forward and backward “late” (after sign had been given and pitcher was coming set) making it difficult to call the high and low pitches. About the second inning of, “Boy, I’m not getting a good look at some pitches”, a light went off in my head saying, “You’re setting your feet too soon.”
So, rather then using the old umpire school mechanic of “on the rubber” (ready position feet set), it was “Wait until catcher moved and step up/back,” and, hey, I could see again and boy, I felt good for the next 9 innings.
I’m sure by now you’re asking yourself, “Why in the world does Rob feel the need to tell us about this?”
Here’s my reason. (Boy, that was long winded.) As umpires, I think all too often we get drilled into doing things one way and one way only, just out of repetition. However, whether we are on the bases or working the plate, we need to be doing self evaluation and changing/adjusting if something isn’t working.
I’ve heard more then once after a game, “Boy, I wasn’t seeing/calling the ________ today.” But then the umpire did nothing to self evaluate why that was happening. Think, “Is the fielder(s) doing something different; am I doing something I normally don’t?” The key is, don’t wait until after the game to say to the person you worked with, “Did you see me doing anything different?” That’s a great reason to talk to him between innings. He may be able to key you in on something that’s going on around you.
One very important aspect of umpire teamwork is covering every touch of a base while also moving to get in position for your next call. Umpires must know what to watch and not miss a look. This umpire was just starting to move towards third now that his duty of watching the runner tag the plate was fulfilled. Nice work Bill!
Timing is when you rule on a play, not when you communicate the call via mechanics and voice. So no matter how long you wait to communicate the call, your timing is going to be poor if you’ve made the call before the entire play happens. Good timing results from training yourself to use your eyes properly on plays.
In force out situations I see poor timing all the time. Not that the call is communicated quickly, but the call itself is made before the umpire is sure all requirements for a force out are present. 95% of the time there’s no problem, but we are paid for those 5%. On the very first day you started to umpire you were told watch the feet and you’ll hear the ball hit the glove. Great, but how often do you look to see if the fielder maintains control of the ball before we make that call? You should always take your eyes from the base to the glove to make sure the ball is in it then communicate the call. You’ll never be saying “Out, safe; he dropped the ball.”
Have you been in the stands and said, “Boy, that plate umpire isn’t calling the curve ball a strike today”. Odds are the umpire’s timing is poor and he’s calling the pitch before it reaches the batter. Good timing comes about by tracking the ball all the way from the pitcher’s hand into the catcher’s mitt before making the call. Much like a batter, umpires tend to “give up” on pitches before they reach the batter. When that’s done it’s been proven that umpires are calling the pitch BEFORE it reaches the batter.
The bottom line is this; timing myths like, “see it, say it, call it.” and “pause read and react” only delay communication of a call that may have been made using poor timing.
Use your eyes properly and make the call. You’ll never be to quick.
Jack Kroger replied to another section of the blog asking the following situation. I felt that this was one of those situations that might make you think a bit. Here it is:
‘Bases are loaded with one out. A fly ball hit to the outfield is caught legally (two outs). After the ball is put back in play, the defensive team appeals that the runner left second early. The umpire agrees and called the runner going from second to third out on the appeal. Does the run scored by the runner from third count?’
Kimball answer: The run scores. On caught balls, there is no force so all runs count that score before the base (or offending runner) is touched/tagged. This is commonly called a time play even though this is a bit easier than the time play when a runner scores at almost the exact same time as another runner is tagged for the third out. Unless the runner is forced to advance and hasn’t yet touched the base to which he is forced to advance when he or the base is touched, all preceding runs count that are scored before the third out occurs. Remember, your decision must be based on the time of the tag, not when the umpire signals the out. Failure by a runner to touch a base and being called out on appeal can muddy the water a bit. If the player was forced to advance to that base, the third out is a force play (runner must go there due to the batter becoming a runner) and no runs score even if they touched the base way before the player is called out on appeal. One other thing, an apparent fourth or fifth out can occur if a team gets a third out on appeal and wishes to appeal another runner to prevent a run from scoring. Have I confused anyone yet?
The above picture could represent a time play if there are two outs and a runner is about to score. Please comment by clarifying my answer and/or sharing some other interesting appeal plays or ‘run counts’ situations.
It has often been observed that one of the signs of a successful umpire is that at the end of the game, you don’t remember he/she was even there. Usually it is acts of commission (antagonistic attitude toward managers and players, short fuse during a discussion of a play, etc) that keep umpires in the negative limelight, but there are also acts of omission (lack of hustle, lack of focus, etc) that can also undermine our performance. During my spring training week in Florida last week, a veteran umpire pointed out to me that both coaches and players seemed to repeatedly ask me the question, “What’s the count, Blue?” My lack of information-sharing was interfering with the smooth conduct of the game, and I wasn’t even aware of it.
My evaluator shared with me his routine for giving the count on the batter and suggested I try it for a game or two and see if there was any reduction in the requests for the count. He gives the count after every two pitches (2-0, 1-1, 0-2, etc.) He also gives it after every foul ball just before he puts the ball back in play. which he says is a great reminder to make the ball live after each foul ball. He also gives the count whenever there is a full count.I took his advice was pleasantly surprised to see a dramatic drop in the number of cries, ”What’s the count, Blue?” To be sure, sometimes the catcher, pitcher, and coaches are deep in thought and will request the count just after I have announced it. That’s the nature of the game. But at least I was operating from a set routine.
The proof of the efficacy of this routine was driven home to me after my final spring training game before heading north. One of the coaches, whose team I had had for five games, told me he had seen a marked improvement in my game management after I had consciously adopted a routine for giving the count. He said it made his decision-making much easier when he didn’t have to guess what the count was.
I’d be interested in what other umpires do about giving the count.
Here are some suggestions that I hope can help your umpiring. These also came from the handout that I previously made accessible as a download. As always, your comments and suggested additions/changes are greatly appreciated. This is a learning area which works best when parties interact.
- Set high expectations! Work to please yourself and demonstrate confidence in your abilities. By doing so, you will earn respect and the next umpire that works that team’s games will be more believable. The effort and performance of the last umpire crew can make it easy or difficult for the next crew.
- Keep the ball alive. Baseball is the greatest of the ball sports because the ball is alive even during times of little action. Rules govern what everyone must do during live ball situations.
- If the ball is alive, watch it closely – DO NOT look away! Don’t rest until time is out! Sweeping the plate is a good time to take a deep breath and mentally gear up for the next chunk of time that you will be focused.
- In the B & C positions, square your body to both the plate and the pitcher. In the “A” position, be square to the plate for check swings and pitched/batted balls striking the batter
- Look over your shoulder with a runner on 2nd or runners on 1st and 2nd base when the pitcher commits to home. It will help you with one of the game’s most difficult and important calls—the steal of third.
- Keep yourself busy out there. It is much easier to focus when you have that inner mental and physical energy. There is plenty to do. Be a hawk, but know when to interrupt play. Often it is better for your board interpreter/secretary to communicate with the school/coach than you being “the enforcer”.
- Use your loud voice, “Did he go?,” when you signal ask your partner to rule on a check swing.
- Plate men run up the baselines one-third or half the way with no runners on base and then run back to your position, stop, put on your mask, communicate with your partner(s), and take your position.
- Practice your calls and stances (and putting on your mask) in front of a mirror.
- If you ask to see the ball on a tag play, you’d better be calling an “out”.
- Have real slow timing on tag plays! See the ball, the possession by the fielder, the tag, and the voluntary release of the ball.
- Have slow timing when judging the catch of the batted ball. Often times by seeing it all and having slow timing, you can go by the player’s reaction if you have to guess. Yes, guessing, rather I should say experienced and educated guessing, is part of a two-man crew’s job.
- Dead heats at 1st base are outs. Close does not constitute safe! The runner must beat the ball to a base when forced and avoid being tagged. Outs are good for the game (and you!).
- Umpiring is a lonely job, but you have the best seat in the stadium. Getting together 2-3 times between innings should be plenty.
- Critique yourself after every game, not after every call! You need the confidence and positive energy to survive the game!
- If you feel anxious as a play is unfolding, this emotion will effect your timing and lead to missed calls.
- If a coach/spectator gets in your head, you cannot do your job to the best of your ability. Deal with the situation if necessary for the good of the game.
- Use your voice and signals to communicate. Mechanics sometimes require both voice and signals, other times just one or the other.
- Everyone makes mistakes! Whether or not you choose to learn from those mistakes is what matters most!
- Catalog close plays at first in your mind so you have that continuum (easy out‡ less than a step ‡ extremely close ‡ banger/dead heat ‡ close safe ‡ easy safe) giving you something to compare too when you judge every close call in the future.
- After calling a play, bounce out of that area to cover other runners at other bases or quickly return to your “home” position.
- Be aware of obstruction and interference and know how to rule on them appropriately.
- Have simple straightforward answers for players and coaches who ask about your calls and use rulebook language whenever possible.
- You are only as good as your last call. Make sure that your last call(s) were good ones!
- Coaches, Players and fans don’t care about the last game you called just the one you’re about to.
- DO NOT bring attention to yourself. With each batter approaching the plate, communicate with your partner enough to do be prepared to do your job properly.
- DO NOT cross your arms on safe calls.
- DO NOT point to first when a batter gets his fourth ball. If he doesn’t know enough to go there, he should stay at the plate longer. (Just kidding! Use your voice!)
- DO NOT work the bases from the B & C positions as though you could be sitting on a stool and simply spin around to make calls.
- DO NOT react to fan’s comments verbally or physically. This is not always easy. If absolutely necessary, use the rulebook to remove crazed parents/fans.
- DO NOT take your eyes off the pitcher when he has the ball.
- DO NOT be too quick to rule on a batter being struck by a batted ball when you are the base umpire. Use slow timing to let the player help you make the call. It is tough to be positive to rule that any ball strikes a batter/runner.
Basic fundamentals are very important to every coach, athlete, and official. The umpire with good solid fundamentals will be ready and able to handle the difficult games and the most challenging game situations. Using the rulebook as your primary guide, baseball umpires must also depend on basic fundamental movements/mechanics to guide their thinking and movement to be in the best location to make judgements.
My biggest concern watching umpires at the high school level here in Eastern Maine is the lack of movement by many umpires. Baseball and basketball conferences should employ three officials to best serve the game. So, therefore, if you are on a two-person crew, you need to be ready to move and adjust your position with every hit and throw. Other statements which one might call “guiding principles” can help umpires as they perform their duties.
A few days ago, I shared my 2008 list of fundamentals which you may have downloaded by clicking on the link. I have decided to publish the list below in order to inspire some discussion. Below is the list fundamentals that I brainstormed as I prepared to lead a clinic for the local umpire association. I know that it is incomplete and may need some adjusting. Please share any fundamental that you think I omitted and make suggestions for changes. In the next couple blog entries, I will share the “Do’s and Don’ts” that were also part of the previously mentioned downloadable document.
- Look and act like an umpire who deserves respect. Your hard work, rule knowledge, and commitment will command respect.
- Have “slow timing” that allows for you to witness the play in a relaxed manner, briefly run it again in your mind, and make the call.
- Watch the ball and glance at the runners. It’s about concentration and focus.
- One runner, stay with the runner; Two or more runners split the difference. Sometimes you should be close, other times you cannot be close. Know the difference!
- Be ready to move. Just like a defensive player, have the weight on the balls of your feet when action may be about to occur.
- Baseball somewhat unlike other games requires its arbiters to make and announce a decision when rule infractions. Doing nothing casts doubt on your abilities.
- Don’t take any call for granted. A surprise of any kind will mess up your timing and you are capable of kicking the play.
- NEVER forget that you are part of an umpiring crew. NEVER express negative remarks about your partner to game participants. Support (moral & active) for your fellow umpire will help him and the game in general.
- Have a quality and thorough pre-game conference. Know how your team is going to carry out its duties.
- Do your job and only your job. You have enough to do without getting involved in other people’s business.
- Evaluate your own performance after each game. Were you ever out of position? Have poor timing? Your judgment and mechanics will not improve unless you reflect on your work.
- Learn from your partners’ mistakes. Be a good partner and offer “food for thought” as appropriate.
- Be a positive role model for players, coaches, and fellow umpires.
- Have fun! Have the desire to be a great umpire. Take advantage of the opportunity to exercise and interact with tomorrow’s leaders.
- Sports officiating is a very humbling activity! As soon as you think you can do it all, you will be brought back to Earth.
- Be confident, use crisp/proper mechanics, hustle and keep the game moving. The rulebook requires it.
Below is handout that you can download and read. It was prepared for the Eastern Maine Baseball Umpires Association and given out to members at their first meeting/clinic in the University of Maine Mahaney Dome. These comments organized into a Do’s and Don’ts format should give you some food for thought. Please feel free to respond to my comments and suggest other things that should be included.
What do you do to keep sharp during the off season?
I’m lucky this year I’m teaching the new umpire class for my high school board so I’m in the book creating PowerPoint’s.