Baseball Umpires’ Learning Blog

Our Place to Share the Game

“I’ve got your back”; music to an umpire’s ears

The groundwork for this post comes from an earlier one, “When someone believes in you, you can’t be stopped” In that post I wrote about a conference for foster parents that I attended this weekend. To our delight, former Seattle Mariner second baseman Deshawn Patrick absolutely mesmerized all of us with his keynote speech and the three sessions he led over the two day conference. His experience as a foster child from age one taught him that as long as you have someone who is always there for you, no matter what goes wrong, you are going to succeed. During the two days he regaled us with laughter and saddened us with tears as he shared vignettes from his rocky start as a youth.

I was totally blown away by Deshawn’s presentations, and once he learned I was an umpire, that opened totally new area of discussions for the two of us. On the way home I was able to draw some parallels between being foster care siblings and part of an umpire crew.

Just as foster children must depend on one another to make it through the day, so umpires must depend on the rest of the crew if the crew is to survive. When my partner is in the “A” slot and he turns his back on to pursue a “trouble ball” he needs to know absolutely that I will come out from behind the plate, observe the touch at first, and take the runner into second if necessary. He needs to know that I will uphold the integrity of our team by doing my job while he does his, If he is worried that I’m not watching the runner, he can’t concentrate on making the tough call he is sprinting out to cover.

Likewise, I really feel as if I have been thrown under the bus when, with a runner on first and me in the “B” slot and the batter launches a line drive down into the left field corner, my partner stands rivited behind home plate, admiring the force of the blow. Now we have runners headed to second and third, the throw about to be rifled back into the infield, and only me in a position to make a good call at second and a really poor call at third. If the throw goes to third, our crew is dead. At best, we both are out of position to make at the call, and at worst, we blow the call. Either way, we have lost credibility.

We could have avoided the disintegration of our team had we 1) done an adequate pregame and 2) followed the plan to which we both had agreed. There is nothing more satisfying to my ears on the field when I hear my partner call, “I got the runner” or “I’m at third if he comes”, and it is not just because we’ve got all the action covered. When he says, “I’ve got your back,” it is affirmation that we are a team, that I have at least one person out there on my side who will stand behind me, no matter what happens. It is the recognition that we are both on the same page as we pursue the course we have set out for ourselves and that I can have full confidence in the only friend I have out there on the field.

Deshawn Patrick did more for me this weekend than make me a better foster and adoptive parent. His frequent references to the value of commitment helped me crystalize my thinking about what it means to be part of an umpire crew and the responsibilities inherent therein. For all of that, Deshawn, I am extremely grateful.

April 29, 2007 Posted by | Commendations, Mechanics | 2 Comments

Resource for Pro Rules Situations

Late last night I stumbled upon another umpire website that might be useful to some of our readers. Unlike this blog, there is a forum for questions/complaints and game situations are discussed relative to professional rules. What I like most about this site is the online professional baseball rulebook. Just click on “Rules” in the left sidebar.

Check out BaseballUmpires.com by clicking here: http://baseballumpires.com/index.cfm

Remember: This site focuses its attention on pro baseball rules and situations for minor and major league baseball. For those of you that work college baseball, this may be helpful as professional rules and NCAA rules are very similar. Also, those of you around the country that work Babe Ruth baseball can benefit also. Babe Ruth uses professional rules with a small collection of its own rule differences.

The “General Questions” area in the “Forum” seems to be active enough to be a benefit for those who really enjoy talking and thinking about rules. Remember–professional rules (MLB) rule this web resource. I have also put the link to BaseballUmpires.com in the Blogroll (list of links) in the right-most sidebar below the “Blog Stats”.

April 28, 2007 Posted by | Baseball Bits, Knotty Problems, Rules | 3 Comments

When someone believes in you, you can’t be stopped

As an adoptive parent as well as a professional foster parent maintaining, along with my dear wife, a foster home for kids diagnosed as having Reactive Attachment Disorder, I go to educational conferences each year for help improving my parenting skills. This weekend I am privileged to be attending a conference whose keynote speaker is Deshawn Patrick. For those of you who are not Mariner fans, Deshawn came to that club in the same year as Junior Griffey, 1987. They were both outstanding athletes who could run and hit as well as any players in the majors. The two of them got to the majors through two very different routes. We all know the story of Junior, who had a world class baseball-playing father to guide and support him thorough his formative years. Deshawn Patrick, on the other hand, was in foster care from the time he was one, bounced from home to home to home. Considering he was signed by the Mariners when he was 19, there had to have been something more than the non-existant doting dad to help Deshawn achieve the baseball success that he did.

I asked Deshawn what happened in his life to allow him to avoid the pitfalls of foster care (75% of today’s prison population has spent at least six months in foster care). His answer was quite revealing.

“One of the things that foster kids hate the most is the fact that they have a thick file that follows them wherever they go. The minute they get into trouble at school, the principal reaches into the file cabinet to pull out their thick file. And you know what? That file never says ‘Deshawn has the potential to be a great baseball player, or a prolific writer, or a dynamite artist’; instead, it says ‘ Deshawn never completes his work, is a distraction in the classroom, and is a social misfit.’ No one reading that file would ever give me any hope for achieving something good.

“Baseball, and the coaches who said I could be a great baseball player, my ton of friends, and my grandmother who always loved me, gave me the passion to endure all the foster homes could give out. I made up my mind that I was going to make myself proud. I knew that everyone one expected me to be a troubled foster child with a checkered past and a doubtful future, but I knew differently. I knew that what was inside no one else could see unless they looked past my foster home files. No one, not even my closest friends, could comprehend how it felt to come home from school and not know if the state had decided to place us in another foster home or if my foster parent had thrown in the towel. It was hard to concentrate on the ABC’s and 123’s when I didn’t know where I would be living one day to the next.

Deshawn became emotional when he talked about the support his grandmother gave him and by the time he had finished talking about how powerful it can be when someone believes in you there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. As I drove home this afternoon I thought long and hard about what I was or wasn’t doing to empower my children to become the very best they can be. Those thoughts took me to my passion, baseball umpiring, and made me take a long hard look at what I do to empower players, coaches, and my peers to be the very best they can be. I’m not sure what the answers are in either arena, but I do know I can’t wait to get back to Day 2 of the conference tomorrow, whose theme is based on Deshawn Patrick’s book, And Some Rise Above It. Maybe Deshawn’s insights will help me find those answers.

April 27, 2007 Posted by | Baseball Bits, Commendations | 3 Comments

Umpire Education Rises to a New Level–Blogging!

Now that we have a respectable group of local and long distance readers, I want to take a few minutes out of this rainy night to remind you that the purpose of this blog is to get you thinking about your umpiring. This the “Baseball Umpires’ Learning Blog”. The more you think about your umpiring, the more you will learn. It makes sense to me that this type of dedication will make you a better umpire.

You have a lot to focus on. Take some time to ponder/assess:

  • your timing,
  • your positioning,
  • your movement to cover a play,
  • your thinking,
  • your rule knowledge, and
  • your decisions.

What are your strengths? weaknesses? When and where might you be most apt to get in trouble when performing on the field? How do you mentally approach your games? No, not how you project/share this approach to others! But rather how you channel your knowledge, energy, and ability before, during, and after the game.

Even more important are:

  • CONCENTRATION, and
  • FOCUS ON THE GAME.
  • Always, always . . . “WATCH THE BALL and GLANCE AT THE RUNNERS”!!!!!

Without concentration and a total focus on the game, you subject yourself to being fooled. Don’t let yourself be surprised! The emotion and anxiety that goes along with being fooled makes us miss these calls more often than getting them right. Good instincts and knowing the game (sometimes a direct result of experience) can help you when surprise and a loss of timing make decision-making more like a game of flipping coins.

After your games, take time to REFLECT on your work as an individual and as a member of a crew. Think back on all the calls, comments, and decisions. How did you do as a team? Talk about this with your partner. There is a tendency not to talk about positioning mistakes unless they blow up in your face. Talk about, ‘what if they had thrown the ball there’, or ‘that ball had been fair’, ‘only 1 out’, etc. Share them in this blog also.

People that cannot watch and read the actions in a game will never become a top-rated sports official. Communicate, enforce the rules, cover your position, and show good judgement. Control the game when it is needed, let the game run itself when the baseball is good.

However, you cannot marvel over a game because umpire responsibilities take your attention–feet touching bases, pitchers remaining still and coming to a complete stop, checking over your shoulder to see if the runner is stealing third, etc. Running to get into position doesn’t allow you time to appreciate the players’ finesse and magnificent abilities. (I guess the inverse is also true–we also do not have to see how bad some of the play is either!)

This blog is also forum to ask questions or present situations for further thinking. NO COMPLAINING! NO NAMES! Please take time to click on the word “Comments” at the bottom of this or any article. You are an expert because you are out on the field. You have the best seat/view in the house! Your opinions and experiences matter. This is your blog. If it means taking a risk to comment, go for it! Risk-takers learn more, faster!

Happy Blogging!

P.S. The Eastern Maine Baseball Umpire Association (EMBUA) new coats look awesome. I can nearly coax myself back onto the field just so I can have the coat. Check them out in our own Officials’ Picture Gallery.

Click here to go to the Umpire Photo Gallery. It is where pictures can teach and make learning a little more visual!  Pictures will appear sporadically so check back often.

April 27, 2007 Posted by | Commendations, Commentary | Leave a comment

Explaining Balk Calls to Coaches

When coaches question “Balk” calls, choose very carefully whether you respond verbally or with a body motion. When a coach is in a dugout beyond easy hearing distance and he demands a response, you might use a single small body motion. However, sometimes your response may raise more questions increasing the probability that the coach will either enter the field or start possible verbal abuse.

Think before responding. Choosing not to respond is an option.

When the coach is in speaking distance, I suggest that you do not demonstrate the illegal motion. Words work better.

Simply say such things as ‘he started his motion and stopped’, “he failed to stop”, “he did not step: directly towards the base/ahead of throw”, et cetera.

Short statements directly to the point that use rulebook language is the best way to explain balk situations. There is not a long list of rules governing balks. Please do not begin to have coaches teach you the balk rule. Let the balk rule, your experience, and your mentors help you call the balk properly and fairly.

You are serving our most important purposes–teaching the game and adminstering it fairly supported fully by the rules. Our rules are designed for school children and extra-curricular activities are an important extension of the classroom.

April 25, 2007 Posted by | Balks, Commentary, Mechanics, Rules | 25 Comments

SPEAKING OF MECHANICS — COMMENTS AND QUESTIONS

(Hopefully you will read this after you read my previous post located directly below this titled ” Communicating with Purpose”.)

This is not an attempt to question the rulemakers, this is to get you to question everything you do on the baseball field when the integrity of the game is placed in your hands.  In that context, please be involved in sharing your thoughts.

The NFHS prints its official baseball mechanics manual every other year so it should start to look a little worn before it goes into the waste stream.  If you are not willing to follow all instructions therein, you, with the help of your association, must fairly evaluate concerns and communicate them to NFHS. We deserve to have the best possible mechanics manual. High school baseball deserves a specific detailed manual similar to what IAABO basketball already has.

CALL FOR QUESTIONS

So, what things do you question in the National Federation Official Mechanics Manual? Share your thoughts by clicking on “Comments” at the bottoom of this page. Remember you must follow the approved set of guidelines and never be negative.  This is a learning space.

April 25, 2007 Posted by | Commentary, Mechanics | 3 Comments

Communicating with Purpose

Communication is an extremely important part of every game you umpire. Communication occurs with and without signals. If there is an approved signal, please use it so more people will be informed and your partner will know exactly what you are doing.

You must communicate with your partner whey you are:

  • covering a base,
  • taking fly balls,
  • “staying home”,
  • ???

CLICK ON “COMMENTS” BELOW TO ADD ANY ADDITIONAL VERBAL COMMUNICATIONS THAT YOU THINK THAT YOU COULD USE TO ENHANCE YOUR UMPIRING.

You must communicate to inform the players (focus on players and the coaches will get the information):

  • sharing the count,
  • number of outs,
  • “Infield Fly!”
  • “Foul Ball”,
  • “Ball is alive!”
  • obstruction,
  • et cetera.

Please understand that you are a teacher of the game. You know the rules. You are obligated to inform all those involved. People will learn the language of the game from you so be clear, concise, and use the terminology provided in the rulebook. Become very familiar with your perspective rulebook.

Click on “COMMENTS” below to add any additional communication that you think should be added to the above list! Do you know whether or not your rulebook suggests or recommends your signals or verbal communications? (Oops! Time for me to go dig into that mechanics manual again!)

April 25, 2007 Posted by | Commentary, Mechanics | 8 Comments

Substitution Rule–Failure to Announce Substitute

The majority in attendance including the teams felt sure that the batter should be called out because he was not announced before the first pitch was thrown to him. Below I have pasted Rule 3 Section 1 Article 1. It speaks for itself, I think!

Note: My apologies for not fitting this image in the space properly. It does block some of the closest sidebar. Scroll down to see the sidebar options without an obstructed view.

Substitution — Rule 3; Section 1; Article 1Substitution — Rule 3; Section 1; Article 1

Please click on “Comments” below to add any comments or ask questions. We will do our best to respond promptly.  You will need to leave your name and email address.

April 25, 2007 Posted by | Rules | Leave a comment

Head Position when “Working the Plate”

There are lots of different ways to “work the plate”. However, you need to know why you see every pitch the way you see it. It cannot be a game of chance. You need to know where the ball crossed the plate area so you must see the ball the exact moments when it crosses the plate. It you don’t, adjust your head postion. Your eyes have to be in the right place so put them there.

Check out the following picture and its caption in the photo gallery if you want to think even more more about your plate mechanics.

http://picasaweb.google.com/ShawnKball/OfficiatingBlogPics/photo#5056680258687107362

WORKING THE HIGH SCISSORS

This classic plate mechanic/style can be even more perfected by using the “ol’ balloon”. Umpire balloon protectors offered the utmost of protection. The big “ol’ balloon” did have a way of getting in the way though.

April 25, 2007 Posted by | Baseball Bits, Mechanics | 5 Comments

Face the Plate in the “B” Position (and more)

Many umpires like to square their hips and shoulders toward first base when there is only a runner on first. Many also make adjustments to the official spot of the “B” position. I think it is important as an umpire to know why you are standing where you choose to and why you are facing the way you are. As we begin a fresh baseball season, this seems like a good time to address this basic positioning.

Base Umpire–Positioning and Facing with a Runner on First Base Only. My concerns are three-fold. First, it is important to fully focus on the pitcher to catch the difficult “balk” call. Second, being square to the plate will help you call the very difficult check swing. Please face home plate so that the pitcher, the batter, and first base are all in your immediate field of vision.

Also, if the base umpire is already facing first base, he/she may not feel the need to move as the pitcher throws to first. Or if they move, they will move in a straight line directly to first. Remember, angle is more important than distance.

To get a better angle for the pickoff at first, you must move towards the midpoint between home plate and first base (where the running lane begins). I suggest that every base umpire take at least 2 steps on a pickoff at first. Move your left foot first followed by the right foot which will swing the hips so that you are facing first base.

If you are quick like a cat and want to show it off, you can take three steps–right, left, right. This gets you the better angle and makes you look good. However if you have difficulty steadying your head, you will not see the play properly as you may be moving or just coming to a stop.

Take a few minutes to step on a diamond and practice this maneuver. Just like players, we must practice our skills enough in order to make them be instinctive. Obviously, there is no extra time to think on a balk, pickoff, or check swing. However, good, slow timing always helps.

Make sure that you and your partner(s) are the best team out there! Keep up the good work and thanks for your dedication to our youth and schools.

April 22, 2007 Posted by | Mechanics | 2 Comments

Keep your eyes on what matters

A couple of years ago when my large 3,2,2 ball/strike/out indicator began to lose its numbers from too much use, I decided not to spend money on a new one, but to fix the one I had. A fellow umpire told me how he had put notches in the wheel which were a lot easier to see than the fading numbers.

He started by marking the visible arc you can see on the white wheel when the “1” is showing, then when the “2 “ is showing and finally, when the “3 “ is showing on the ball wheel. Then he gently pried the two parts of the indicator apart, revealing the wheels.

Using a hacksaw and file. he just cut one notch on the wheel when the 1 is showing in the window, two for 2, and three for 3. Careful, the two and three are hard to distinguish with the thumb on the ‘ball’ wheel. The wheel doesn’t turn as much between numbers on the ‘ball’ wheel, for obvious
reasons, and it has the smallest exposed edge. .

Another benefit of the notches is that I can tell quickly without even lifting the indicator up or moving my head down, what the count is. The notches are easy to feel, and I can confidently keep track of the count with my thumb and finger while, at the same time, keep track of the ball with my eyes.

April 20, 2007 Posted by | Equipment | 3 Comments

Jim Evans Baseball Prospectus Interview, May 2003

I came across this interview as I was looking for good umpiring resources online. I thought that some of you would like to read some of Jim’s responses in this interview.

Click here to access the article written by Jason Grady of Baseball Prospectus: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=1856

April 19, 2007 Posted by | Baseball Bits, Sharing Game Situations | Leave a comment

Dressing for success

From my vantage point at my work, I have a clear view of many of the hopeful candidates waiting for their turn to be interviewed for a job at my company. No matter what their sex, creed, or national origin, they all share one thing in common. They come dressed for the occasion, hoping that a freshly ironed shirt, pressed slacks, and polished shoes will help create that positive frame of mind in their interviewer towards them. They come with a purpose, and they want their preparedness to show.

How many of us approach our games with the same zeal that potential new hires exhibit at my workplace? I mean, it’s the same thing, isn’t it? We want to have the balance of the positive mind set tipped in our favor the minute we stride out on to the field for the pre-game meeting. Don’t you think for a minute that the coaches and players aren’t sizing you up, based on how you look in your umpire uniform. How much confidence do you inspire in coaches and players when you are wearing the same shirt you threw, balled up and sweaty, into the trunk two days earlier? What do you think the reaction is to your heather gray slacks that have wrinkles on top of wrinkles up and down the pant legs because you didn’t take the time to wash them after the last game? You lose a golden opportunity to create a favorable first impression from the start when you show up on the field, not dressed for the part. Unfortunately, you don’t get a second chance to create a good first impression. Do it right the first time!

Coaches and players don’t care how good a game you called yesterday. They are only interested in how good a game you are going to call today. Their perception that they will get a good game from you will be heightened by the non-verbal message you send when you conduct that pre-game conference in a freshly ironed shirt, clean and pressed pants, and shoes shined to military inspection standard.

I laughed when Shawn wrote about polish keeping the rain out of your shoes, but he is right. Not only will liberal amounts of polish do just that, but it will preserve the leather a lot longer and will make you next shoe shine a breeze. I remember watcing Shawn’s post-game ritual with his shoes 17 years ago in the parking lot following a college game. First, he took the time to pry out the chunks of dirt from the crevice between the leather and and sole before brushing the rest of the shoe off. The next step was to slip shoe trees into place before sliding the entire shoe into an old large sock. Finally, the dressed shoe was placed carefully in his equipment bag until that moment when he would take the shoes out for a good polishing prior to the next game. The sock trick is a good one; it keeps the dirty shoe from mucking up the rest of the equipment bag and it keeps the polished shoes from getting black blotches on the other gear in the bag.

You are proud of the work you do as an umpire. Share that pride with the rest of the world by always assuring that you come to work each time properly dressed for success. You’ll earn the respect of everyone around you and your game will be better for it. Opening day looms; will you be ready?

April 19, 2007 Posted by | Baseball Bits, Commentary | 4 Comments

The Almighty Rule 10-2-3-g

In case any of you need to memorize the rule that allows the umpire-in-chief to make the decision on anything not specifically covered in the rules, the rule is Rule 10: Umpiring, Section 2: Umpire-in-Chief, Article 3g. Now you know it. In the professional rule book, I believe the rule is 9-0-1c.
By the way, in all my 3000+ games, I never used it. I had some crazy plays that no one really knew how we should rule, but we always tried to use existing rules. Here is one for now for you to keep you reading. I believe it apples to high school and pro rules.

Rule 4-1-5 states “The game begins when the umpire calls ‘Play’ after all infielders, pitcher, catcher and batter are in position to start the game.

What would you do if . . . After a foul ball with bases loaded in the bottom of the 9th inning and the team at bat down 3 runs, you called and signaled play (yes, the signal is in the rulebook as of the 2006 season) while the right fielder is in foul territory to retrieve a ball that bounced onto the field from the bullpen.  While the right fielder is still in foul territory, the pitcher pitches and the batter hits a homerun over the right field fence.  YOU MAKE THE CALL!

By the way, while I was in pro ball, we never got a real answer!  Maybe later I will tell you what I would do, but that doesn’t make it right.

Have fun out there and dress warm!

April 19, 2007 Posted by | Knotty Problems, Rules, Sharing Game Situations | 2 Comments

2007 NF Rule Changes & Revisions

The following came directly from the NFHS website. NFHS produces the high school rulebook and is the only source of rule changes and official interpretations.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Elliot Hopkins

INDIANAPOLIS (July 18, 2006) – Effective with the 2007 high school baseball season, a team playing with fewer than nine players may return to nine players. In addition to this change, 12 other rules revisions were approved by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Baseball Rules Committee at its June 16-17 meeting in Indianapolis. These rules changes subsequently were approved by the NFHS Board of Directors.

“Rule 4-4-1f allows a team that had to drop down to eight players to return to nine later during the game,” said Greg Brewer, assistant director of the Alabama High School Athletic Association and chairperson of the NFHS Baseball Rules Committee. “This will also help promote participation.”

Rule 3-3-1n addresses revised penalties for initiating malicious contact on offense or defense. Transgressions will now result in the ball being immediately dead, and if on offense, the player is ejected and declared out, unless he has already scored. If the defense commits the malicious contact, the player is ejected; the umpire shall rule either safe or out on the play and award the runner(s) the appropriate base(s) he felt they would have obtained if the malicious contact had not occurred.

Other rules pertaining to malicious contact were also revised, as were their corresponding entries in the base-running table and dead-ball table.

“With these changes, we hope to be more definitive on offensive and defensive malicious contact,” said Elliot Hopkins, NFHS assistant director and liaison to the Baseball Rules Committee.

In another change, Rule 6-2-1 now states that a ball will be called each time a pitcher brings his pitching hand in contact with his mouth, either without distinctly wiping off the pitching hand before it touches the ball or while in contact with the pitcher’s plate.

Rule 3-2-1 was revised to state that one player or coach may occupy each coach’s box while his team is at bat. A coach or player occupying the coach’s box shall remain in the box from the time the batter enters the batter’s box until the release of the ball by the pitcher. If the coach or player steps out of the box during this time, regardless of who violates the rule, the head coach will be restricted to the bench/dugout.

“A player or coach standing outside the box gains an unfair advantage as to where the opposing pitcher intends to pitch the ball,” Hopkins said. “The box-bound player or coach does not have the same angle or disadvantage. This rule seeks to correct these unfair advantages and prevent distractions the pitcher may experience during his delivery.”

Another rule change (Rule 3-3-4) stipulates that whenever team members are loosening up in an area that is not protected by a fence or other structure, another member of the team with a glove must be positioned between them and the batter to protect them from a batted or thrown ball.

“This is a risk minimization initiative to protect individuals who are not watching the activity in the field,” Hopkins said.

In another effort to minimize risk, Rule 10-2-1 was revised to specify that when behind the plate, the umpire-in-chief shall wear proper safety equipment including, but not limited to chest protector, face mask, throat guard, plate shoes, shin guards and protective cup (if male).

A new signal was adopted that uses the point motion for the start of the game. This will align NFHS officials with other rules codes to begin a contest and put a ball back in play.

In an effort to make baseball compatible with other NFHS sport rules, Rule 1-4-4 now states that a commemorative or memorial patch, not to exceed 4 square inches, may be worn on jerseys without compromising the integrity of the uniform.

In addition to the rules changes, the committee identified Points of Emphasis for the 2007 season. Among those are malicious contact, concussions, good sporting behavior, face protection, umpire’s professionalism, non-adult bat/ball shaggers and game management.

Baseball is the fourth-most popular sport among boys at the high school level with 459,717 participants during the 2004-05 season, according to the High School Athletics Participation Survey conducted by the NFHS. It also ranks third in school sponsorship across the nation.

April 19, 2007 Posted by | Official Interpretations, Rules | Leave a comment

2007 NF Rule Interpretations

This comes directly from the National Federation website. I thought it might be nice to have it here in your blog.

Publisher’s Note: The National Federation of State High School Associations is the only source of official high school interpretations. They do not set aside nor modify any rule. They are made and published by the NFHS in response to situations presented.
Robert F. Kanaby, Publisher, NFHS Publications © 2007

SITUATION 1: In the top of the seventh inning, the home team leads 3-2. With a runner on third base, the visiting coach puts on a squeeze play. R1 breaks for home on the pitcher’s motion. The first baseman, aware of the situation, races toward home plate, and catches the pitch in front of the plate and tags the sliding runner before he can reach the plate. RULING: This is obstruction on the batter by the first baseman. The ball will be declared dead, R1 will be awarded home and the batter will be awarded first base. (8-1-1e-1)

SITUATION 2: With R1 on first base, B2 hits a ground ball to F4. While running to second base, R1’s batting helmet falls off (a) and makes contact with the batted ball, deflecting it away from F4, or (b) in front of F4, which distracts him and results in his misplaying the ball. RULING: If R1’s helmet accidentally fell off, there would be no penalty in either (a) or (b). Had the helmet been deliberately removed, and interference occurred, then R1 would have declared out for interference. The umpire could also rule out B2 if he judged the interference prevented a double play. (8-4-2g, 8-4-1h)

SITUATION 3: With no outs and R1 on first base, B2 hits a hard ground ball to F6. F6 fields the ball and steps on second base and then throws to first base in an attempt to double up B2. R1 is running standing up in a straight line to second and is hit by F6’s throw. R1 was not even half way to second base and did not intentionally interfere with the throw. The defensive coach states that B2 should also be out since R1 violated the force-play slide rule. RULING: This is not a violation of the force play slide rule. R1 cannot be expected to slide at that point in the base path. The play stands. R1 would be out only if he intentionally interfered. (8-4-2b penalty)

SITUATION 4: In the fifth inning, having had one defensive charged conference, the defensive head coach requests time and goes to the pitching mound to talk with his pitcher. While he is at the mound, the assistant coach runs over and talks with F3. Is this considered one conference, two separate conferences, or should the umpire not allow the assistant coach on the field while his head coach is having a charged conference? RULING: It is legal for the assistant coach to be having a conference with another defensive player while the head coach is also having a charged conference. This would be considered to be one charged conference. When the head coach’s charged conference is completed, the assistant coach must end his meeting with F3. If the assistant coach delays the game by not ending his conference, the team could be assessed another charged conference. (3-4-1)

SITUATION 5: With (a) one out or (b) two outs, the visiting team has a runner on third in the top of the seventh. The game is tied 2-2. R1, on third, gets a great jump and easily scores on a suicide bunt. After R1 has scored, F2 picks up the ball and throws to first in an attempt to get B3 out. B3 is out of the running lane and is hit by F2’s throw. Does the run by R1 count? RULING: B3 is out for interference. In (a), R1’s run counts because he scored prior to the interference by B3. Had the interference by B3 occurred before R1 crossed the plate, R1 would be returned to third base, the base he occupied at the time of the interference. In (b), R1’s run would not count as the third out occurred by B3 before he touched first base. (8-4-1g, 9-1-1a)

SITUATION 6: In the top of the seventh in the last game of the season, the visiting team’s shortstop is one stolen base short of the record for stolen bases. With one out, he is hit by a pitch and is awarded first base. The pitcher, trying to keep him close to first base, throws over several times. On the last attempted pick-off, the pitcher throws the ball into the dugout. The umpire properly awards the runner second base on the dead ball. The runner and his coach tell the umpire that they will decline the award since they believe he will have a better chance of stealing second base vs. stealing third base. Is the award to a runner optional? RULING: The runner must advance. The award of a base is not optional and cannot be declined by the offense. (8-3-3d)

SITUATION 7: While off the pitching plate, F1 goes to his mouth with his pitching hand. He distinctly wipes it off on his pants and then assumes a pitching position on the pitching plate. RULING: This is legal. There has been no violation by the pitcher. (6-2-1e)

SITUATION 8: While off the pitching plate, F1 goes to his mouth with his pitching hand. Without wiping his pitching hand, he gets on the pitching plate and assumes the windup position with his hands together in front of his body. RULING: A ball shall be called and added to the batter’s count. (6-2-1e penalty)

SITUATION 9: While on the pitching plate in the windup position, the pitcher has both hands at his side. He brings his pitching hand to his mouth and then distinctly wipes it. RULING: This is legal and there has been no violation by the pitcher. (6-2-1e)

SITUATION 10: While on the pitching plate in the windup position, the pitcher has his glove hand in front of his body. He brings his pitching hand to his mouth and, without wiping it, brings his pitching hand to the ball, which is in the glove. RULING: This is a violation by the pitcher and a ball shall be called and added to the batter’s count. (6-2-1e penalty)

SITUATION 11: While on the pitching plate in the windup position, the pitcher has his hands together in front of his body. He then brings his pitching hand to his mouth and returns it to his glove. RULING: This is an illegal pitch by the pitcher. A balk will be called if there are runners on base. If the bases are empty, a ball will be added to the batter’s count. (6-1-2 penalty)

SITUATION 12: While on the pitching plate in the stretch position, the pitcher has the ball in his glove hand and his pitching hand is at his side. He brings his pitching hand to his mouth, distinctly wipes it and returns it to his side. RULING: This is legal and there has been no violation by the pitcher. (6-2-1e)

SITUATION 13: While on the pitching plate in the stretch position, the pitcher has the ball in his glove and his pitching hand at his side. He brings his pitching hand to his mouth and then becomes set with both hands together. RULING: This is a violation as the pitcher did not distinctly wipe his pitching hand after going with it to his mouth. A ball shall be added to the batter’s count. (6-2-1e penalty)

SITUATION 14: While on the pitching plate in the stretch position, the pitcher becomes legally set with his hands together in front of his body. He then brings his hand to his mouth and returns it to his gloved hand. RULING: This is an illegal pitch by the pitcher. A balk will be called if there are runners on base. If the bases are empty, a ball will be added to the batter’s count. (6-1-3 penalty)

SITUATION 15: With no substitutes available, the center fielder collides with the wall and cannot continue playing. An inning later, another player arrives. Can the coach enter the player? RULING: Once the game has begun, a team may continue to play if it loses a player and has only eight players. It is legal for the coach to enter the arriving player in the vacated spot in the lineup, substitute the player for another player still in the game, or to continue to play with eight players. (4-41f, note 2)

SITUATION 16: The shortstop, trying to stop a ground ball, scrapes his elbow which, despite the trainer’s best effort, continues to bleed. The team has no available substitutes. Two innings later, the trainer has the bleeding stopped and the elbow properly bandaged. RULING: It is legal for a team to continue play with only eight players. The shortstop may now re-enter the game in his vacated spot in the lineup provided he has re-entry eligibility left as a starting player. (4-4-1f, note 2)

SITUATION 17: With only nine players, the second baseman twists his ankle jumping for a line drive and cannot continue to play. An inning later, a player who had been taking a test arrives at the game. The coach decides to continue the game with only eight players and hold the newly arrived player as insurance in case another player is injured. RULING: This is legal. It is not mandatory for a coach to return to playing with nine players when another player becomes available. (4-4-1f, note 2)

SITUATION 18: R1 at first base is off and running as the pitcher delivers the pitch. B2 hits a fly ball to deep center field. R1 misses second base and is between second and third when F8 catches the ball at the fence. R1 sees the catch, touches second base returning and beats the throw back to first base. The defense is granted “time” and verbally appeals that R1 missed second as he attempted to advance on the fly ball. RULING: When R1 touched second base as he returned to first, he corrected his baserunning infraction because he touched the base the last time he went by it. The appeal is denied. (8-2-2, 8-2-6)

SITUATION 19: With R1 on first and no outs in a close game, the first baseman is playing about 20 feet in front of first base in case of a bunt attempt by B2. The pitcher, in the stretch position, throws to F3 in a pick-off attempt on R1. RULING: This is a balk. The first baseman is not in proximity of first base and is not close enough to legitimately make a play on the runner. The ball is dead and R1 is awarded second base. (6-2-4b)

RULING 20: With R1 on first base, the right-handed batter B2 swings hard and misses the pitch. The catcher, seeing R1 slow in returning to first, attempts to pick him off. B2’s follow-through by the bat hits the catcher and causes his throw to sail into right field. RULING: The ball is dead and the B2 is declared out for batter interference. R1 is returned to first base. A batter is responsible for the follow-through of a bat when he swings. (7-3-5c)

April 19, 2007 Posted by | Balks, Official Interpretations, Rules | 5 Comments

Inclement weather frustrates anxious umpires

It is Wednesday of spring break and under normal conditions we all would have had at least three days of pre-season games under our belts by now here in Maine. However, the snow is finally leaving the ground, aided by the 50 mph winds and rain that have buffeted us for the last four days. We’ve had no games thus far and “the outlook isn’t brilliant for the Mudville nine” for the rest of this week into the next. Some of us have been looking at pitches during indoor batting practice at the local high school; others have been poring over their case book and rule books, looking for the justification for the right answers on their Part 2 Federation exam that was handed back last week. Still others run their Jim Evans Balk video for the umpteenth time, trying to commit to memory the pictures of what constitutes balk and what that will look like in real time. In the homes of those umpires who will do both high school and college games when the fields become playable. a dog-eared copy of Chris Jaksa’s and Rick Roder’s Rule Differences Edition of their monumenal treatise Rules of Professional Baseball, a Comprehensive Reorganization and Interpretation provides easy-to-comprehend verbage that clearly delineates the differences between the NCAA and NFHS codes.

No matter what the activity, the driving force behind them all is the same, boredom coupled with rising anxiety. We’re bored because of the same-old, same-old monotinous empty motions of waking up in the morning, checking the weather forecast, catching a bit of Mike and Mike in the Morning, all culminating in the obvious truth that there will be no games today. We’re filled with rising anxiety because we hark back to Doug Harvey’s words (I think that he is the proper person to which to attribute the sentiment) “Baseball is the only profession where we are expected to be perfect on opening day and improve from there.” Golly, wouldn’t it be great just to be given the chance to get out there to practice being perfect!

Hang in there, guys. Our day is coming. And when it does, you are going to be good. And you’ll be good not because you just lucked out. Vince Lombardi was renown for admonishing his Packers, “There is no such thing as luck. Luck is what happens when preparation and opportunity meet”. You are going to be good because your preparation reviewing old exams, rewinding the balk DVD, and getting Jaksa and Roder down pat will serve you to the utmost when your first and the succeeding game opportunities presents themselves. Carpe diem!

April 19, 2007 Posted by | Baseball Bits, Commentary | 1 Comment

Welcome to the Baseball Umpires’ Learning Blog!

Of all the amateur sports officials, I most respect the rural baseball umpire. Who would really want to wait patiently every year to see if the snow or 3-day rainstorm is going to postpone your first game, deal with a growing number of inexperienced coaches, stand idle in the cold for hours when games lack action, and rarely get a close play that challenges your abilities? For these reasons and more, I retired from umpiring baseball years ago although my love for baseball continues to exceed that of any other sport. Keep reading–I am sure that Steve and I will sufficiently demonstrate why we are so passionate about the game of baseball.

April 17, 2007 Posted by | Commentary | 1 Comment

NF Provides Online Rulebooks

The following was previously posted on the Basketball Officials’ Learning Blog and was simply copied and pasted into this space.

The National Federation of State High School Associations establishes the rules for all high school sports and publishes the rulebooks and casebooks for coaches and officials. When I was asked to make a presentation to high school baseball players a few weeks ago, I turned to the internet to find a resource for high school baseball rules and recent interpretations since I did not have a current baseball rulebook.

Rule changes and related interpretations were available on the NF website for 2006 and 2007. These documents were very helpful and as I dug deeper, I discovered that the National Federation now has online rulebooks. For just $20 per year, you have access to all the NF rulebooks and casebooks.

Register and pay for full access to all the online rulebooks and casebooks by going to http://www.nfhs.org/. Click on “Sign Up” in the Members Only box on the upper right center of the website. It will take you through 2-3 screens where you fill in various forms registering and finally using your credit card to purchase your membership. The cheapest option is $20.

The following rulebooks and casebooks are available organized by season:

Fall Sports: Field Hockey, Football, Soccer, Spirit Rules, and Volleyball

Winter Sports: Ice Hockey, Wrestling, Basketball, and Swimming and Diving

Spring Sports: Baseball, Lacrosse, Softball, and Track and Field

Coaches and officials can also join their respective National Federation Association for a fee slightly greater than the $20 fee that I mentioned earlier. Additional benefits come with these memberships. Remember also that all of these fees are tax-deductible.

Did you ever wonder what the lacrosse rules say about whacking the opponent with the ball with your stick? Are you considering officiating another sport? Let the rulebooks help you decide.

April 17, 2007 Posted by | Commendations, Rules | 1 Comment

Baseball History Rises Above the Other Sports

Did anyone else tune into the Dodger-Padre game on Monday afternoon? The entire league was honoring #42 Jackie Robinson. The Commissioner and Mrs. Robinson spoke about Jackie’s contribution to the game of baseball. Television showed us clips and told us several stories. Oh, what Jackie withstood to play a boy’s game in front of bigotted, unappreciative fans! Watching Frank Robinson and Henry Aaron throw out the first pitches made this an even more memorable event.

I told my son that he would someday tell his son that he watched this 60th anniversity of Jackie Robinson’s first major league game. To which he responded, “Dad, you and Mom stood and talked with Hank Aaron while you played shuffleboard years ago during spring training” (at West Palm Beach, Florida). It reminded me of how lucky I was to step on the same field with so many Hall of Famers.

Even though legends challenged my judgement wishing calls to go their way, I knew that I carried the integrity of the game in my hands. No one ever extensively argued balls and strikes with me behind the plate–even Hoyt Wilhelm, Gary Sheffield, or Bucky Dent.

As you can see, I welcome the opportunity to talk baseball beyond umpiring. Hopefully you will find my stories interesting.

April 17, 2007 Posted by | Baseball Bits, Commentary | 1 Comment