Baseball Umpires’ Learning Blog

Our Place to Share the Game

Why do we umpire?

Bob Uecker is quoted as having said, “Let’s face it.  Umpiring is not an easy or happy way to make a living.  In the abuse they suffer, and the pay they get for it, you see an imbalance that can only be explained by their need to stay close to a game they can’t resist.” If that is the case, why can’t we resist the game? Why do we keep showing up to umpire the games to which we are assigned? I got some insight the other day from a most unexpected source which I want to share with you.

The Sunday had not begun auspiciously. The “honey-do” list from my wife took longer to complete than the time I had allotted to it, forcing me to reduce the driving time to the game site, normally 45 minutes, to 30 minutes. Although I did exceed the governor’s suggested rate of progression along Route 1 in order to meet my partner for our pre-game, I did it judiciously and did not create any threat to other vehicles or pedestrians I encountered along the way.  

A good pre-game is like a bikini bathing suit; long enough to cover the essentials, yet short enough to be alluring. Our pre-game was a good one. We strode on to the field, inspected the helmets, met with coaches at home plate to exchange lineup cards and review the ground rules. Before I knew it, the first pitch was on its way. 

The crowd was sparse for the Sunday afternoon Legion game in a very rural Maine town. Most were relatives of the players, and stood behind the fence behind the first and third baselines. but two spectators stood out. They sat side by side on the top of the small, three tiered aluminum bleacher set up behind home plate. One was what looked to be a 7 or 8 years old youngster, resplendent in his new Red Sox jacket and Dice-K hat, complete with Japanese writing on the brim. His companion, whom I took to be his grandfather, wore a faded sweatshirt and a baseball cap bearing the letter of the hometown high school, a cap that endured years of being twisted and jammed into a pants pocket. Both fans were fortified with two bags of popcorn and a 2 liter Poland Spring bottle of water.

The first batter gets on and the second batter hits a hard grounder towards the second baseman. I watched as the runner from first passed in front of the second baseman on his way to second and saw the ball go through the second baseman’s legs. Immediately, the manager and coach from the defense were up off the bench, claiming that the ball had hit the runner.

“No, coach, it didn’t.”
“Then why was the ball deflected out into center field?”
“Because, coach, the ball ricocheted off the fielder’s glove after it cleanly went by the runner”.
“Didn’t look that way from here.”

I was 12 feet from the play; they were 120 feet . As I went back to my position following the discussion with the coaches, I saw the grandfather lean over and tell something to his grandson, who just nodded as he munched on his popcorn.

Later, in the 5th inning, same team in the field, the runner on first tried to make it to third on a hit by the batter. The play was was a banger, with the ball just beating the runner. There was a cloud of dust as the runner slid into third and the next thing I saw, just after the tag and the dust had cleared, was the ball on the ground.

“Safe, the ball’s on the ground, “I said as I gestured emphatically.

“Oh, sir, please get some help. That happened during the transfer.”

Since I was screened by the third baseman and since my partner had come up the line from home plate and had a different angle, I went over to him and took him out of earshot of the others.

“Anything for me , Stu?”

“Steve, I saw him clearly tag the runner, then lift the glove, and try to pull out the ball to throw to second. He did lose it on the transfer, but it’s your call.”

Hey, if my partner sees it better than I, I’m going with it.

“The runner is out, the ball was dropped on the transfer.”

“Thank you, sir,” replied the defensive chorus and there was no complaint from the offense. Again, grandfather leaned over to his grandson to say a few words. This time the grandson asked his grandfather a question and got his reply before going back to his popcorn.

The game ended uneventfully and Stu and I did our post-game impressions with one another in the parking lot before he had to leave for a family commitment. After peeling off my soaking shirt and replacing it with a dry one, I sat back in my chair next the the car and took in the now deserted ball field in all of its late afternoon splendor. I thought about how much the game meant to me and how privileged I had been to be part of it today, even with the grousing. I went back to my original question to myself earlier in the day, but was interrupted by two fans on their way back to the last car in the parking lot. It was the grandfather and his grandson. The boy now had a chocolate ring around his mouth, no doubt from the post game Snickers bar his grandfather had given him, but the smile on his face was so big that it almost hid the Snicker evidence. He elbowed his grandfather and then pointed to me. The grandfather grinned, nodded back to his grandson, and shouted out to me on his way by. His words were like the light bulb being suddenly turned on. He had answered my question.

“Nice game, Blue. Thanks for being there to make it right for everyone.”

“You’re welcome, sir. And thanks for bringing the boy today. You’ve made it right for baseball”

August 12, 2007 Posted by | Commentary, Sharing Game Situations | 1 Comment