Baseball Umpires’ Learning Blog

Our Place to Share the Game

Obstruction in High School Baseball (NFHS)

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.

April 27, 2008 Posted by | Association Improvements, Commentary, Rules, Sharing Game Situations | , , , | 8 Comments

“You’re Out!” and “He’s off the bag!”

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!

April 26, 2008 Posted by | Commentary, Mechanics, Sharing Game Situations | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Trained, “Focused” Eyes and The Need for an Additional Official

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.

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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.

April 25, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Self-Evaluation: During and After Games

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.”

Working the Plate

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.

April 22, 2008 Posted by | Commentary, Mechanics, Sharing Game Situations | , , | 4 Comments

Run scores! Time now to create the next good angle!

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!

Run Scores -- Knowing What to Watch

April 16, 2008 Posted by | Commendations, Mechanics | , , , | Leave a comment

Good Timing vs. Waiting to Communicate A Call

Good Timing

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.

April 6, 2008 Posted by | Mechanics | 3 Comments

Does the run count?

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?

Kid Tag Play

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.

April 2, 2008 Posted by | Knotty Problems, Rules | , , , | 33 Comments

“What’s the count, Blue?”

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.

Showing the Count

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.

April 2, 2008 Posted by | Mechanics, Sharing Game Situations | , , , , | 5 Comments