Baseball Umpires’ Learning Blog

Our Place to Share the Game

Be Part of A Crew, Not an Individual!

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………’.

June 11, 2008 Posted by | Association Improvements, Commentary, Mechanics | , , , , | 4 Comments

End of Season Notes and Observations

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.

Between Innings:

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.

Uniform:

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!

June 5, 2008 Posted by | Association Improvements, Mechanics, Sharing Game Situations | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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

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

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

Keeping Sharp During the Off Season

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.

October 10, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | 9 Comments

Just When You Think You’ve Got It All Figured Out…….

It’s time to change playing rules from NFHS rules to Pro rules used in summer ball.

What do you think is the hardest adjustment to make when making the change?

For me I would have to say it’s the little things like the DH rule, not getting too excited when I see the catcher come out with a mask without a throat guard.

June 17, 2007 Posted by | Rules | 2 Comments