Baseball Umpires’ Learning Blog

Our Place to Share the Game

Major Leagues Searching for Pitchers in India

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.

Indians are First for America’s National Pastime

http://www.cnn.com/2008/US/12/11/india.baseball.pioneers/index.html

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.

December 12, 2008 Posted by | Baseball Bits, Commentary | , , | 4 Comments

Teachable Moments–What rule situations have arisen this season?

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: shawnkball@gmail.com

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.

May 16, 2008 Posted by | Rules, Sharing Game Situations | , , , | Leave a comment

Great Moments in Youth Sports

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.

ESPN Article–Ultimate
Act of Sportsmanship

May 9, 2008 Posted by | Commendations, Commentary, Rules | , , | Leave a comment

“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

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

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

Baseball Umpire Do’s and Don’ts

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.

Umpire Suggestions
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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
  5. 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.
  6. 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”.
  7. Use your loud voice, “Did he go?,” when you signal ask your partner to rule on a check swing.
  8. 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.
  9. Practice your calls and stances (and putting on your mask) in front of a mirror.
  10. If you ask to see the ball on a tag play, you’d better be calling an “out”.
  11. Have real slow timing on tag plays! See the ball, the possession by the fielder, the tag, and the voluntary release of the ball.
  12. 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.
  13. 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!).
  14. Umpiring is a lonely job, but you have the best seat in the stadium. Getting together 2-3 times between innings should be plenty.
  15. Critique yourself after every game, not after every call! You need the confidence and positive energy to survive the game!
  16. If you feel anxious as a play is unfolding, this emotion will effect your timing and lead to missed calls.
  17. 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.
  18. Use your voice and signals to communicate. Mechanics sometimes require both voice and signals, other times just one or the other.
  19. Everyone makes mistakes! Whether or not you choose to learn from those mistakes is what matters most!
  20. 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.
  21. After calling a play, bounce out of that area to cover other runners at other bases or quickly return to your “home” position.
  22. Be aware of obstruction and interference and know how to rule on them appropriately.
  23. Have simple straightforward answers for players and coaches who ask about your calls and use rulebook language whenever possible.
  24. You are only as good as your last call. Make sure that your last call(s) were good ones!
  25. Coaches, Players and fans don’t care about the last game you called just the one you’re about to.
  26. 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.
  27. DO NOT cross your arms on safe calls.
  28. 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!)
  29. 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.
  30. 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.
  31. DO NOT take your eyes off the pitcher when he has the ball.
  32. 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.

March 20, 2008 Posted by | Commentary | | 7 Comments

Bringing the Fundamentals into Clear View

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.

Kimball’s List of Umpire Fundamentals:
Things you need to know and be able to do before going on the field.
  1. Look and act like an umpire who deserves respect.  Your hard work, rule knowledge, and commitment will command respect.
  2. 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.
  3. Watch the ball and glance at the runners. It’s about concentration and focus.
  4. 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!
  5. 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.
  6. Baseball somewhat unlike other games requires its arbiters to make and announce a decision when rule infractions.  Doing nothing casts doubt on your abilities.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. Have a quality and thorough pre-game conference.  Know how your team is going to carry out its duties.
  10. Do your job and only your job.  You have enough to do without getting involved in other people’s business.
  11. 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.
  12. Learn from your partners’ mistakes.  Be a good partner and offer “food for thought” as appropriate.
  13. Be a positive role model for players, coaches, and fellow umpires.
  14. Have fun!  Have the desire to be a great umpire.  Take advantage of the opportunity to exercise and interact with tomorrow’s leaders.
  15. Sports officiating is a very humbling activity! As soon as you think you can do it all, you will be brought back to Earth.
  16. Be confident, use crisp/proper mechanics, hustle and keep the game moving.  The rulebook requires it.

 

March 20, 2008 Posted by | Commentary, Mechanics, Rules | | 1 Comment

Preparing for Another Season

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.

Kimball’s Umpire Fundamentals and Commentary

March 19, 2008 Posted by | Commentary, Reading Resources | 1 Comment

A Rare Umpire “Feel Good” Article

Our fellow BULB (Baseball Umpire Learning Blog) blogger Steve Johnson regularly unveils and unearths baseball bits that continue to entertain, educate, and inspire many from all walks of life. Today Steve is sharing the article by Fay Vincent, former MLB commissioner, who speaks kindly not only about one special umpire, Bruce Froemming, but also about arbiters in general. Thank you Mr. Vincent for remembering the true resting place for the integrity of the world’s competitive sporting events.

At this same time, I must share a fairly recent experience with Bruce Froemming. Former Double A Texas League partner Mike Winters has been a regular member of Mr. Froemming’s crew since Mike arrived in the majors. I took my son Ryan to Fenway Park and wanted to get a moment to say hello to Mike as we (along with other crew member Dan Wickham) thoroughly enjoyed the spring and summer of 1983 in the Texas League.

After simply requesting a moment to say hi to Mike Winters in the hallway, Ryan and I were escorted to umpire dressing room to visit with Mike and the crew. During a brief hello and some fun reminiscing with Mike, Mr. Froemming donated his full attention to Ryan (age 13) asking about Ryan about his baseball involvement. An autographed ball from the crew was given to Ryan. Ryan left that locker room with a whole new respect for major league umpires.

When I told Ryan that umpire great Al Barlick continuously told everyone who would listen that Bruce Froemming should be the one selected to work the plate if there would ever to be the most important game in baseball history. Just that comment and an older gentleman’s caring way, placed Bruce Froemming in Ryan’s Hall of Fame. Bruce Froemming’s signature is every bit as important to Ryan and I as that of Hank Aaron, Sandy Koufax, Bob Feller, and others that reside on baseballs in our home.

Thanks Bruce for all that you have done. I especially respect that you continue to manage your games despite the new direction that MLB has taken failing to demand respect for umpires and the game. It shouldn’t about the superstars and owners; it should be about the integrity of the game. No one is bigger than the game, but in our hearts Bruce Froemming is pretty darn close! Enjoy your fame and retirement Bruce, you have surely earned it.

Check out Mr. Fay Vincent’s timely and much appreciated “Opinion” article in today’s (7/9/09) New York Times, by clicking on the following link:

The Umpire Strikes Back by Fay Vincent

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/09/opinion/09vincent.html?ex=1

Froemming Passes Bill Klem

Umpire Froemming Speaks After Breaking Klem Record

July 9, 2007 Posted by | Baseball Bits, Commendations, Commentary | 1 Comment

Naked Gun Umpire Dance

Now, here’s an old clip from the Naked Gun movie from many years ago. I first saw this sometime during my years in the Double A Texas League. Anyone who likes or hates umpires should enjoy this video. He lacks some basic mechanics skills, but he makes up for it in showmanship.

This video brings back some fond memories of my years (1984-86) working for Carl Sawatski, Texas League President for many years. I was called up from the Single A Midwest League in the summer of 1984 and flew into San Antonio to work the AA Dodgers. Sandy Koufax was in the Dodger dugout. We shared something special–a love for the great state of Maine and, of course, workng our trades in the minor leagues. In the Texas League we would somtimes have to drive 10 hours from Jackson, Mississippi to El Paso, Texas after a night game. Jackson is famous for its warm temperatures and extremely high humidity. El Paso was the most fun on 10 cent hot dog nights when hundreds of Mexican citizens would cross the bridge for the evening games. The El Paso Diablo general manager always wanted us to start the game late to give more time for people to get through the border crossing. I doubt it is possible to simply walk across the border any longer.

I do recall working the plate on a drizzly night in El Paso while Ozzy Osborne was singing “White Wedding” in the local armory just over the left field fence. A little more rain and I would have had an even more memorable night that summer. Funny what we remember from our years on the road. Enough reminiscing, check out the video. This umpire performance would have gone over great on “10 cent Hot Dog Night” in El Paso.

For those of you for whom I continue to challenge your technology skills, this may be another new step for you. Just click anywhere on the link below to have the video load and play for you. It doesn’t save the video to your computer or put you at any risk. Turn on your speakers and watch closely to find a few moves that you can add to your plate job repertoire. LOL

Naked Gun Umpire Dance–Google Video

July 7, 2007 Posted by | Baseball Bits, Commentary, Photo & Video | , | Leave a comment

Holiday Challenge–Multiple parts

Happy 4th! Unless you umpire professional baseball, you should have today off! I hope you get to spend time with family or do something special whether or not it includes baseball.

First of all check out the following picture. Does it make your mind spin envisioning all the things that must be processed by the base umpire? How well could he see the front edge of first base with the first baseman stretching toward home plate? What other evidence will an umpire use to help him make a close call like this one if he cannot see the leading edge of first base? Will there be contact? Who is at fault? Can you go to your partner, the plate umpire, for help on the potential interference/obstruction?

Stretch at First

Challenge #A

Now that I have you thinking, the challenge is for you to:

  1. write a script that would go with the video replay. You can write it from the umpires perspective or as a passionate baseball fan.
  2. describe the play at first base and share why an umpire must really be alert to the many possible decisions that can become part of this play.
  3. cover one or more of the rules that could come into consideration as this play unfolds.

 

Challenge #B

Write the script for either of the pictures below. Once again, I encourage you to be creative and have some fun with these. You know, I ought to find a sponsor to give out prizes for talent shared here. What an idea! Maybe the Taz man from down to Honig’s!?!

Play at Home Loose at 2nd Base

                                    “Play at Home”                                 “Ball in Dust”

 

 

July 4, 2007 Posted by | Baseball Bits, Commentary, Photo & Video, Rules, Sharing Game Situations | Leave a comment

How’s YOUR strike zone?

Most of you have now worked enough games to be getting into a bit of a groove. Some of you may even be recovering from a bit of a slump struggling a bit judging some pitches. Your head position, timing, and reaction to plate area situations should be second nature, so now is a perfect time to analyze and work on your strike zone. Is your strike zone accurate enough to spot pitches (designate exactly where they were)? Can you compare one close pitch several innings ago to the last pitch you just called . Isn’t that the best definition of “consistency”?

Inconsistent pitching will always play a big role in whether a game was called “consistently”. However, given a pretty good catcher and consistent pitchers, it should be relatively easy to be consistent. Pick apart your personal plate work and ask for feedback. Ask your partner(s) where they thought a particular pitch crossed the plate.

Seeing both the start and the finish of a pitch play a big part in your ball/strike decision. You must be acutely aware of the approach and the finish of a pitch to be an excellent umpire. Some umpires are very good at borderline high pitches because they see the high pitch very well while they may struggle with low and quick breaking pitches because they don’t see the ball finish (going all the way into the catcher’s mitt). Obviously, the opposite is also true.

Do you know your strengths and weaknesses? That’s your job in moving yourself closer to better understanding your strike zone. The more you know about your “ZONE”, the more you can be consistent. When your zone coincides with the strike zone stated in the rule book, you are good! The best feeling you I have ever had as a sports official is when I would call a “close to perfect” game between two pitchers throwing off their best “stuff”.

 Umpire Head Position


HEAD POSITION:
A dedicated local umpire recently told me that he realized he was working lower in a game when he noticed his head even with the catcher’s head when he called “ball”. Are your legs loosening up and allowing/making you move lower as the game progresses? Eyes must stay high enough and in a consistent position relative to the plate. Adjust up and toward the batter when you feel that you are struggling with consistency (seeing the pitches well).

Without taking sides, but admittedly being biased, as an umpire and experienced parent/coach, I am a bit tired of players and parents blaming umpires for called third strikes. “It’s time to hit! Swing those bats guys! The pitching isn’t that good!

Finally, remember to have good timing! Inconsistent timing leads to inconsistent strike zones. Also, good timing is necessary if you wish to cover check swings properly. The check swing is the primary responsibility of the home plate umpire so do your best to see bat action. You should see most “check swings” pretty well. Remember what you saw and what your partners called upon appeal to gain the valuable experience that will directly benefit your umpiring. Call the swings when the ball is not a “called” strike! Appeal to your partner , “Did he go?”, even if you stated, “No Swing”. BASE UMPIRES WAIT UNTIL YOUR PARTNER COMES TO YOU. Plate umpires make sure you realize when a manager (head coach) or catcher want you to check with your partner. Have you as a base umpire ever made a call when they weren’t asking for help on a check swing? Oooh sooo, embarassing . . . . been there, done that!

Work on that soft, flexible part of your strike zone! Keep up the good work! You must always remember that you and your partner(s) are the best team out there. Getting better makes you even more worthy of being humbled later by an upcoming tough call. We are only as good as our last call! Let’s make our last strike/ball call be correct!

June 24, 2007 Posted by | Commendations, Commentary | 5 Comments

Umpire Interference or Not?

A close friend who used to take care of me during my Triple A series in Toledo saw the following play and emailed me looking for an answer.  It seems like a good one to share with our readers.  Click comment below and share your ruling and reason(s) for coming to that conclusion.  Thanks for being involved.

Jim LaBuhn writes: While watching the Tigers a few night ago this play happened and I thought it was a dead ball.  So here it is RULES man………Tigers have men on 1st and second, no outs, Sheffield is at bat.  The umpire working second base was on the infield grass behind pitcher’s mound.  Sheffield hits a screamer that hits the second base umpire in the back of the calf and the ball bounces away.  The fielder still tried to make a play at first but Sheffield was safe. I thought that if the umpire is in front of the fielder(s), the ball is dead and the batter is awarded a single.  If you have your rule book it looks like it is 5.09 section!

I realize that we were not there (and we are not trying to second guess the umpires), but let’s share our thinking.

June 23, 2007 Posted by | Knotty Problems, Rules | 31 Comments

Where do we begin when coaches and players do not know the balk rule?

What is the balance between enforcement and teaching? Does it depend on the level of baseball? Absolutely, but in all my years, I have learned that I can offer no advice that will make it easy to teach coaches and players how to pitch legally without getting them upset or taking time for longer discussions before or after games. Despite the responsibility of knowing the rules being upon the coaches, teaching is an umpire duty whether we like it or not.

The following comment came from an experienced umpire north of the border. Recently, we have received several comments from around the world stating that this blog is helping individual umpires improve. Learning never ends! Thanks John for getting me back on track. I have been a bit busy lately.

Hey all, I am a senior ump here outside of Toronto and in doing MANY high school games this year, balks are getting out of hand. Pitchers and coaches up to this level have no idea what is and isn’t a balk. You hear ’em screaming from the bench when a pitcher steps off the rubber and his arm goes towards first. Almost in stereo the balk roars come from the crowd. Any ideas on education tactics?

John, thanks for reading the blog and asking your question. I remember right after my pro umpire career ended I offered to assign all the local Little League Junior League games for 13-14 year-olds. When I went to watch the first game, I was amazed that the pitchers were balking on almost every pitch. I was assigning newer umpires that I had trained or worked with from our local umpire association. What a tough way to learn the balk rule, how to enforce the balk rule, and how to help players and coaches to play within the rules! After this first game as the experienced and respected umpire, I told the coaches of one team, Stephen King (yes, the famous horror author who provided our area with a beautiful stadium) and his close friend Dave Mansfield, “Those pitchers are balking on almost every pitch. They don’t know the difference from the windup or stretch position.”

To my surprise as naive as I was about 13-14 baseball at that time, their response was, ‘When can you teach them how to pitch (legally)?” After spending many hours trying to find umpires and answering the dozens of questions almost daily, I was shocked thinking that my young umpires would have to figure out the balk after having limited training and little experience.

I know that this is not John’s situation, but ignorance of the balk rule happens at all levels including varsity high school and pro baseball. Coaches teach pitchers what they can and can’t do and then those comments become the balk rule for those students of the game who will then innocently pass the same information along to others.

I suggest that we make an effort to:

  1. first and foremost, use the terminology used in the rulebook when teaching and discussing balks (without common language coaches and players will never truly learn the rules),
  2. teach/enforce how pitchers can legally get on and off the rubber,
  3. share how the pitching motion must be a continuous motion toward the plate,
  4. share when/how pitchers commit themselves to pitch to the plate,
  5. share how pitchers (lefties and righties) must move to make legal pickoff attempts, and
  6. finally, ask coaches (only if you sense their respect and will to learn; this works if you see the same people in the same league regularly) to allow you to make decisions on the balk and then you can have brief, learning discussions between innings and after the game so the coaches and kids can learn this rule.

I have watched local umpires do a very good job by taking a moment between innings close to the dugout or as the manager/coach heads to coach the bases informing him of the minor balks that were not called but need his attention. However, good intentions somtimes don’t work out as easily as it sounds here.

Obviously and unfortunately, if your games are highly contested and competitive, you can only teach the rules by enforcing them including enforcing the proper behavior of the coaches. Don’t allow them to continue to make comments about balk calls or the lack thereof. If they can act appropriately and kindly asking for your interpretation whether coming onto the field or not, they can get the best benefit of all–true and accurate knowledge from the horse’s mouth. If they cannot be respectful and model good behavior for their players and all spectators, they get to go home looking like the other end of the horse.

I wish I could help you more. Short of having your local interpreter or experienced umpires meet with all coaches in a particular league prior to the league opening to discuss some of the more difficult rules including the balk, you teach by calling the balk just as one teaches young basketball players what a traveling violation is by calling the violation. Many good umpires have commented in this blog that we should use a lot more discretion in calling balks below the high school varsity level. Sometimes this approach can work against us preventing the learning from taking place. It all sounds easy, but when you are the arbiter, you have to make the decision. That is why they employ/assign us to the games.

This is a tough situation. I appeal to other readers to share your experiences and words of wisdom. Just click on the “Comment(s)” below.

June 19, 2007 Posted by | Balks, Rules | 12 Comments

New Online Resources — MyReferee and NASO ONline

Referee Magazine and TheArbiter.net, an online officiating assignment service, haved teamed up to present information and resources for sports officials. Go the website below to sign up for your free access.

http://www.referee.com/arbiter/myreferee/learnmore.html

 

Any officials that already receive assignments on TheArbiter.Net can access this resource by clicking on “My Referee” in the bottom left corner on the start page after logging into your Arbiter account. Otherwise, just register by giving some personal information. I will eventually add the link to the blogroll.

NASO ONline is another resource that I discovered today. It seems like it will be especially helpful to those who are involved in leading associations. Click on the logo below to go to NASO ONline.

NASO ONline

June 7, 2007 Posted by | Association Improvements, Commendations, Reading Resources | Leave a comment

EMBUA Photos Available for Download

It wasn’t easy, but I have finally uploaded a large number of the umpire photos that I took at Hermon High School baseball games this spring of 2007. Most of the pictures were taken at my son’s JV games, but there are also some taken at Hermon varsity games.

You can see these photos at http://www.flickr.com/photos/kimballs. You can click on the “Umpire Photo” set so you don’t have to sort through some of our personal photos.

At this point there are 143 photos. They can be seen and downloaded free of charge. I know that many umpires never get to see good quality pictures of themselves. The camera takes 8 megapixel pictures and you can save them to you own computer, order copies of the pictures that you want right on the website, send them to your favorite photo finisher to make prints for you (4 x 6 or even posters), and/or burn them to a CD and then take them to Wal-Mart or Sam’s Clubs where you can even do some editing before requesting prints.

June 5, 2007 Posted by | Photo & Video | 2 Comments

Umpire Education–What works best?

This is a new post to try to elicit your ideas on how we might be most effective in the education of new umpires. In an earlier comment responding to how one can become an umpire, a local umpire who attended one of the professional baseball umpire schools and who is going to be training the local newbies next year, was looking for some suggestions. I think umpires worldwide could benefit some of the umpire training idea that we can share here in the blog.

We may remember what seemed to work best for us personally when we began our umpiring careers, but for many of us that was a long time ago. With better teaching materials, a larger variety of potential teaching methods, and cool, new technological tools now available, we can gather lots of ideas and even create some new models for teaching beginning umpires. If you are new to the umpiring ranks, this is a time for you to get involved in the discussion on this learning blog. You are the experts now so tell us what worked best and what did not work for you as you learned how to effectively umpire.

Some umpire associations provide excellent training sessions & refreshers for their members each year. These activities may also work for beginning umpires. Please share the teaching methods/drills that worked, or still continue to work for you. Make sure that you preface your remarks stating whether your remarks are suggestions for beginning, intermediate (2-5 years), or experienced umpires (5+ years).

Here is an incomplete list of suggestions that came to mind as I looked back on my training, the clinics that I conducted around the country during my minor league umpire career, and my time spent teaching the local beginner class for the local EMBUA group. My classroom teaching experience also proves to be valuable in understanding learners and potential teaching methods that might make a difference.

  • Beginners
    • Don’t spend too much time on the rules as there is so much to learn and never enough time. Too many rule sessions/situations can overwhelm those who are not familiar with baseball rules or rule books in general. However, rules are what umpires are hired to enforce so rule knowledge is paramount. Definitions are a great starting point. Spread the learning out over time. I would suggest homework and quizzes to teach the rules so classtime can be more than reading the rulebook aloud.
    • Basic positioning and the reasons for being there are paramount to a successful start in umpiring.
    • Make sure that your teaching don’t not spend too much time on “knotty problems” as they rarely happen in baseball games.
    • Focus on the things that happen all the time.
    • Lots of gym and field time (on the field is best, but weather in northern states forces us to begin indoors). Work on basic positions, the mechanics of making calls, actually calling of plays at first, doing pivots, “timing’ work, teamwork (covering situations such as going out, rundowns, 1st to third, time plays, etc.)
    • Use pitching machines and batting cages to work on plate mechanics.
    • Find a way to incorporate video in your training (some learn better with video vs. lecture method).
    • Record beginning umpires in the learning process and during their first games so they can self-evaluate. There is nothing like seeing yourself in action.
  • Intermediate
    • More in-depth rules discussions and learning including lots of official interpretations.
    • Introduction to rule differences between different levels of play (Little League, NF, NCAA, OBR-pro baseball, Babe Ruth, American Legion) depending on what the local umpires are working.
    • Increased awareness of rules and coverage of balks, interference, obstruction, check swings, and awarding bases.
    • Working on mechanics of calling plays at first, pickoffs at all bases, time plays. More rules work surrounding batting out-of-order and substitution rules.
    • Discussions related to successfully managing the game and dealing with coaches and players.
    • Discussions of actual play situations in games.
    • Increased involvement with mentoring program.
    • Continued use of video instruction and using actual game video of others and self.
    • Experienced
      • Higher level rule discussions including tough situations and “knotty problems”.
      • Use of video to help umpires correct bad habits.
      • Training to teach experienced umpires to be successful mentors.

    What do you think? You must be able to think of at least one suggestion that will help best serve aspiring umpires. What videos are available for us to use in the training process? Please share your comments by clicking below.

    June 5, 2007 Posted by | Commentary, Mechanics, Rules | 6 Comments

    Situation: Awarding Bases

    Game Situation NF Rules:

    No runners on base, 2-2 count on the batter, batter swings and misses, the ball glances off the catcher, and the ball rolls out of play.  Where do the umpires place the batter-runner?  Why? If the plate umpire places the batter-runner on the wrong base, what should the base umpire do?  How might it be best to get involved to get the play right?

    What rules apply and what generalities can you share to help other umpires better understand how to best award bases and cover baseballs going out of play?

    Happy Blogging!

    May 31, 2007 Posted by | Knotty Problems, Rules, Sharing Game Situations | 8 Comments