Baseball Umpires’ Learning Blog

Our Place to Share the Game

The Forgotten All Star Team

Many of you are now involved in state championship games at the high school level or in conference championships at the college level. If you are working those games involving the best teams from the area, then you are part of the very special third team out there, the forgotten all star team of umpires. I just want to take a moment to congratulate you and help you realize the significance of your being assigned those playoff games.

Throughout the season you kept your assignments, even though It may have been at some personal cost; you displayed excellent rule knowledge; you executed mechanics almost flawlessly; you communicated effectively and often with your partners; you effectively facilitated the game for players and coaches, and you demonstrated a desire to be the best umpire out there. I know that for a fact, because otherwise your assignor would have replaced you with someone else. Look around you and see which of your peers are missing from the cadre of post-season officials from your umpire association.

You have just a little bit more of that special stuff that separates the exceptional umpires from the great umpires, just as the teams whose games you are officiating have that little extra bit of talent, hustle, and desire that separates them from the other teams in their division. The difference between the two teams whose game you are officiating and  your umpire team is that they have the media and the student body behind them to do their cheerleading. Your team, the forgotten all-star team of top umpires, has only yourselves to applaud your performance over the season, a performance so good that it catapulted you into the playoff arena. Take a minute and pat yourself on the back for a good job well done,

If, this year, you find yourself on the outside looking in on the cadre of umpires from your association who were selected for post-season assignments, and you are feeling a bit miffed about your exclusion from that august body, now is a good time to take stock of things. What are the areas of umpiring in which you could show some improvement next year so that your assignor will put you into the post-season pool? More importantly, what is the game plan you will employ to be sure you make those improvements? What gets measured, gets tended to, and what gets tended to, gets better. Be proactive; take charge of your umpiring behavior, and do what you need to do to show your assignor you deserve to be part of the forgotten all star team.

Finally, to those of you already at the top of your game, to those of you who are representing your association in post-season play, to those of you to whom the game means so much that you make significant sacrifices during the year to get the nod for post-season play I offer my congratulations. By your skill and dedication, you are making it possible for the teams in the championship hunt to have world class officiating calling their games. You are the third team out there, and in reality, it is good that you are forgotten by the players, coaches and fans, because that means you did your job so well they didn’t even know you were out there. Enjoy!

June 13, 2008 Posted by | Association Improvements, Commentary, Knotty Problems, Mechanics, Rules | 3 Comments

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

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

How you can become an umpire!

Several people have come to our learning blog trying to find out how to become an umpire. I am very aware that virtually all umpire associations would enjoy having a fresh batch of umpires every year. For this reason, we should answer this not so simple question when we are communicating with a world full of baseball leagues. However, we welcome your comments on other ways to become an umpire. Once the season has begun, the best way to learn how to become an umpire is to introduce yourself to the umpires shortly after a middle school or high school game (generally in the parking lot).

Beginning your experience as a volunteer Little League umpire in a local league works well for many people and truly makes a difference for children and families despite your beginning ability. Little League has excellent local and regional training programs. Go to the Little League Baseball Official Website (http://www.littleleague.org/findingaleague.asp) to locate a league near you and/or click on “UMPIRES” here or at the top of the page for more information.

The best thing to do is go out and watch games and meet umpires. Introduce yourself and ask the umpires who to contact and give your name to the plate umpire who can write down your name and number on his lineup card. Hopefully all umpires will pass this information along to the proper member(s).

Prior to the season watch the sports pages in your local newspaper 6-8 (?) weeks before the high school season begins or contact an umpire that you know or met. Ask the people you think are good umpires where they are working their next games and go to additional games. Find a mentor. This can be an important first step for true beginners and green umpires.

Mentoring programs are proven to have profound effects on all professional groups that utilize this model. Most umpires could also benefit from a structured teaching and feedback system so the entire officiating group can focus on a short list of specific topics and national points of emphasis to standardize the learning. This is an important function of Executive Committees in conjuntion with the local rules interpreter.

I presume that every state that uses National Federation rules also has a state umpire-in-chief. I hope some readers can confirm this presumption and give us a resource where we can all find state-by-state information. In the process, active umpires from around the country/world will discover who they can contact to answer their toughest rule questions. Asking only questions about rule situations that actually, almost, or might really happen will make this a productive exercise for you and your state umpire-in-chief (and they won’t hate me for telling you to call them!).

May 22, 2007 Posted by | Association Improvements, Commentary, Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Sharing feedback with your peers

It is so easy to catch poor mechanics on your partner’s part, but not at all easy to detect your own deficiencies. Because I want so much for all umpires to give their very best to the game, I always ask my partner for some feedback on areas where I need to work. With luck he’ll give me some good morsels on which to chew. Hopefully, he’ll ask me the same question so that I can share with him what I saw him do and ask him why he did it that way. Maybe he wasn’t aware of what he was doing, or perhaps he has a good reason for doing it that way. If we can get a discussion going, great! We can both learn from that.

But what if he doesn’t open the door to a discussion about his performance that day, either good or bad? What if he tells me he has nothing for me and that he thinks he had a great game? I’ve tried the approach, “Would you like to know what I saw out there today?” and when he responds with, “Not really”, I bemoan the fact that a learning opportunity has just gone out the window.

When you work with an association that has no formal evaluation process where an evaluator sees you once or twice a season and provides you with written feedback at the conclusion of the game, the only way you are going to get feedback is from your partner after the game or perhaps from a peer who happened to take in your game from the stands because he was there to watch a relative or a neighbor’s kid play ball. On those occasions where I have been the peer in the stands, I have had the overwhelming desire to share all my observations, both the strengths and opportunities, with the crew after the game. I think that is my part of my responsibility to make my association as competent as it can be.

Human nature being what it is, though, when I have offered my observations, sometimes the crew isn’t interested. I want to believe that they were rejecting my approach, but not the content. By that I mean, had I approached them differently, they might have wanted to listen to what I had seen from outside the foul lines.

Can any of you give me some help here? Do I just butt out when I see something that needs correcting, or is there a way I can slide the information in without appearing to be the almighty know-it-all? There are just so few opportunities to get constructive feedback that I want to maximize every one of those opportunities. How do you get through to someone who, in essence, is saying “Don’t confuse me with the facts.”?

May 18, 2007 Posted by | Association Improvements, Knotty Problems | 2 Comments

On the road: Comments on local umpiring

After watching a couple weeks of baseball, I have a few thoughts that I hope will help you think more thoroughly about your on-field work. If I can make enough of an impression, some of you will take the risk and make adjustments. Most of these are small changes, but require concentration, practice, and an all-game commitment to create new, improved habits.

Here are some of my early season concerns:

  • Many base umpires are still moving and not set for plays at first.

When the ball is hit, start by moving quickly to your spot, slow down, settle into your spot before the ball is released by the fielder squaring your body to the base, follow the flight of the ball more than half way, move your eyes to focus on the action about to occur at the base (you may need to adjust to an errant throw and/or tag play), and focus on the leading edge of first base to see the out/safe. After taking in all the information, keep your eye on the ball, confirm the catch, and then make a good looking, strong out or safe call.

  • Fast timing–See it, feel it (Did it really appear as I thought?), and call it.

Anxiety causes one’s timing to speed up. Give time for the instant replay to run in your mind. Stay relaxed and rehearse your body and head position/movements during plays at all bases and calling pitches. Using some of the warm-up pitches or throws to first between innings to practice your movements and timing. Good timing is a mental routine. Make sure your routine becomes a habit that you can do without thinking.

  • Most plate umpires are positioned too deep behind the catcher.

Can you see a ball on the outside corner at the bottom of the knees? Can you see the pitch all the way into the mitt. Move towards the pitcher and adjust into the slot (towards the hitter) and up (higher head height) if you are having trouble seeing pitches. We all want our catcher to be a backstop, but we cannot see through a backstop to see if the ball catches the corner at the knees. If you are calling some pitches strikes that are too low (many of your are!), adjust your head position.

  • With a runner on first base, base umpires in the “B” position are too deep/close to second base.

We all need an angle to get the play right at first base on a pickoff throw. Being deep and ready for the steal is only a luxury for 3-man or 4-man umpire systems. Calling pick-offs accurately requires concentration and a quick two steps (left, right) towards the starting point of the running lane squaring your body to the play.

  • Plate umpires should leave the plate area (with speed) as recommended by your mechanics manual.

Few plate umpires seem to want to show everyone how hard they are working. Bust your butt and burn those calories. Remember that you also want to consider angle as you attempt to get the best look at catch/no-catch situations. If the ball is going down the line, get closer and stay on the line. After your call and other related oversight of the ball (going into dead ball area, spectator interference), run back to home plate as soon as your partner(s) assumes coverage of the base runners.

  • Plate umpires need to be heard.

Plate umpires are given the big title “Umpire-in-Chief” so make sure that everyone can hear you throughout your game. You have a voice so let teams know the count, outs, and whatever it takes to manage your game. Make sure that your partner(s) knows when you leave home to cover one of the bases. If the count is wrong on the scoreboard, show and verbalize the count so there is no doubt. Your voice will keep your partner(s) and the players in the game. Keep players running in and out! Speak kindly to coaches if player are reluctant.
Overall, the umpiring continues to be very good. We all know that umpires rarely affect the outcome of a game. Improving one of your mechanics is the quickest way to become a better umpire. In the worst case scenario, you miss a call and you will learn from your mistake. Let’s try to improve our mechanics before we miss that call. Review your mechanics manual(s) regularly and discuss situations with your partners.

The umpire crew is always the best team out there. Keep up the good work.  Despite what you may hear, your hard work is appreciated.

May 7, 2007 Posted by | Association Improvements, Mechanics | 1 Comment