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“What other rule would you like me to ignore today, Coach?”

I have  good umpire friend down in Florida who has been a long-time official with the Treasure Coast Officials Association. I was impressed with the question I heard him ask a coach who was grousing about a call, “What other rule would you like me to ignore today, Coach?”  His words came to mind yesterday as I was researching old umpire manuals.

In 1875 The Robert  M. DeWitt Publishing Company of New York pubished DeWitt ‘s Baseball Umpire’s Guide , a Complete Book of Instructions to the Umpires of the Professional and Amateur Arena, edited by Henry Chadwick. As I was reading through the Guide, the following paragraph leapt off the page.

“The duties of the Umpire in Base Ball are, first, to correctly interpret the laws of the game. Secondly, to see that the contestants do their work on the field and at the bat fairly and as the rules of the game require. Thirdly, to decide all disputed points of play which may occur during the progress of a match game. What he cannot do, however, is to refuse to enforce any section of the code of rules under which he is empowered to act in the postion.

That is precisely the point my friend was referencing when he asked the dissenting coach,  “What other rule would you like me to ignore today, Coach?” Nothing has changed in the umpire’s code of ethics with respect to rule enforcement  in the past 135 years. We are not hired to pick and choose the rules we will enforce and those we will not enforce. We are hired for our knowledge of the rules and our ability to enforce all of them impartially. There is a fine line between not enforcing any section of the code of rules under which we as umpires are empowered to act and being a walking rule-book-accident waiting to happen. That is another reason we are hired; to employ common sense as we facilitate the game through its innings. To the extent that we walk that tightrope carefully, we will be upholding the best demonstrated practices of great officiating, and will have provided the players, coaches, and fans with the oversight of the game to which they are entitled.

Have a great spring, you all, and enjoy your time on the field.

March 14, 2010 Posted by | Commentary, Official Interpretations, Reading Resources | 4 Comments

Mechanics Matter a Great Deal

A fellow umpire asked us earlier this week if we had watched the plate umpire when Jacoby Ellsbury stole home against the Yankees in last weekend’s series. The umpire’s  mechanic was spot on; he called the pitch first and then the play at the plate. That is the way it is supposed to be done, and when you do it that way, you’ll avoid the trouble that can ensue if you call the play first. 

A good friend of mine was behind the plate with a runner on third and a 3 and 1 count on the batter, a very dangerous hitter.  It  was a tight ball game and the coach elected to have his runner steal home. The pitch was very close to the strike zone, but the catcher quickly caught in and got the glove down just in time to tag the runner before he crossed the plate.  A big cloud of dust arose around the action which served as a backdrop for the celebration then launched by the defense when the plate umpire rang up the disappointed runner for the third out. 

The third base coach ambled down towards home plate as the umpire was cleaning the dish and the teams were changing sides. ” Blue, that last pitch was a strike, right?  A strike.”  My friend did a double take, probably because in the excitement, he hadn’t called the pitch before calling the runner out, and now the moment was a bit fuzzy. The pitch was really close; what was it? But, what difference did it make? The inning was over and the teams were moving on.

Yes, the inning was over and the offense had lost its chance to even the score that inning, but if the last pitch had been ball 4, that would have ended the player’s at-bat and the tag ended the inning. However, if the pitch had been strike 2, the batter would remain a batsman, the inning would have ended on the tag at the plate, but the dangerous hitter would be the leadoff hitter the next inning. That is what the coach wanted to be sure would happen.

“Blue, that last pitch was a strike, right?”  Remember the mechanic; call the pitch, then the play, and you won’t have to second guess yourself.

May 2, 2009 Posted by | Commentary, Mechanics, Sharing Game Situations | 8 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why do we umpire?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Anything for me , Stu?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 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

    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 ( 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

    A Coach’s Perspective on Balks

    This comment appeared originally as a comment but has now become its own post. Every day balks dominate the list of search terms that direct readers to our learning blog. For this reason, “Balk” now has its own category.

    Dear Coach & Umpire Rob,

    Thank you for taking time to share your game situation and not mentioning names or location. By doing so, you have presented an excellent learning opportunity. In turn, umpires involved in this game or any other game situation should not turn comments meant to help all of us learn into an argument.

    The gray area surrounding the balk rule comes into play all too often. Is it a balk only if someone is deceived? Why do some interpretations allow for deception (ie. fake to third with direct throw to first without full disengagement from pitcher’s plate)? Do we or should we as umpires rule balks the same despite the level of play? Do the National Federation’s new rule interpretations for this season leave no room for judgement (ie. ball changing hands after engaging pitcher’s plate, etc.)? Is a change of direction, a complete stop? How long is the stop for a complete stop?

    Here is Rob’s umpire/coach learning situation:
    I am a coach and occasionally an umpire. Yesterday I was coaching a team of middle school boys in a city semi-final game and my son was on the mound. We were leading the game 5-4 with 2 out in the bottom of the seventh inning, a runner on third and 2 strikes on the batter……..the umpire calls “balk” and the tying run scores. I run out and the umpire was telling my son “you did not come to a complete stop”, my son and team were devastated. The next pitch was strike three. We lost in extra innings.

    I handled it like a gentleman but feel my son and the team were dealt a long lasting blow that took away all their efforts of the previous two and half hours (not to mention the previous two and a half months that got us to that point).

    My son is feeling like he let the whole team down.

    The ump may have been technically correct but I don’t believe he served the game of baseball any justice by the timing of his call. I am still upset but know the game is over and the outcome won’t change. As a coach and an adult, I can deal with it but the boys and mostly my son, I want to find the words to best explain it all.

    Kimball Comments:
    Being a city semi-final game, I wonder whether there may have been a higher level umpire assigned who calls your described balk whenever he sees it. Unfortunately we often see this all too often in local sports. I support middle school regular season officials working middle school playoffs and championships for a wide variety of reasons.

    In response to your personal frustration and emotion, I must first applaud you for acting like a gentleman and not blaming others for your team’s loss. This could not have been easy. You apparently modeled excellent behavior. However, I do question how long a this “lasting blow” will last. Players usually rebound much faster than coaches/parents as long as winning and losing and the true benefits of participation are shared throughout the season. Coaches are some of our most important teachers. The difficulty of your role was compounded exponentially by having your son not only on your team, but also on the mound at the time of incident.

    Maybe the rule makers will better communicate how the balk rule should be interpreted in its umpire manual. Or, even better, local school leagues can work closely with local umpire associations to set their own ground rules for teaching proper pitching techniques as is done for some of the other sports.

    Click on the title of this article or click on “Comment(s)” below to share your comments. Now the discussion continues!

    May 20, 2007 Posted by | Balks, Commentary, Rules, Sharing Game Situations | 7 Comments