Baseball Umpires’ Learning Blog

Our Place to Share the Game

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

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

“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

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

One very important aspect of umpire teamwork is covering every touch of a base while also moving to get in position for your next call. Umpires must know what to watch and not miss a look. This umpire was just starting to move towards third now that his duty of watching the runner tag the plate was fulfilled.  Nice work Bill!

Run Scores -- Knowing What to Watch

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

Good Timing vs. Waiting to Communicate A Call

Good Timing

Timing is when you rule on a play, not when you communicate the call via mechanics and voice. So no matter how long you wait to communicate the call, your timing is going to be poor if you’ve made the call before the entire play happens. Good timing results from training yourself to use your eyes properly on plays.

In force out situations I see poor timing all the time. Not that the call is communicated quickly, but the call itself is made before the umpire is sure all requirements for a force out are present. 95% of the time there’s no problem, but we are paid for those 5%. On the very first day you started to umpire you were told watch the feet and you’ll hear the ball hit the glove. Great, but how often do you look to see if the fielder maintains control of the ball before we make that call? You should always take your eyes from the base to the glove to make sure the ball is in it then communicate the call. You’ll never be saying “Out, safe; he dropped the ball.”

Have you been in the stands and said, “Boy, that plate umpire isn’t calling the curve ball a strike today”. Odds are the umpire’s timing is poor and he’s calling the pitch before it reaches the batter. Good timing comes about by tracking the ball all the way from the pitcher’s hand into the catcher’s mitt before making the call. Much like a batter, umpires tend to “give up” on pitches before they reach the batter. When that’s done it’s been proven that umpires are calling the pitch BEFORE it reaches the batter.

The bottom line is this; timing myths like, “see it, say it, call it.” and “pause read and react” only delay communication of a call that may have been made using poor timing.

Use your eyes properly and make the call. You’ll never be to quick.

April 6, 2008 Posted by | Mechanics | 3 Comments

“What’s the count, Blue?”

It has often been observed that one of the signs of a successful umpire is that at the end of the game, you don’t remember he/she was even there. Usually it is acts of commission (antagonistic attitude toward managers and players, short fuse during a discussion of a play, etc) that keep umpires in the negative limelight, but there are also acts of omission (lack of hustle, lack of focus, etc) that can also undermine our performance. During my spring training week in Florida last week, a veteran umpire pointed out to me that both coaches and players seemed to repeatedly ask me the question, “What’s the count, Blue?” My lack of information-sharing was interfering with the smooth conduct of the game, and I wasn’t even aware of it.

Showing the Count

My evaluator shared with me his routine for giving the count on the batter and suggested I try it for a game or two and see if there was any reduction in the requests for the count. He gives the count after every two pitches (2-0, 1-1, 0-2, etc.) He also gives it after every foul ball just before he puts the ball back in play. which he says is a great reminder to make the ball live after each foul ball. He also gives the count whenever there is a full count.I took his advice was pleasantly surprised to see a dramatic drop in the number of cries, ”What’s the count, Blue?” To be sure, sometimes the catcher, pitcher, and coaches are deep in thought and will request the count just after I have announced it. That’s the nature of the game. But at least I was operating from a set routine.

The proof of the efficacy of this routine was driven home to me after my final spring training game before heading north. One of the coaches, whose team I had had for five games, told me he had seen a marked improvement in my game management after I had consciously adopted a routine for giving the count. He said it made his decision-making much easier when he didn’t have to guess what the count was.

I’d be interested in what other umpires do about giving the count.

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

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

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

    Preparing to call the foul ball (in the air)

    Yesterday, I had an eye opening situation.

    How many times in a career do you see a foul ball that goes straight up at the plate? We always see the coach trying to put the foul ball for the catcher (during pre-game infield) on the plate. Well yesterday, I saw it happen in the game – More on that later…

    We all seem to get a good view of the every day foul balls that are in the air.

    #1. We head down the baseline for anything down the line in the outfield.

    #2. For anything going back to the backstop or towards the deadball areas – we get the angle to see if there is any contact with the fences or spectators.

    But where do we go to gat the best view for the ball straight up? At the time I didn’t know.

    As a catcher for many years, I understand the mechanics of what the ball will be doing. For any ball hit staight up or slightly back – there will be incredible back spin on the ball. Therefore the ball will arc up and slightly back – then as it reaches the top of the arc it will start to arc back towards the pitcher. This is why the catcher should be facing the backstop to make this catch. The movement on the ball is subtle, but after many years of catching, I can tell you that it does this everytime, and it is hard to judge.

    So knowing this as a player, I thought that I would put this knowledge to good use.

    The play: Batter hits the ball straight up. The catcher stood up – I let him clear – he took 2 steps straight back. I then found the ball and moved to his right. The ball was high enough for me to get at a 90 degree angle to the plate. The ball comes down and the catcher attempts to catch (but misses it) it using a basket catch. From my angle, it appeared as though the ball was behind the point of the plate (but it was very close), so I called it foul. I got no arguments from either bench.

    After the inning my partner, who has a lot more mechanics training than me. He said that it looked fair to him (from the A slot). I asked him where I should have been to make that call. He told me to use the baseline extended. He said that this angle would give me the best view.

    Well next time I will do that. I was wondering, does anyone out there have a different approach to this call?

    Thanks for your help.

    May 18, 2007 Posted by | Mechanics | 9 Comments

    Lefty Pickoff at First Base (NFHS)

    As you continue to explore additional ways to help you rule on left handed pitchers’ move to first base, make sure that you do not forget the rules and mechanics that govern the declaration of a balk.

    • Rule Reference: Rule 6-2-4 (b, d, f apply most specifically to the lefty pickoff)

    Rule 6-2-4 Balk Rule

    • Mechanics — Immediately call time using both hands above head while verbally communicating “Time”!
      • (NFHS Rule 5-1-1k) Ball is dead immediately when:
        • NFHS 5-1-1k

    Some things to help you decide from “B” or “C” positions:

    • (Article 4f) Can you see the bottom of the pitcher’s foot swinging back over the pitcher’s plate? This is a pretty good indicator that the pitcher’s “entire non-pivot foot passes behind the perpindicular plane of the back edge of the pitcher’s plate”. If the pitcher throws directly to any base other that 2nd base, he has committed a balk (and he can only throw to 2nd if he is making a play on a moving runner.

    Some help from the “plate”, “A”, “B”, or “C” positions:

    • (Article 4b) Since “to step with the non-pivot foot directly toward a base” has been interpreted as no more than 45 degrees (half way) to home plate, we can visualize where half way is drawing a mental line extending at a 45 degrees from the midpoint along the front of the pitcher’s plate. If the pitcher’s foot lands on or beyond this imaginary line, a balk has been committed.
    • (Article 4d) The pitcher cannot stop his motion once he begins to pitch. Part of his body must continue to move. If he stops his body and his non-pivot leg, it is a balk.
      • Pitcher must not stop after beginning motion to plate.

    Another tip to help you from plate position:

    • As the left steps towards first base and lands, if they step legally, you should see space betweens the pitcher’s legs (in contrast, no space when he steps directly towards you.

    From the “A” position in a 3 or 4-person system, you have the best look available. Position yourself so that a direct throw by the pitcher will go just over your left shoulder (closer to first base than most umpires work with a runner on first). This gives you a better look on that swinging non-pivot leg. Study the pitcher on all pitches knowing whether he breaks the plane of the back of the rubber. When the pitcher does something different, there is a good chance he is coming to first. You do not want to be surprised because any time that we are surprised, our timing and judgement are compromised. Know where that imaginary line on the ground is located. Be ready to pull the trigger on the balk!

    TIP: If you are unsure and possibly get fooled on the first questionable move to first (your gut and coaches/fans will let you know), go to the mound at the end of the half inning (act like you are checking the ball) and look for the footprint. If a balk should have been called, you then know that if the lefty’s foot lands there again, you will enforce the balk. Get fooled once, but never twice!

    Remember to keep your balk discussions with coaches brief. There really isn’t much to say. “He stepped to home.” “He broke the back plane of the pitcher’s plate.” “He deceived the runner(s).” “He hung and stopped his non-pivot leg.” As I said in an earlier post, do not start showing what the pitcher did. You are not a pitcher and the whole crowd doesn’t need you to keep them focused on the coach questioning your call.

    All of the help on this topic and throughout this umpire learning blog requires mental and/or physical training. Work on these things while you are at home, on the field, or on the ride to/from the game. You may not get this tough balk situation until you are in the playoffs and you want to shine.

    May 9, 2007 Posted by | Balks, Commentary, Mechanics, Rules | 1 Comment

    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

    Positioning for Tag Plays at Home–Advanced Mechanics

    Here are some suggestions to prepare yourself to make calls at home plate on all balls thrown from the outfield toward home. As soon as you can, move back behind home plate in foul territory and put yourself in line with the catcher/home plate and outfielder. (You may be rushing back after lining up a tag at third!) I believe that by being in a straight line with the throw, you can better determine how and where to stand to see what you need to in order to make the proper call.

    If the thrown ball tails in either direction, move in the opposite direction to open up your view of the impending tag play. You now can see between the catcher and the runner coming home allowing you to see the tag. If the ball comes straight to home plate, swing around and take the call on the front corner of the plate closest to 3rd base. Do not get too close as you may become part of the play if the runner does a fade slide trying to sneak his hand in to touch the plate.

    May 2, 2007 Posted by | Mechanics | Leave a comment

    “I’ve got your back”; music to an umpire’s ears

    The groundwork for this post comes from an earlier one, “When someone believes in you, you can’t be stopped” In that post I wrote about a conference for foster parents that I attended this weekend. To our delight, former Seattle Mariner second baseman Deshawn Patrick absolutely mesmerized all of us with his keynote speech and the three sessions he led over the two day conference. His experience as a foster child from age one taught him that as long as you have someone who is always there for you, no matter what goes wrong, you are going to succeed. During the two days he regaled us with laughter and saddened us with tears as he shared vignettes from his rocky start as a youth.

    I was totally blown away by Deshawn’s presentations, and once he learned I was an umpire, that opened totally new area of discussions for the two of us. On the way home I was able to draw some parallels between being foster care siblings and part of an umpire crew.

    Just as foster children must depend on one another to make it through the day, so umpires must depend on the rest of the crew if the crew is to survive. When my partner is in the “A” slot and he turns his back on to pursue a “trouble ball” he needs to know absolutely that I will come out from behind the plate, observe the touch at first, and take the runner into second if necessary. He needs to know that I will uphold the integrity of our team by doing my job while he does his, If he is worried that I’m not watching the runner, he can’t concentrate on making the tough call he is sprinting out to cover.

    Likewise, I really feel as if I have been thrown under the bus when, with a runner on first and me in the “B” slot and the batter launches a line drive down into the left field corner, my partner stands rivited behind home plate, admiring the force of the blow. Now we have runners headed to second and third, the throw about to be rifled back into the infield, and only me in a position to make a good call at second and a really poor call at third. If the throw goes to third, our crew is dead. At best, we both are out of position to make at the call, and at worst, we blow the call. Either way, we have lost credibility.

    We could have avoided the disintegration of our team had we 1) done an adequate pregame and 2) followed the plan to which we both had agreed. There is nothing more satisfying to my ears on the field when I hear my partner call, “I got the runner” or “I’m at third if he comes”, and it is not just because we’ve got all the action covered. When he says, “I’ve got your back,” it is affirmation that we are a team, that I have at least one person out there on my side who will stand behind me, no matter what happens. It is the recognition that we are both on the same page as we pursue the course we have set out for ourselves and that I can have full confidence in the only friend I have out there on the field.

    Deshawn Patrick did more for me this weekend than make me a better foster and adoptive parent. His frequent references to the value of commitment helped me crystalize my thinking about what it means to be part of an umpire crew and the responsibilities inherent therein. For all of that, Deshawn, I am extremely grateful.

    April 29, 2007 Posted by | Commendations, Mechanics | 2 Comments

    Explaining Balk Calls to Coaches

    When coaches question “Balk” calls, choose very carefully whether you respond verbally or with a body motion. When a coach is in a dugout beyond easy hearing distance and he demands a response, you might use a single small body motion. However, sometimes your response may raise more questions increasing the probability that the coach will either enter the field or start possible verbal abuse.

    Think before responding. Choosing not to respond is an option.

    When the coach is in speaking distance, I suggest that you do not demonstrate the illegal motion. Words work better.

    Simply say such things as ‘he started his motion and stopped’, “he failed to stop”, “he did not step: directly towards the base/ahead of throw”, et cetera.

    Short statements directly to the point that use rulebook language is the best way to explain balk situations. There is not a long list of rules governing balks. Please do not begin to have coaches teach you the balk rule. Let the balk rule, your experience, and your mentors help you call the balk properly and fairly.

    You are serving our most important purposes–teaching the game and adminstering it fairly supported fully by the rules. Our rules are designed for school children and extra-curricular activities are an important extension of the classroom.

    April 25, 2007 Posted by | Balks, Commentary, Mechanics, Rules | 25 Comments

    SPEAKING OF MECHANICS — COMMENTS AND QUESTIONS

    (Hopefully you will read this after you read my previous post located directly below this titled ” Communicating with Purpose”.)

    This is not an attempt to question the rulemakers, this is to get you to question everything you do on the baseball field when the integrity of the game is placed in your hands.  In that context, please be involved in sharing your thoughts.

    The NFHS prints its official baseball mechanics manual every other year so it should start to look a little worn before it goes into the waste stream.  If you are not willing to follow all instructions therein, you, with the help of your association, must fairly evaluate concerns and communicate them to NFHS. We deserve to have the best possible mechanics manual. High school baseball deserves a specific detailed manual similar to what IAABO basketball already has.

    CALL FOR QUESTIONS

    So, what things do you question in the National Federation Official Mechanics Manual? Share your thoughts by clicking on “Comments” at the bottoom of this page. Remember you must follow the approved set of guidelines and never be negative.  This is a learning space.

    April 25, 2007 Posted by | Commentary, Mechanics | 3 Comments

    Communicating with Purpose

    Communication is an extremely important part of every game you umpire. Communication occurs with and without signals. If there is an approved signal, please use it so more people will be informed and your partner will know exactly what you are doing.

    You must communicate with your partner whey you are:

    • covering a base,
    • taking fly balls,
    • “staying home”,
    • ???

    CLICK ON “COMMENTS” BELOW TO ADD ANY ADDITIONAL VERBAL COMMUNICATIONS THAT YOU THINK THAT YOU COULD USE TO ENHANCE YOUR UMPIRING.

    You must communicate to inform the players (focus on players and the coaches will get the information):

    • sharing the count,
    • number of outs,
    • “Infield Fly!”
    • “Foul Ball”,
    • “Ball is alive!”
    • obstruction,
    • et cetera.

    Please understand that you are a teacher of the game. You know the rules. You are obligated to inform all those involved. People will learn the language of the game from you so be clear, concise, and use the terminology provided in the rulebook. Become very familiar with your perspective rulebook.

    Click on “COMMENTS” below to add any additional communication that you think should be added to the above list! Do you know whether or not your rulebook suggests or recommends your signals or verbal communications? (Oops! Time for me to go dig into that mechanics manual again!)

    April 25, 2007 Posted by | Commentary, Mechanics | 8 Comments

    Head Position when “Working the Plate”

    There are lots of different ways to “work the plate”. However, you need to know why you see every pitch the way you see it. It cannot be a game of chance. You need to know where the ball crossed the plate area so you must see the ball the exact moments when it crosses the plate. It you don’t, adjust your head postion. Your eyes have to be in the right place so put them there.

    Check out the following picture and its caption in the photo gallery if you want to think even more more about your plate mechanics.

    http://picasaweb.google.com/ShawnKball/OfficiatingBlogPics/photo#5056680258687107362

    WORKING THE HIGH SCISSORS

    This classic plate mechanic/style can be even more perfected by using the “ol’ balloon”. Umpire balloon protectors offered the utmost of protection. The big “ol’ balloon” did have a way of getting in the way though.

    April 25, 2007 Posted by | Baseball Bits, Mechanics | 5 Comments