Baseball Umpires’ Learning Blog

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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

Teachable Moments–What rule situations have arisen this season?

Much of the writing over the past few weeks has taken place as sub-topics as people reply to a similar situation looking for an answer. In order to generate more fresh, new post, I appeal to you to send your rule situations and questions to me so I can make new posts for each interesting play. It makes it easier for others to follow threads on this blog.

Reply to this blog post or send your stories and interesting game situations to: shawnkball@gmail.com

Be focused and ready for the unexpected to happen! It’s great to get the best look on the field and know that you are right no matter how much others might question you.

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

Great Moments in Youth Sports

About one-third or halfway through each season, we must take time to reflect on why we encourage our youth to take part in sports. My commitment to officiating comes from my personal passion for “age-appropriate youth sports experiences”. Youth sports create many “teachable moments”. Modeling good sporting behavior while teaching the intricacies of the game set the tone for a rich learning environment and set the scene for truly memorable events. Children learn how to respect opponents, accept losing, and “be good winners”. Youth sports build character and creates the important opportunity for our children to feel that they are earning respect.

We can only be involved if we agree to play by all the rules. Leaving out some rules simply for convenience, because they are tough calls, or since “coaches don’t like them” is not acceptable. All rules carry equal weight. Punishments, however, vary based on the severity of the offense. “See it, think it, call it” makes sense in officiating every aspect of our games.

Remember, the game is always bigger than the officials, and, frankly, the game is much, much bigger than the coaches and players because they are not expected to be versed in the rules. Fair play and the integrity of the game must be first and foremost, and the game officials are responsible for managing the game and demanding expected behaviors. Yes, good sporting behavior is expected. . . so PLEASE enforce it and applaud it when appropriate.

Every once in a while we hear about a great display of sportsmanship, but we all have recent memories of conflict, disputed calls, disrespectful behavior by the coach, or poor choices by a participant. When spectators yell at an opposing child, we know it is wrong. Thankfully, we all appreciate officiating most when we witness the right things happening during our games. Many hesitate or fail to appreciate the power of these moments. I thought I would brainstorm a few and then challenge you, the readers, to respond with good moments that you have witnessed or would like to see. (Just click on “Comments” below.)

Great moments in youth sports happen when:

  • opponents help/assist injured opponents,
  • apologize/feel remorse for their aggressive foul,
  • coaches compliment the officials when they lose the close game,
  • players really mean “good game” when they say it to opponents and officials,
  • participants and spectators feel empathy for a player that fell short in his attempt at greatness,
  • teams are amazed and almost cheer the great plays and hits by the other team,
  • a player called out on a close play says, “Good call!” to the umpire, and more.

I believe these moments are too often missing from youth sports competitions. We must remember that youth sports includes high school sports. These educational moments are meant to shape our children for decision-making in their future. For this reason alone, let’s do whatever we can to do our jobs well. The coach and the overall educational experience are very important. Thankfully, the rules clearly lay out the expectation of all parties. Game officials are challenged with the duty to enforce the rules as written. I fail to see many collegiate and professional leagues enforcing their rules as written. That’s a topic for a future article.

Generally problems arise when people try to do someone else’s job. When fans start to coach or officiate, coaches start to officiate, or officials start to coach, trouble ensues. If we all do our jobs with vigor and enthusiasm dedicating ourselves to learn continually as we go, our games are in good hands. The rules are working or the games would require constantly changing rules.

Did you notice that spectator behavior was lacking from this list? The few cordial cheers during the pre-game announcements is about the only times when I recognize the other guys getting “a hand”. Respond and give more examples of “good sporting behavior”. Recognize and appreciate proper behavior in an appropriate way (telling other officials or thanking coaches for modeling good behavior at the game-ending handshake. Just because we expect it, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t applaud it!

Now that I have you thinking about great deeds, check out this news worthy deed that earned national coverage. Despite the fact that the rules were misapplied, this is a great story. Click on title for a news article from ESPN or click on the youtube video to see the post-game interview.

ESPN Article–Ultimate
Act of Sportsmanship

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

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

Does the run count?

Jack Kroger replied to another section of the blog asking the following situation. I felt that this was one of those situations that might make you think a bit. Here it is:

‘Bases are loaded with one out. A fly ball hit to the outfield is caught legally (two outs). After the ball is put back in play, the defensive team appeals that the runner left second early. The umpire agrees and called the runner going from second to third out on the appeal. Does the run scored by the runner from third count?’

Kimball answer: The run scores. On caught balls, there is no force so all runs count that score before the base (or offending runner) is touched/tagged. This is commonly called a time play even though this is a bit easier than the time play when a runner scores at almost the exact same time as another runner is tagged for the third out. Unless the runner is forced to advance and hasn’t yet touched the base to which he is forced to advance when he or the base is touched, all preceding runs count that are scored before the third out occurs. Remember, your decision must be based on the time of the tag, not when the umpire signals the out. Failure by a runner to touch a base and being called out on appeal can muddy the water a bit. If the player was forced to advance to that base, the third out is a force play (runner must go there due to the batter becoming a runner) and no runs score even if they touched the base way before the player is called out on appeal. One other thing, an apparent fourth or fifth out can occur if a team gets a third out on appeal and wishes to appeal another runner to prevent a run from scoring. Have I confused anyone yet?

Kid Tag Play

The above picture could represent a time play if there are two outs and a runner is about to score. Please comment by clarifying my answer and/or sharing some other interesting appeal plays or ‘run counts’ situations.

April 2, 2008 Posted by | Knotty Problems, Rules | , , , | 33 Comments

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

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

Umpire Interference or Not?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I suggest that we make an effort to:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 17, 2007 Posted by | Rules | 2 Comments

Umpire Education–What works best?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Situation: Awarding Bases

    Game Situation NF Rules:

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

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

    Happy Blogging!

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

    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

    Message Boards at ETeamz.com

    For those of you who like to really love to test your rules knowledge and continually be presented with challenging rules situations, you may enjoy visiting eteams.com message boards (http://eteamz.active.com/baseball/boards/). Please do not assume that all the suggested rulings are official rule interpretations, but these discussions can certainly get your mind moving. Overall, message boards/discussion forums may present situations that you may not have seen or heard about previously. For this reason, your perusal of this site should be worthwhile. However, if you get emotionally involved in the discussing topics in a forum online, be aware that you may be attacked if you mistate something or leave something out. Those who write there remind me of those who delay umpire group meetings arguing over situations that will never happen.

    Probably the best resource at http://eteamz.active.com/baseball/boards/ is the “Rules” section in the left sidebar. In the twenty or so minutes that I looked over a few topics there, I found some good clear, supported rules information. There are three choices under Rules: OBR rules, FED rules, and Basic rules. Make sure you know which section you are reading because rule differences can overwhelm even the best students of the umpire/rules game. Many dedicated umpires who work different leagues and levels annually purchase publications that provide the information necessary to move between high school, college, American Legion, Babe Ruth, and Official Baseball Rules (aka pro rules).

    This might also be a good time to share a neat feature of this blog. Hold your cursor over any active (blue underlined link) that will take you to a related internet site. The “Snap” mini window feature should appear showing an image of the site before you click to go there. Try it below on the eTeams message board and rules site. Happy Surfing Fellow Umpires!!

    http://eteamz.active.com/baseball/boards/

    May 14, 2007 Posted by | Knotty Problems, Rules | 3 Comments

    Perfect or Perfunctory; What kind of equipment check do you carry out?

    Last week in our area we had a potentially tragic incident take place that has made all us umpires who heard about it reevaluate our approach to the equipment check prior to the game. I hope it will do the same for you. Under Federation rules, umpires must inspect the bats and batting helmets before the game to ensure that both meet specifications and are free from dangerous defects.

    During his last time at bat in a high school varsity game this week, the batter took a direct hit on the ear hole of his batting helmet. The batter did not go down, but his batting helmet had a big spider web covering the ear flap and there was blood on the side of the batter’s head. Examination later at the emergency room revealed a ruptured eardrum.

    The helmet was a new one, complete with NOCSAE sticker as well as the warning label, but just imagine the further damage that could have been done if if the helmet hadn’t met inspection standards and its poor condition hadn’t been noticed during the pre-game check of equipment.

    When we look at helmets, we need to see the NOCSAE seal stamped into the helmet as well as the warning sticker. The rubber compression pads cannot be born, deteriorated, or missing. Duct tape on a helmet is a dead giveaway as to the condition of the helmet under the duct tape. Nothing irks me more than to have a coach tell me, as I remove a helmet from play, “What’s the problem? The last umpire let us use the helmet that way.” That tells me that either we are not being thorough enough in our pre-game inspection, or that the coach has a substandard level of concern for the safety of his players. Neither of those two possibilities is acceptable.

    The Federation makes coaches and umpires responsible for promoting safe conditions for play during the game. Let’s be sure we are doing our part to uphold that responsibility by being alert and discerning during the equipment check. That way we can be sure that we prevent noncompliant equipment from causing injury, or should an injury occur, we can be certain we did not exacerbate the injury by allowing an unsafe conditions to exist during the game.

    May 13, 2007 Posted by | Equipment, Rules | 2 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

    Game Situations

    The situation: 2 outs runners on first and third.

    Batter swings at strike 3, catchers catches the ball – but it is dropped after the bat hits his glove on the back swing(Cecil Fielder like swing). The batter/runner runs to first, the catcher picks up the ball and overthrows first base into deadball territory. Where do you put the runners?

    May 2, 2007 Posted by | Rules, Sharing Game Situations | 5 Comments

    Resource for Pro Rules Situations

    Late last night I stumbled upon another umpire website that might be useful to some of our readers. Unlike this blog, there is a forum for questions/complaints and game situations are discussed relative to professional rules. What I like most about this site is the online professional baseball rulebook. Just click on “Rules” in the left sidebar.

    Check out BaseballUmpires.com by clicking here: http://baseballumpires.com/index.cfm

    Remember: This site focuses its attention on pro baseball rules and situations for minor and major league baseball. For those of you that work college baseball, this may be helpful as professional rules and NCAA rules are very similar. Also, those of you around the country that work Babe Ruth baseball can benefit also. Babe Ruth uses professional rules with a small collection of its own rule differences.

    The “General Questions” area in the “Forum” seems to be active enough to be a benefit for those who really enjoy talking and thinking about rules. Remember–professional rules (MLB) rule this web resource. I have also put the link to BaseballUmpires.com in the Blogroll (list of links) in the right-most sidebar below the “Blog Stats”.

    April 28, 2007 Posted by | Baseball Bits, Knotty Problems, Rules | 3 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

    Substitution Rule–Failure to Announce Substitute

    The majority in attendance including the teams felt sure that the batter should be called out because he was not announced before the first pitch was thrown to him. Below I have pasted Rule 3 Section 1 Article 1. It speaks for itself, I think!

    Note: My apologies for not fitting this image in the space properly. It does block some of the closest sidebar. Scroll down to see the sidebar options without an obstructed view.

    Substitution — Rule 3; Section 1; Article 1Substitution — Rule 3; Section 1; Article 1

    Please click on “Comments” below to add any comments or ask questions. We will do our best to respond promptly.  You will need to leave your name and email address.

    April 25, 2007 Posted by | Rules | Leave a comment