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

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

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

Obstruction in High School Baseball (NFHS)

Obstruction and the related base awards and amount of protection always seem to be confusing on the field and in the classroom whenever discussing the rule.  Rule 2.00 tell us that obstruction is an act by the defensive team (not just the 9 players on the field) that hinders a runner or changes the pattern of play.

Here are some important things to consider if you wish to better understand obstruction.

  • There is no act alone that can be done by the defensive team that can cause obstruction to be ruled.
  • The offensive team must be put at a disadvantage (called out, not able to advance to the base they would have and so on) by the fielder’s action before obstruction can be ruled.
  • The umpire should always ask himself/herself whether the defensive player’s action had the ability to change the outcome of the play before ruling obstruction.

I think a lot of times umpires rule obstruction too quickly. If unsure whether the act warrants an obstruction call, give the play a second or two to develop before making the ruling. In no way am I saying to wait until the end of playing action, but sometimes the play needs to develop more before a ruling can be made. Sometimes it will be clear that the runner lost a step or two (or more) because of the action and you will then be able to make the call shortly after the point of obstruction.

Twice this year I have seen umpires calling obstruction on a fielder for blocking the base prior to controlling the ball on pickoffs with runners ruled SAFE on the play. On one of these plays, the umpire failed to properly award the obstructed runner second base after making the obstruction call.

An umpire must award one base when obstruction is called. Rule 8-3-2 states: “The obstructed runner is awarded a minimum of one base beyond his position on base when the obstruction occurred. An obstructed runner is always protected and if need be awarded the next base beyond the last base touched.”

An obstructed runner can NEVER be called out between the two bases he/she was obstructed, unless the runner is guilty of interference. Now the same rule states that a runner may be protected or awarded additional bases if, in the umpires judgment, the runner would have reached that base had there been no obstruction.

So what’s the bottom line?

Don’t be too quick to rule obstruction! Once an umpire calls obstruction, it can’t be taken back and an award/protection must be given. If the umpire doesn’t feel the award is warranted then probably the act didn’t affect the pattern of play and obstruction should not have been called. Obstruction is 100% umpire judgment. The defensive team’s action alone does not constitute obstruction. The offensive team must be put at a disadvantage in order for obstruction to be called.

April 27, 2008 Posted by | Association Improvements, Commentary, Rules, Sharing Game Situations | , , , | 8 Comments

“You’re Out!” and “He’s off the bag!”

Bucksport, Maine–Saturday April 26, 2008

Can you tell that local Eastern Maine baseball umpire John Curry enjoys what he is doing?


There’s nothing like ringing a guy up on a tag play at the plate, but John’s timing, focus on the tag, and out call are all performed perfectly. And, of course, the player sliding in was out. (It wouldn’t be as much fun if the player were safe and you called him out.)


The same enthusiasm is displayed by partner Chris Parker in the same high school game. Chris lets everyone know that the Bucksport Golden Bucks first baseman did not keep his foot on the base on a throw from the third baseman. Chris made the call, the Bucksport head coach wondered if he got the call right, and Chris did not hesitate to ask his partner if he thought the player might have kept his foot on the base. Plate umpire John Curry confirmed that the first baseman was off the bag and any controversy that might have arisen in this hard fought game was put to rest. Nice teamwork guys and a job well done!

April 26, 2008 Posted by | Commentary, Mechanics, Sharing Game Situations | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Self-Evaluation: During and After Games

What a great day for baseball! It was so good, in fact, that we went 11 innings (this was a countable game). In my second plate game of the early season, I found myself not feeling very comfortable in the early going. Both catchers were moving all over the place. Inside/outside wasn’t much of a problem, but both catchers were moving forward and backward “late” (after sign had been given and pitcher was coming set) making it difficult to call the high and low pitches. About the second inning of, “Boy, I’m not getting a good look at some pitches”, a light went off in my head saying, “You’re setting your feet too soon.”

Working the Plate

So, rather then using the old umpire school mechanic of “on the rubber” (ready position feet set), it was “Wait until catcher moved and step up/back,” and, hey, I could see again and boy, I felt good for the next 9 innings.

I’m sure by now you’re asking yourself, “Why in the world does Rob feel the need to tell us about this?”

Here’s my reason. (Boy, that was long winded.) As umpires, I think all too often we get drilled into doing things one way and one way only, just out of repetition. However, whether we are on the bases or working the plate, we need to be doing self evaluation and changing/adjusting if something isn’t working.

I’ve heard more then once after a game, “Boy, I wasn’t seeing/calling the ________ today.” But then the umpire did nothing to self evaluate why that was happening. Think, “Is the fielder(s) doing something different; am I doing something I normally don’t?” The key is, don’t wait until after the game to say to the person you worked with, “Did you see me doing anything different?” That’s a great reason to talk to him between innings. He may be able to key you in on something that’s going on around you.

April 22, 2008 Posted by | Commentary, Mechanics, Sharing Game Situations | , , | 4 Comments

“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

Why do we umpire?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Anything for me , Stu?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Call or Interference?

Rob Curtis offered the following situation in a comment in another section of the blog. Thanks for sharing your sitation and your decision. Interference and obstruction and the decision to call one or the other, or neither, must be part of our learning. The discussion and learning shall now begin (and it isn’t about Rob being right or wrong).

Here’s a situation that I had in a game.

Runners on First and Third one out.

Runner from first takes off for second, pitcher steps off the rubber and looks at the runner as he’s running. Pitcher throws the ball to the second basemen who’s about 25 feet from second base. The runner, at the time the second basemen gets the throw, is about a stride away from the second basemen. Runner gets tagged as he runs into the second basemen that he’s attempting to avoid, but there’s nothing hard or anything. The contact causes the throw to the plate to be off target and the run scores.

Defensive coach comes out and wants interference called. I didn’t call interference on the play simply because the runner didn’t have a chance to avoid the second basemen by the time he stopped and the second baseman was in the act of fielding the ball. The runner didn’t change his course to second base. Anyone call anything different?

May 23, 2007 Posted by | Knotty Problems, Sharing Game Situations | 21 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

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

Jim Evans Baseball Prospectus Interview, May 2003

I came across this interview as I was looking for good umpiring resources online. I thought that some of you would like to read some of Jim’s responses in this interview.

Click here to access the article written by Jason Grady of Baseball Prospectus: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=1856

April 19, 2007 Posted by | Baseball Bits, Sharing Game Situations | Leave a comment

The Almighty Rule 10-2-3-g

In case any of you need to memorize the rule that allows the umpire-in-chief to make the decision on anything not specifically covered in the rules, the rule is Rule 10: Umpiring, Section 2: Umpire-in-Chief, Article 3g. Now you know it. In the professional rule book, I believe the rule is 9-0-1c.
By the way, in all my 3000+ games, I never used it. I had some crazy plays that no one really knew how we should rule, but we always tried to use existing rules. Here is one for now for you to keep you reading. I believe it apples to high school and pro rules.

Rule 4-1-5 states “The game begins when the umpire calls ‘Play’ after all infielders, pitcher, catcher and batter are in position to start the game.

What would you do if . . . After a foul ball with bases loaded in the bottom of the 9th inning and the team at bat down 3 runs, you called and signaled play (yes, the signal is in the rulebook as of the 2006 season) while the right fielder is in foul territory to retrieve a ball that bounced onto the field from the bullpen.  While the right fielder is still in foul territory, the pitcher pitches and the batter hits a homerun over the right field fence.  YOU MAKE THE CALL!

By the way, while I was in pro ball, we never got a real answer!  Maybe later I will tell you what I would do, but that doesn’t make it right.

Have fun out there and dress warm!

April 19, 2007 Posted by | Knotty Problems, Rules, Sharing Game Situations | 2 Comments