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Tips and Techniques

By Scott Erwin

Basic Tips

Here are a few thoughts that the most skilled of umpires follow, but are easy to adopt by even a novice official.
  • Don’t shout out obvious calls. In particular, don’t scream out, “Strike three,” when the batter swings and misses. You don’t like being shown up and neither do the batters. Everyone in the ball park saw the play, so just make an almost nonchalant strike three gesture as the batter heads back to the dugout after a swinging strike out
  • Don’t grant every defensive player’s request for time. If a player wants time, simply to ensure his return throw to the pitcher cannot result in runners advancing, you are within your rights not to grant time. Also, remember not to call time until you are sure playing action has ceased. Too many umpires have granted time only to turn around and see a runner streaking for the next base. You will have a hard time explaining to a manager why his runner’s advance has been nullified because the shortstop needed time to tie his shoe
  • Take off your mask only when necessary. If you peel your mask to follow the flight of every foul ball, wait for it to hit the ground, then give the catcher a new ball and put your mask back on, you will find yourself working a lot of long games. If the ball is so obviously foul that the catcher doesn’t even come out of his crouch, keep the mask on, give him a baseball and get play moving again
  • Talk the talk. You have heard the expression, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do?” The same holds true around the ballpark. If you look, act and talk like you belong there you will have a better chance of being accepted by the managers and coaches

Working With Your Partner
Before the game, meet with your partner and discuss:
  • Outfield Coverage: The difference between a 60-foot diamond and the 90-foot diamond are significant. Discuss who is going to go to the outfield, and when, needs to be covered.
  • Fair-Foul Coverage: With no runners on base, the base umpire can help when he is positioned behind the first baseman. But with runners on, the home plate umpire has everything along both foul lines.
  • Who Takes Third: With a lone runner on first base going to third on a base hit, the plate umpire has to cover third while the base umpire has the batter-runner no matter where he ends up. On an overthrow at third, the plate umpire will bring the lead runner home and the base umpire will continue to stay with the batter-runner.
  • Check Swing: A good idea is to tell each catcher he can check as many swings as he wants. They will appreciate it. Also, tell your partner you will be checking with him, and that you want the truth. A plate umpire’s feelings should not be hurt by the base umpire calling a strike. If the base umpire has to argue with a coach, he wants to argue about his own judgment, not a decision to support another umpire.
  • Pulled Foot at First: How many games have you seen go bad because the base umpire calls the runner “out” then after much yelling, discusses the call with his partner and then changes the call, only to be barraged again from the other side? Try hard to avoid that kind of situation. If you want help with a pulled foot, ask before you make a call.
  • Arguments and Ejections: Each umpire should handle his own disputes with managers and coaches. As long as the discussion stays one-on-one, the partner should keep his distance. In fact, the partner should be busy observing players and dugouts.
  • End of Game: When a game is over, meet your partner immediately and leave the field together, ideally through a gate on the winner’s side. Do not get yourself in trouble by stopping to talk to a player or manager/coach thus giving someone an opportunity to discuss a call made during the game.
Communication

Communication is the key to success in all that we do. Effective communication is essential in business, in a social setting and in personal relationships. Communication is also the key to good umpiring.

Proper communication and crisp signals sell a call. If you look lazy you will be perceived as a lazy umpire, and very few will accept your decisions, regardless of how right they may be. That’s the nature of the game.

Proper communication during game action and on your calls, combined with good crisp signals, lends a credibility that says, ”This guy knows what he’s doing.” That is the image you strive to present and maintain during the game.

VERBAL COMMUNICATION
Without doubt verbal communication with your partner is the area most in need of improvement among amateur baseball umpires.

Partner communication begins no later than the pre-game conference and should continue on every play. Pre-game meetings set the tone for the game at hand. A good pre-game helps each member of the crew mentally focus on his responsibilities and ensures that each crew member understands exactly what he is expected to do during the game. In fact, every duty or responsibility of every umpire could be discussed in every pre-game – of course, that is not realistic. If crew members cooperate during the pre-game, they are more likely to work well during the game. Clear, clean, concise communication during each play in the only reliable method that will eliminate coverage errors and ensure that at least one umpire is watching everything that happens on a baseball field.

CONSTANTLY COMMUNICATE WITH YOUR PARTNER
After each out or play, communicate and confirm the number of outs with your partner. Make eye contact and flash the number with your fingers. It may seem like overkill, especially if you do it even when the leadoff batter reaches base, but it’s a good habit anyway. If you lose track or disagree, it’s far better to figure things out before the next play than to get caught in a potentially game-changing blunder.

UMPIRE COMMUNICATION
An umpire’s ability to communicate – verbally and non-verbally, with his partner and the players – will be one of the factors that makes or breaks a career as an umpire.
  • Effective communication and proper mechanics help to minimize conflict
  • Vocal tone, volume and emphasis are all important and vary accordingly to the game situation
  • When used inappropriately, a cursory signal or a more elaborate call can create problems
  • A good pre-game meeting helps an umpire focus on his responsibilities and ensure that he understands exactly what to do during the game
  • An umpire should answer questions in a reasonable manner. If an umpire calls a balk and the pitcher politely asks what he did wrong, the umpire should explain the rule or describe the violation
DEFINITIONS

Here are some definitions that will help every umpire during their games:

Chest to the ball: Each umpire wants to maintain a position with the ball within his field of view. By keeping your chest pointed toward the ball, you’ll keep the play in front of you. Although exceptions exist, when in doubt turn your chest to the ball.

Dead-ball signal: To indicate that time is out and the ball is no longer in play, an umpire will raise both hands slightly above his head, arms extended palms forward and call “Time.”

Glance at the runner: Although the umpires are advised to “keep your eyes everlastingly on the ball,” you will find it necessary to glance at the runner on several occasions, including: as each runner tags up or touches each base, whenever a runner and fielder pass within close proximity (to observe obstruction or interference), and to monitor a runner’s progress as a play develops.

A play: A play is the action that develops as a runner; the ball and a fielder come together at the same place at approximately the same time. As the play occurs, the responsible umpire must read the throw, the runner, and the fielder, and adjust his position to enhance his view of the developing play. A play usually occurs at or near a base and normally requires an umpire’s decision.

Point fair: This is the signal an umpire makes on a fair batted ball. It consists of a firm, one-arm thrust perpendicular to the foul line toward fair territory. There is NO verbalization when an umpire points fair.

Point foul: This is the signal an umpire makes on a foul batted ball. It consists of a firm, one-arm thrust perpendicular to the foul line toward foul territory, preceded by the dead-ball signal (but without calling “time”) and accompanied by an often strong verbalization of “Foul Ball!”

Read the throw: As a play develops, you must judge the quality of the throw. In general, if a throw is “good,” you will maintain your initial position to observe the developing play. If the throw is “bad,” you will have to adjust your position according to the throw.

First base line extended: This is an imaginary line that extends to first-base fair/foul line into foul territory behind home plate an unlimited distance. The umpire-in-chief (UIC, or plate umpire) will assume a position on the first-base line extended in several instances including: to render fair/foul decisions on batted balls to the right of home plate; to observe action at first base as another runner scores; on selected tag plays at home plate, and during a rundown on a base runner while the UIC is responsible for a potential play on a different runner attempting to score.

Open the gate: A basic movement that allows continued observation of a batted or thrown ball as the ball passes the umpire. To “open the gate,” begin in an upright stance with your feet comfortably apart. Then, keeping your chest to the ball, take an initial step backward while pointing your foot toward the ball’s destination. As the ball passes you or just before it does, turn by stepping with your opposite foot and focus on the developing play.

Release the runner to third: When the UIC verbally informs a base umpire, “I’ve got third, if he comes,” or “I’ve got third if he tags,” the base umpire will observe the touch or tag-up at second base, then release responsibility for that runner to UIC and assume responsibility for plays made on any trailing runners.

Square to the bag: When set for a play at any base, your head, shoulders and feet should be in line and perpendicular to a line from your location to the base. By taking a position square to the bag, you will avoid a tendency to turn away from the play before it is complete.

Starting position: This is the on-field location occupied by an umpire as a play begins, determined for the base umpire by the runner configuration.


Proper Signaling

Ball: On a pitch that is a ball, stay in your stance and verbalize “Ball.” There is no signal for a pitch that is a ball. Verbalize a ball so that your voice can be heard in both dugouts.

Strike: As the Umpire-in-Chief (UIC) stand up from your stance and step back away from the catcher. Continue watching the ball, normally in the catcher’s possession; bring your right arm up, extend it parallel to the ground. Bend the elbow 90-degrees; close your fingers into a fist, thumb tucked along the front of the curled fingers and facing you. Motion your right forearm forward and then back, as if pounding a nail. Declare loudly, “Strike!” as you pound the nail. Then, relax as you prepare for the next pitch. Verbalize a strike so that your voice can be heard in the outfield.

Dead Ball: Extend both arms out in front of your body, slightly higher than your shoulder and slightly wider than shoulder width. Extend your hands out, fingers together and pointed up, palms forward as if trying to stop something with your hands. Declare, “Time!” Remember, in any dead ball situation, the ball must be put back into play before play can begin again.

Time: Extend your arms out in front of your body, slightly higher than your shoulders and slightly wider than shoulder width. Extend your hands out, fingers together and pointed up, palms forward as if trying to stop something with your hands. Declare “Time!” Remember, in any dead ball situation, the ball must be put back into play before play can begin again.

Play: Point with either hand directly at the pitcher. Call forcefully, “Play!”

Infield Fly: Begin in a set position; when the ball is hit pause, read and react; step up, turn and face the fielders and the play. When the ball is descending and you are convinced the batted ball is an infield fly, point straight up with your right hand and declare, “Infield Fly! The batter is out.” If the batted ball is near the foul territory, the verbal call is, “Infield Fly! The batter is out, if fair!” If the batted ball is fair, but uncaught, signal an out and declare, “He’s out! He’s out! The batter is out!” If the batted ball becomes an uncaught foul ball, signal and declare a foul ball.

Infield Fly possible: On a regional basis, there are a number of signals used by crews to remind partners that the Infield Fly situation exists. The most popular signal is still an open right hand placed across the chest; or a simple touch of the bill of the cap, using a closed fist to simultaneously indicate no outs or an extended forefinger to indicate one out; a few areas still have umpires pat the top of their heads. Which “infield fly possible” signal is used is not important; the fact that one is used and recognized is very important. It’s a good idea for the umpires in every crew to know what signal is being used.

Signaling the Count: It is not necessary to signal the count after each pitch, but it is a good idea to so it verbally because it cements the count in your mind, thus preventing the embarrassment of an enthusiastic third-strike call when in fact the pitch was strike two. Regardless of the count, strikes are always indicated on the right hand, and balls are indicated on the left hand. A full count should be indicated by extending three fingers on the left hand and two on the right hand. When using the hands to signal the count, give it verbally too. The batter and catcher can’t see your hands and need to know the count, as well.


Don't Get "Squeezed" As The Plate Umpire

As a plate umpire, you know (or you will learn) that catchers will “squeeze” the inside corner for their pitchers and take away your view of the area between the batter and the plate (the slot space). Also, batters will crowd the plate and take more of that space from you. If a catcher’s position takes away from your view of the slot, you need to adjust. Never tell the catcher he needs to move. Although, if the catcher continues to move once he gets set behind the plate, and that blocks your view of the strike zone, you can mention that to the catcher as he may not know that he is blocking your view. Your first adjustment is up – work higher above the catcher’s head when he crowds the inside corner. That will allow you to look down onto the plate area and improve your view of the plate, compared to the view you would have if you made no adjustment. The second adjustment is to move farther into the slot, toward the batter. That will increase your viewing angle to the plate and re-open the plate area (and strike zone). Never move to the catcher’s outside shoulder.


Plate Umpire Mobility

A good plate arbiter is mobile. In the two-person system the plate umpire may be required to make a call at each base. You can partially compensate for the lack of speed by anticipating the play and getting a quick start to the proper position.

With no runners on base, the base umpire is on the first base foul line (“A” position). Fair/foul coverage on the first base line is divided. As the plate umpire, you will take any ball which stops short of first base or is touched before reaching the base. Any ball which passes the base (front edge) untouched is the base umpire’s responsibility. The plate umpire has to cover the entire third base line. With runners on base, the base umpire is positioned inside the foul lines (both 60-foot and 90-foot diamond) and the plate umpire has both foul lines in their entirety.

With no runners on base, for ground balls hit in the infield where fair/foul is not a factor, you should immediately advance up the first base line, striving to get as close to the start of the three-foot lane as possible and taking a standing set before the play occurs. There are three reasons for doing that:
  1. You must watch for interference by the batter-runner while out of the three-foot lane
  2. You must be ready for overthrows, being prepared to bounce into foul territory and rule on a dead ball and any subsequent award
  3. From that position, you can assist on a pulled foot and/or swipe tag, if asked
There are several situations when you are responsible for covering third; other situations are optional depending on crew preferences. The play that will bring you to third most often is a base hit to the outfield with a lone runner at first. When the ball is batted - pause, read the position of the fielder and the speed of the runner and react by clearing the catcher and moving up the third base line in foul territory, about six to ten feet from the line. Let your partner know - “Mike I’ve got third. I’ve got third.” If a play develops, pop into fair territory and make the call from the edge of the cutout. You can get there in sufficient time to take a-hands-on-knee set. If you take too long to read the play and don’t react immediately, you will probably be moving when the play occurs, no matter how fast you are.


Calling The Infield Fly
  • Call Infield Fly when the ball is descending and only if the ball can be caught with "ordinary effort". [2.00, "Infield Fly"]
  • Local leagues, especially minors, may suspend the Infield Fly Rule. There is no reason to call it if the fielding skills of the teams are not good enough to execute a double play if it is not called
  • For many Little League teams in minors, there is no such thing as a pop fly that can be caught with "ordinary effort" and hence no need to call an Infield Fly, ever
  • When calling, point straight up and call "Infield Fly, the batter is out!" or “Infield Fly, if fair!”
  • The batter is out [6.05(e)], the ball is alive, and the runners can advance at their own risk
  • Remember that a bunt cannot be an Infield Fly [2.00, "Infield Fly]
  • Don’t call an Infield Fly after the play is over. If you don’t call it when it happens, it’s too late
Look Like An Umpire

From bow ties and suit jackets, to powder blue zip-up shirts, and various colors that are so popular with umpires today, the umpire uniform has changed dramatically. However, there are a few constants that have been around for a long time, and we should all know about them. “No one pays any attention to the umpires.” Don’t kid yourself…people are watching you from the second you get out of your car and put on that umpire shirt. If you look the part, it can go a long way toward helping you to have a pleasant ball game. It’s nice to walk on the field and hear some of the players saying, “Oh wow! We have a REAL umpire tonight!” Understand though, most of them are seeing your uniform, not you personally. Make sure you and your partner look alike with the same color shirt, undershirt and hat. If you are a new umpire, don’t think it’s necessary to run out and buy a bunch of clothes and equipment right away. You can add all this stuff as you go along.

Hat - Whether it’s a small-billed beanie, a 4 stitch combo or a 6 to 8 stitch base hat. There are a few important points about the hat: 1. We must wear one. 2. It must be kept clean - An old, dirty, ratty hat is NOT the sign of an old, experienced umpire. It’s the sign of a sloppy one. If you only own one hat, clean it! A small brush and detergent in the sink does a great job. 3. Wear it with the bill pointing FORWARD. Learn to take off your mask without the hat coming off. Practice! It can be done. Make sure your mask straps are loose enough that when you put your mask on and lean over, your mask will fall away from your chin.

Shirt - Like the hats, shirts come in lots of different styles from tee shirts to the polyester pullovers in lots of colors. Just make sure it’s clean and unwrinkled. Don’t pull it out of your trunk in a wad and shake it out. Make sure it’s big enough to wear your chest protector under it.

Pants - Most leagues wear gray trousers, but there are lots of shades of gray. The umpire mail order companies sell pretty much the same shade, but they can be pricey. Find out what your leagues’ umpires are using. Don’t spend much money until you’re ready. New umpires in my league wear jeans when they start. No shorts on Little League umpires, please! Find some pants that will allow you to wear the shin guards under them, not on top.

Shoes - Another area where there are a million styles. Generally, if they can be cleaned and shined and have some molded cleats on the bottom, they will work. Wear black shoes. All black is best, but if you have some old plastic molded cleats with a white swoosh or whatever, use them. Just keep them shined. They are better than wearing white sneakers! For the plate, plate shoes with steel toe, etc are much safer but again, pricey. Do what you can afford. Looking the part can really help you get through some situations on the field, even if you don’t feel all that confident. Looking the part can also help you to gain some of that confidence and make you a better umpire. A sloppy looking umpire does not instill confidence in players, coaches or fans. The umpire who shows up to the game in a Hawaiian shirt and shorts has hurt himself before he ever makes his first call. Become “concerned” about your appearance. We have a saying in umpire circles; “Looking like an umpire will get you 2 or 3 innings of trouble-free game. The rest of the game you are on your own.” Have fun and keep smiling.


What Do Umpires Do In A Rundown?

If you let your fingers do the walking on the Internet, you can find a lot of instruction, such as teaching baseball players how to handle a rundown, a pickle, or a hotbox. But there’s not much help for us umpires. In a two-man system, both umpires should be getting involved, if possible. The goal is to have two umpires covering a rundown, one covering each half. (There will be times with multiple runners, though, that one umpire will have to handle it alone while the other umpire watches the other runner(s) and covers other bases. We’ll talk about that shortly.)

Single Base Runner
1. With a single runner caught between first and second, or second and third, the base umpire has the whole rundown until the plate umpire gets into position to help

2. In this case, the plate umpire MUST get the mask off and HUSTLE up the foul line in foul territory. Don’t hesitate, watching your partner run around like crazy; get up the line and help him! Once there, the plate umpire must wait in foul territory, not saying anything until the ball is thrown AWAY from his base (first or third). As the ball is thrown toward the middle of the diamond, the plate umpire hustles into fair territory, in the vicinity of the cutout at first or third base, i.e., on the home plate side of the baseline, communicating with his partner, “I HAVE THIS HALF!”

3. Until then, the base umpire has been responsible for the entire rundown, backing off the baseline to make it easier to watch the ball and the players. Moving back allows the umpire to see everything and NOT have to run back and forth as much. When the base umpire hears his partner announce that he is in position and has that half of the rundown, the base umpire can move closer and concentrate more on his half of the baseline

4. If the rundown is between third and home, the plate umpire has it all until the base umpire communicates that he is in position to take a half

5. As the ball is thrown back and forth, both umpires must move as required to get the best angle, watching for obstruction, interference and for the runner leaving the base path

6. The ideal situation is to have one umpire inside the base path and the other outside. Unfortunately, this isn’t always possible. If the base ump is inside, he should never try to cross the base path to get outside. Both umps will have to handle the rundown from inside the diamond

7. Usually, the umpire to whom the runner is going toward is the one to make the call on a tag. If he is screened off however, the two umpires must communicate and the one who sees the tag will make the call. Many times this communication is simply eye contact if you know your partner well

Multiple Runners
Now the fun begins! Usually, a multiple runner situation happens with a runner on first or second and a runner at third who gets in a pickle or vice-versa. Of course, you can have nightmares about other combinations.

8. Imagine there’s a runner at first, and the runner from third has gotten caught in a rundown. The base umpire must stay in the working area close to second base, in anticipation of R1 trying to run to second. That means the plate umpire has the rundown alone. The communication should be something like this: Base umpire: “ANDY, YOU’VE GOT IT ALL!” He is telling Andy, the plate umpire, that he will not be helping and that he will be controlling the rundown alone. Andy will respond: “I’VE GOT IT!” or “I’VE GOT IT ALL!” This makes it clear that he knows he has no help

9. The plate umpire should position himself so that any tag attempt can be seen clearly. The best way to do this is to back off the foul line to open the angles. If necessary “shade” in one direction, then move more toward the plate to allow a clear view of a close play at home

10. If the rundown is between other bases and one umpire is working it alone, shade to the next base to ensure a good angle on a close play, i.e., between first and second, make sure of a good angle at second

11. If, in any rundown, a player tries to tag a runner and misses, the umpire with the angle who saw the miss should give a SAFE signal and verbalize “NO TAG!” Everyone will know the play is still alive and the runner is not out In all of these situations, stay alert and ready to move! The players are liable to do anything with the ball or themselves, and you must be ready for anything. Don’t allow yourself to be surprised.


Going Out Or Staying In

On a 60-foot diamond does the base umpire belong on the inside of the infield behind the pitcher, or does he belong on the outside of the infield behind the infielders? When the ball is hit to the outfield, should that umpire stay out in the outfield and watch the ball, or come onto the diamond when the ball goes out? On the Little League 60-foot field, the base umpire has a tough job. The umpire must be able to watch the ball, watch the runner(s), and be in the right position to handle his responsibilities. The best way to make all that happen is to remember the saying: “If the ball goes out (on the ground), I go in. If the ball stays in, I stay out.” Because of the small size of the Little League field, the base umpire must start from behind all the infielders, at the edge of the outfield grass. But few of us have extra eyes in the back of our heads, so watching the hit to the outfield and watching the runner(s) at the same time is very tough if we stay in the outfield. It is imperative for the base umpire to hustle into the infield if the ball is hit to the outfield, get turned around in the working area (that space behind the pitcher’s mound) and keep his head on a swivel, glancing at the runners touching their bases and still watch the ball. The umpire must keep his eyes “everlastingly” on the ball” in order to know where to go to make a call if necessary. We must let the ball take us to the play, stop, and be in position to make a call. Remember that getting the best angle is much more important than distance from the play.


Giving Signals To The Other Umpire
  • Hand to top of cap: The signal for “What count do you have?”
  • Right fist to left chest: Reminds other umpire of an "Infield Fly Rule Situation". That is, men on first and second or bases loaded, and less than two outs. Some umpires use a clinched fist at the bill of the cap for “No outs; Infield Fly, or 1 finger to the bill for “One out; Infield Fly”
  • Other umpire pointing to you: "You make the call, I couldn't see it”
  • Clinched fist at the belt buckle: A signal to the other umpire that from your position and perspective, you think the runner was out
  • Left arm extended toward 3rd, right arm across waist toward 3rd (with clinched fists, 1 finger extended, or two fingers extended): With a runner on 1st, this signal given by the plate umpire to let his partner know that he will be covering 3rd base, should the runner on 1st head that way.
  • Base umpire repeats this signal: To acknowledge he understands what the plate umpire will do with a runner on 1st base
  • Plate Umpire taps two fingers of right hand on left wrist: This is a signal to the base umpire that there are two outs and with a runner at 2nd or 3rd, a timing play is possible, meaning the runner at 2nd or 3rd could score before the 3rd out is recorded
  • Plate Umpire points to the ground with both index fingers: The plate umpire is signaling his partner that with runners on base, he will be staying at home in case there be a play there
Keep The Glove Still

In the top and bottom of the first inning as the first batter is coming to the plate, introduce yourself to the catcher. Try to remember his name. Then say, “Keep the glove still. Try not to pull the pitches, and give me a good look at it. If the pitcher is close, I’ll call strikes. If you move the glove that tells me the pitch was not a strike and you will not get the call.


Keep The Glove Still

Learning From Our Mistakes A good umpire learns from his errors, and we all make those. Here are some basic problems that lead to mistakes:
  • Not knowing the rules
  • Misapplying the rules
  • Not seeing the whole play
  • Being in the wrong position
  • Anticipating a call
  • A simple mental lapse
Know the rules - Not knowing the rules is the easiest shortfall to correct. Rulebooks are not designed for leisure reading and it’s difficult to pick one up and stay with it for long, but you can learn by studying the rules you missed (or thought you missed) and any associated material. Reading casebook plays and researching specific points is a good way to learn rules. It can be done in short spurts, during breaks, anywhere you will have five minutes or more of uninterrupted time and an opportunity to focus.

Apply the rules - Knowing how to apply the rules requires greater talent than just knowing the rules. Understanding each rule’s spirit and intent is a big aid.

See the whole play - Double (or triple) calls are sometimes made on one play because the umpire doesn’t see the whole play. It’s easier to get the call right when you see the action immediately preceding the play. When you have responsibility for the play you must watch the ball. Keep your chest to the ball at all times.

Being in the right position - Positioning is what separates the veteran umpires from the rookies. It’s so much easier to call it right when you have a good view. Always strive for the best possible view. This means getting the right angle and knowing how close you want to be to the play. In fact, being too close can be a very bad position.

Anticipate the play, not the call - Anticipating the play is a totally different issue from anticipating the call. Anticipating likely calls in a given situation and getting into a good position to see the play as it develops are absolutely vital. Anticipating the result of the play – for example, deciding a runner is going to beat a throw because the ball was mishandled – breeds blown calls. As a play begins, rely on the standard instruction: pause, read and react. Wait a moment before doing anything while you decide where the ball is going, figure out who is going to do what with the ball, then move into position to see the developing play.

Stay alert -The last item, mental lapses, is another way of saying “stuff” happens. It happens to the best of us and when it does, all you can do is shrug it off. Some lapses can’t be explained. If they happen too often, though, you need to reassess what you are doing.


Calling Time
  • When you do call time, do it loud and clear. Don't let anyone get confused about whether the ball is live or dead
  • Raise your arms and yell "Time" loud enough for everyone to hear
  • Holding your palm to the pitcher while the batter gets set also calls Time
  • Players or coaches may ask for time, but only an umpire can grant time
  • Don’t call time too soon. In particular, never call time unless you are sure where the ball is
  • After ball four the catcher may ask for time right away. Do not call time until the batter reaches first base and stops moving forward and any forced runners have also reached their bases. Remember that after a walk the ball is alive
Foul Tips

Remember that on a foul tip caught by the catcher (see 2.00 for definition) the ball is in play and the runner can steal. Therefore, don't raise your arms and yell "foul ball" on a foul tip, as this signals "time" instead and the ball is dead.


Bunts
  • Defined as a pitch that is "not swung at, but intentionally met and tapped slowly."[2.00, "Bunt"]
  • It is not a strike if the batter merely squares to bunt with the bat in the strike zone
  • Swinging strike if batter offers at the ball - I interpret this as moving the bat toward the pitch in any way. [2.00, "Strike", a)] Example: Pitch is outside. Batter leans over plate, moving bat toward ball. This is a swinging strike. Example: Pitch high and inside. The batter falls backward, raising bat toward ball as though to defend self. It is a swinging strike
  • Called strike if pitch in the strike zone whether batter moves bat or not
  • If batter does not move bat, or pulls it away from the ball, call ball or strike as usual. No swinging strike
Signaling The Count

It is not necessary to signal the count after each pitch, but it is a good idea to so it verbally because it cements the count in your mind, thus preventing the embarrassment of an enthusiastic third-strike call when in fact the pitch was strike two. Regardless of the count, strikes are always indicated on the right hand, and balls are indicated on the left hand. A full count should be indicated by extending three fingers on the left hand and two on the right hand. When using the hands to signal the count, give it verbally too. The batter and catcher can’t see your hands and need to know the count, as well.


Keep ‘Em Hustling

Manage time wisely! The rule book states that a pitcher may have up to eight warm-up pitches that will not take more than one minute of time. In other words, eight pitches or one minute, whichever is LESS. We all know that most pitchers won’t get eight pitches thrown in one minute. Most of the time, the pitcher doesn’t need eight anyway. As the umpire, you should keep encouraging the players to hustle on and off the field between innings. Remind the coach that someone should be warming up the pitcher (and, of course, it must be a uniformed player with a catcher’s mitt and helmet and mask with a removable throat guard). The important point is to keep the time spent between innings to a minimum.

At the beginning of the game, each team’s pitcher must be allowed eight pitches. (Also any replacement pitchers). But after the first inning, do what you can to enforce the one minute between innings. Don’t measure the minute with a stopwatch, but do try to keep the time close to one minute if you can. Draw a chart of innings, and you will see that there are ten “between innings” periods in a six inning game (after the first inning). If only a minute is spent between innings, only ten minutes are wasted not playing ball. But, if the umpire allows 2 or 3 minutes to drag by, anywhere from 20 to 36 minutes (in a seven inning game) can be wasted. A full half of an hour!! Then, we wonder why we can’t get in 6 or 7 innings before it gets dark! The bottom line is…keep them hustling!


Umpire’s Interference In The Field
  • The only way this can happen is if a batted ball hits an umpire in fair territory before passing a fielder, not counting the pitcher. [2.00 "Interference" (c)(2)]
  • Since Majors and Minors base umpires stand behind the fielder, this should never happen in Majors and Minors
  • If it happens in Juniors, see [6.08(d)]
  • Otherwise, if a batted ball or a throw in the field hits the umpire, that is just tough luck for the fielding team
  • Call interference on yourself when you interfere with the catcher's throw to a base. See the definition of "Umpire Interference" in Rule 2.00
  • When in doubt if you interfered, ask the base umpire
  • Don't call interference unless there was some chance of getting the runner out. This is just common sense
  • Rule: The ball is dead and all runners return to their bases. [5.09(b), 2.00 "Interference" (c)(1)]
  • Be prepared for some jeering from the fans and the offensive team. Nobody likes to see the umpire get involved in a play


Calling Safe And Out On The Bases
  • Be in position. Don’t call a play on the move; it makes for jumpy vision. Hustle to the right position and set yourself, then make the call. It is more important to be set than to be a few feet closer to the play
  • The best position from which to call a tag play is looking into it, with the throw coming over your shoulder or from the side. You’ll be able to see the fielder catch the ball and try for the tag
  • Don't get too close to the play. On force plays and tag plays, when the runner does not slide and so the tag is made on the runner's shoulder, you need to have both the tag (shoulder or chest height) and the base in your field of vision. This means being 10-15 feet from the play or more
  • Watch for dropped balls on tag plays, especially barehanded tags. In my experience, about half the time the fielder will drop the ball after a barehanded tag. Delay your call until you see the fielder still has control. Don’t turn away from a play quickly
  • Watch for “high” tags on the upper part of the leg of a sliding runner. When the tag hits the runner’s thigh, or the torso, frequently the runner’s foot has already made contact with the bag. The runner is safe, but since the last thing you see is the tag you may feel the urge to call him out
  • The closer the play is, the louder and more decisive the call should be
  • Once the play is completed, call it immediately. Prompt action saves many arguments
  • Shout your call if it is close, or if it is unexpected. Besides making it sound more authoritative, this helps the runner and fielder know what to do next
  • Example: Throw beats runner to first on a grounder, but umpire calls "safe" because the first baseman's foot was off the bag. The batter/runner needs to hear this as he goes by, so that he knows to go back to the bag, not the dugout
  • Similarly, if the fielder drops the ball after a tag, the runner needs to know that he is safe
  • In my opinion, it is better to say "safe" or "out" on every call, and just turn up the volume on the close ones
  • If you say "Safe" when you mean "Out" or vice versa -- this does happen, just like saying "left" when you mean "right", correct it immediately, calling time if necessary. The faster you correct it, the less the embarrassment
Calling Catch and No Catch
  • Read the definition of “Catch” in Rule 2.00 carefully. During games, remember that a legal catch must be held securely in the hand or glove and must be released voluntarily. Therefore, it is not a catch if:
    • The fielder pins the ball on the ground or on his uniform with his glove, or
    • The fielder has the ball in his hand or glove, then drops it as a result of a collision with the ground, the fence, or another player - even if he had it in his glove for several steps before the collision
  • To determine if a loose ball was either never caught, or was caught and then dropped when the fielder transferred it to his bare hand in order to throw, watch where the loose ball goes. In the first case, the ball will usually dribble out of the glove and onto the ground; in the second, the botched throw will flip it out to the side or behind the fielder
  • If the ball is on the line, call Fair/Foul first, then Catch/No Catch
Who Calls The Catch/No Catch
  • Responsibility for calling the catch depends on
    • Where the base umpire is and
    • Where the ball is hit
Conflicting Calls/Miscommunicaiton Between Umpires
  • When the plate and base umpires both call a play, and both call it differently, they should quickly meet privately and determine the most likely correct decision [9.04(c)]. Managers and players may not be present
  • To avoid this situation, not to mention the even worse situation when neither umpire calls a play, make sure you have a very clear understanding with your partner on who takes what calls
Diffusing Confrontation

Umpiring must walk a fine line between keeping the game under control and not exacerbating situations with over-aggressive or arrogant actions. Although every situation is unique, umpires on the field should follow the guidelines below:

1. Umpires should remain calm, professional, tactful, firm, in control, fair and impartial. They cannot be perceived as overly aggressive, confrontational, hot-headed, short-tempered, timid, intimidated or nervous. Umpires must never display impatience or a condescending attitude.

2. Umpires are expected to understand their role in a steady, calming influence on the game. Umpires must be able to sort out complex and important situations and cannot be hesitant to make unpopular decisions.

3. Umpires should never ignore occurrences on the field that require their attention to maintain order and control. But when difficult situations arise, it is essential that umpires stay above the emotional fray and never lower themselves to the excitable level of a particular player, manager, or coach. Umpires must be clear and decisive, while not overly aggressive or overbearing. They are expected to become more assertive if the situation calls for such, but must control their temper at all times. All in all, umpires must calm volatile situations while keeping control and managing them.

4. Umpires should listen to managers if discussions are reasonable and unemotional. Umpires are to be firm and authoritative in conversations with managers, but should never initiate an argument. Umpires must not create unnecessary friction by ignoring reasonable inquiries. At the same time, umpires must command respect during difficult situations and never tolerate personal abuse.

5. Umpires must avoid sarcastic remarks and profanity and not insist on the last word.

6. Umpires cannot look for trouble or invite arguments. If a situation can defuse itself, umpires must allow it to happen. Umpires must not be perceived as having escalated a situation.


Appeals By Managers And Coaches On Safe/Out
  • If one umpire has made a call, a manager may not ask the other umpire his opinion. All the managers know this. If a manager does it, tell him immediately that he is out of line. Repeated violations are cause for formal warnings and then ejection
  • The manager may ask the umpire who made the call to consult the other umpire. There is a right and a wrong time to do this
  • The right time is when the manager believes that something happened that clearly decided the play the other way, but the calling ump didn't see it, such as:
    • The fielder juggled the ball when making a force play
    • The fielder dropped the ball on a tag play or a catch
    • The runner never made contact with the base
  • Almost as right are cases where the other umpire clearly had a better view of the play. For example, when the first play on a grounder is a play at third, if the base umpire called the play from close to second then the plate umpire will frequently have had a better view of the play
  • The wrong time is every other time. Discourage coaches from appealing all close safe/out calls. It slows down the game and sets a bad example for the kids and the spectators. Persistent behavior is grounds for a warning and eventual ejection
Equipment Check

In an equipment check before the game, it is important to know what you are looking for.

Bats: A bat ring should be used to check all bats. Wood bats must have no cracks or splinters in the surface. Non-wood bats must have a BPF (or BESR in Sr./Big League) certification permanently marked on the bat. Umpires should also make certain the bat does not have any flat sides. Non-wood bats will get dents and dings throughout the course of a season. If a flat spot or sharp edge has developed, the bat must not be used in the game, and should be retired. No bat should have taping or a sleeve further than 16” (or 18” in Jr./Sr./Big League) up the handle. Tape should not be frayed or be unraveling.

Batting Helmets: Umpires should be looking for the following items when checking the equipment. First, the helmet should not be cracked at all. The most common place that a helmet will crack is at the ear flap where it joins the helmet. Any cracks will compromise the protection that the helmet is supposed to provide. There should be no after-manufacturing painting or decals applied to the helmet to hide any such cracks. Internal pads must all be in place, intact and firmly attached. Even if it looks good on the outside, if the padding is not in good shape, the helmet is of no value to the player. The helmet must have the NOCSAE stamp on its surface, as well as a warning label on or inside the head covering.

Catcher’s Chest Protector: This piece of equipment must be the long form model, meaning that it has a piece of padding that fits between the catcher’s legs when he is squatting. Check to see that this flap does not appear to be worn and easily stays folded back. That indicates that the catcher may be playing with the flap folded up in an unsafe manner. Inspect the straps to see that the elastic has not stretched beyond the ability to remain taunt when buckled behind the catcher. When in place the chest protector should sit high under the catcher’s chin to protect the throat.

Catcher’s Helmet and Mask: When umpires find it necessary to check a team’s equipment, that task will include bats, batting helmets, the catcher’s chest protector and finally his mask. The catcher’s mask is often overlooked, or given little importance. Properly reviewing this piece of equipment will require inspecting the inside of the helmet or mask to assure that both ear and head pads are all present, in good condition, and not loose. To be legal in Little League, the helmet and mask must bear the NOCSAE stamp, as well as the warning label. The throat protector must be present, fully cover the throat and be free to completely “dangle.” The helmet may be a one-piece or multi-piece design.

Pause-Read and React

Veterans and newcomers alike, all of us are guilty of getting in too much of a hurry. The ball is hit, and we feel the need to immediately start running somewhere. Instead of reacting instantly when the ball is hit, each crew member needs to pause for a second so that the situation can be correctly read and covered. If we take a moment to watch how the fielder will react, we pause - read and may change our mind what we are going to do.

Pause–read and react does not apply only to fly balls and grounders. It is, for example, an essential element of sound plate work. In a nutshell, pitches can be called correctly and consistently only if we pause a sufficient length of time to see where they end up in relation to the strike zone. We train ourselves to pause the same length of time on every pitch so as not to let people know when we are taking a second look. We must see the pitches all the way into the mitt and then digest what we have seen.

If anything, pause-read and react is more necessary in a two-man crew than in any other configuration. The proper application of pause-read and react may mean that the base umpire gets a later start getting to the infield if he reads that the outfield coverage belongs to UIC, or that UIC is late starting toward the infield if the base umpire goes out, but the negative is more than offset by the fact that the right umpire will be looking at the right things and going to the right place. If both umpires are watching the catch of the fly ball or, conversely, are heading to the infield, with neither watching the catch, a lot of bad things can happen.

When the ball is hit or a throw is made, pause a second, read the direction and the reaction of the fielders, and then react in accordance with proper mechanics. Also take a glance to see where your partner(s) are going, and be prepared to go somewhere that you are not supposed to go if one or more of them are out of position.

See you on the Diamond,
Scott







© 2010 - 2012 Serra Little League