DECEMBER 2023 VOLUME 2, ISSUE 7
Good advice can come from anywhere
"How much we owe to good teachers,
good education, and good advice!"
- Robert Mundell
Nobel Prize winner in Economics
One of the key elements to improving is being aware that good advice can come from anywhere.
In other words, if you want to become a better umpire, don't just look to other umpires and umpire-related books for help.
As umpire Doug Levy says in the book Umpire Mentors, "Realize that the best tips can come from the least obvious sources."
To that end, the following is advice from the world of business leadership, but it can also most definitely apply to umpiring.
Perhaps it can't all apply to your specific umpiring journey, but it will most assuredly be applicable to your group or association.
One of the most difficult and frustrating issues I had to deal with in my local association was that I thought we would eventually reach a point where all we had to do was maintain what we were doing, that all of our goals would be reached and we could just focus on keeping a great system running.
Boy, was I naive.
Just because you implement a mentorship program, for example, doesn't mean it's going to work perfectly right from the start. Or by the second year. Or the third. Or ever, for that matter.
But that's not a reason to abandon it, whether it's mentorship or recruitment, finances, assigning, or anything else. Just because it's not operating perfectly doesn't mean it's not working. Work hard at it, keep it going, and make small improvements where and when you can.
As a matter of fact, that sentence could well sum up a philosophy of how to improve personally as an umpire - work hard at it, keep it going, and make small improvements where and when you can.
Similarly, just because advice doesn't work right now, doesn't mean it won't be useful later. The trick is being able to decide what is good advice, what is bad advice, and what advice is good but not useful right at this moment.
But now, back to that aforementioned advice from the world of business leadership.
Again, take what you want from it. It might not all apply to your personal journey of trying to improve as an umpire, but maybe you can use parts of it on the field, or in your small group, or even in your association.
Noel Tichy, an American management consultant, author and educator, has co-authored, edited or contributed to more than 30 books.Tichy says the essence of leadership is to have a vision. It has to be a vision the leader articulates clearly and forcefully on every occasion.
As an example, the leaders of the SkyDome (before it became the Rogers Center) had as its vision that it wished to
be the world's greatest entertainment center.
The vision, Tichy says, should capture the company's enduring purpose. Or in our case, the umpire association's
enduring purpose. What are we supposed to be striving for? It has to be seen as something possible and reinforcing, but it has to be a stretch at the same time, something not easily attainable. The values are how the company will deliver on that vision.
These are the principles and standards that should guide behavior and decision-making. They are also what ultimately create an organization's culture. They should be rock-solid and not change easily.
To go back to the SkyDome as an example, quality, service, and people were listed as SkyDome's values.
Its other values were:
- to excite every fan
- inspire our people.
- be leaders in our community
- be dedicated to our teams.
What is your vision? What is the vision of your group or association?
If you don't have one, find one. If it's not written down . . . write it down.
Author and business guru Tom Peters, in his book In Search of Excellence, says every top company he studied is clear on what it stands for and takes the process of value-shaping seriously.
"Virtually all of the better performing companies had a well defined set of guiding beliefs," he said.
In addition, they also demonstrated
- the importance of being the best
- a belief in the importance of people
- a belief in superior quality and service.
All of these things are also important - and can be easily translated to - the world of umpiring.
Be wise enough to know how to use them.
Other Leadership Points
- All people want and need recognition, even if they say they don't. But to be effective, recognition has to be specific, personal, timely (catch them in the act) and varied.
- Have a meritocratic system - the talented people and ones who work hard are chosen and moved ahead on the basis of their achievements, not by the time they put in or who they know.
- The key to a successful meritocratic approach is a fair, open and honest measurement system.
- What gets measured gets done.
- The vast majority of problems in a group is caused by poor communication. This can be fixed by establishing a policy of openness, approachability, and consistent communication.
- To overcome obstacles, make up your mind that you can and will overcome them.
- practice, practice, practice every aspect that needs to be worked on.
- Accept early failures, but continue to persist.
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UMPIRE MENTORS, the best book for umpires since the rule book, is now 25% off for GOOD CALL! subscribers only (if you're reading this, you're probably a GOOD CALL! subscriber).
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Umpiring is changing all the time
My friend Steve uses a football down indicator instead of an indicator to keep track of balls and strikes. One on the left hand for balls, one on the right hand for strikes.
It's just easier for him, he says. His left hand is free now that he no longer has to hold on to an indicator, and it's easier for him to remember to move the elastic on his fingers than to try and remember whether or not he turned the wheel on his indicator after a pitch.
Steve saw a Major League Baseball umpire using the down indicators, so he thought he'd give it a try, and quickly became comfortable with it.
Whether or not the football indicator for you, it's a reminder that baseball - and, specifically, baseball umpiring - is constantly changing. Umpires who think they're on top of their game have to be aware of changes every year, whether the changes are to rules, positioning, mechanics or innovations, such as the down indicator.
Another example is the increasing use of "the Wedge," as it's referred to. Generally, it requires the plate umpire for plays at the plate to remain on a line between the runner and the catcher's left hip to get a better look at the tag. (We're not doing a detailed breakdown of the Wedge here; we're merely showing that it's another innovation for umpires to consider).
For pickoffs at first base in the three- or four-umpire system, umpires used to stand near the foul line, roughly 10 feet past the bag toward the outfield, and make their safe/out calls from there.
Now lots of MLB umpires can be seen moving further foul and closer to the base when the throw is made over to first, in the belief that it gives them a better angle and look at the play.
Similarly, some umpires with R1 now set up further foul and closer to first base - almost in a straight line from first to second base - and then, if the pitcher throws home, move quickly back behind the bag and closer to the foul line.
Second-base umpires in a four-umpire system used to set up just off the infield grass, either on the third-base or first-base side, with R1. Now, lots of umpires can be seen setting up deeper, behind the bag, and making the call at second from "outside" the infield. Again, they believe it gives them a better look at the play, and keeps them out of danger from batter or thrown balls.
There are other changes, other innovations. But the point is, are they right for you?
Before you consider using an innovation or change, make sure you know the reasoning behind it, and all the details. Trying to work form the "outside" at second base, for example, would not work in a three-umpire system, as you may still have responsibilities at third base.
Working the Wedge without knowing how exactly to do it, and when and where to move, could cause more problems than it potentially solves.
Moving toward foul territory on a throw over to first base could cause you to miss the call, because if you don't do it
right, your head will be moving just when the tag is being made.
Innovations are great and should be embraced, when they can truly help us on the field. But making a change just for the sake of change serves no purpose other than to confuse younger umpires who now have to adapt to something new that doesn't help them improve.
So when you see an innovation you'd like to try, find out as much as you can about it, and talk to your mentor or association to make sure it's suitable for you to try.