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APRIL 2024                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 VOLUME 3, ISSUE 10

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"Some questions don't have answers, which is a terribly difficult lesson to learn. "

- Katherine Graham

Washington Post publisher

Have you ever wondered why no one has ever come out with the complete guide to umpiring, with answers to every possible question about rules, situations, mechanics, positioning, timing, game management, and everything else that's involved in umpiring?

It's because baseball (and umpiring) is complicated.

I've read in several places that there are apparently 12,386,344 possible plays in a nine-inning game. While I've never seen a further explanation of how they arrived at that figure, you have to admit it's mind-boggling.

As high as that number is, that's only half the story. Now add on to that number how many other things can happen when you factor in the human element.

Imagine 12,386,344 different plays an umpire has to deal with, and add to it the possibility, say, that the umpire uses quick timing on some of them. Then the result - and the consequence of the play - may be different.

Or perhaps the umpire isn't in the right position. Again, the result and the consequence may be different.

And while we're at it, let's add in how the various players and coaches react to the plays. Don't forget there are more than 12 million plays. So if the player doesn't like the call the umpire made, that might cause an even different result. Maybe you have an ejection, which means a different player now has to enter the game, which means you have to now factor in different outcomes (that player might not be as strong a player, so later in the game they'll pitch to him, whereas maybe they would've intentionally walked the player who just got ejected).

I recently had a play occur that doesn't have procedure covered for the umpire in any manual that I'm aware of. Two-umpire system. Runner on second. As the base umpire, I'm in C, two out. Two-hopper hit to the shortstop, who has to move in and to his left to field the ball. As he fields the ball, R2 heads toward third. The ball and R2 arrive at the shortstop at almost the same time.

As the base umpire, I now have a choice that I don't think you'll find in any manual (please let me know if you do).

I can (1) start taking steps immediately toward first base, thus getting a better angle and a closer look at any possible play at first base, but not have a good look at any possible tag, interference, or obstruction relating to the shortstop and R2.
Or I can (2) stay in C near R2 and the shortstop fielding the ball to see if there's any possible tag, obstruction, or interference, then try to gain distance toward first should the


Not every question has an answer

fielder throw there.

What would you do? Well, respectfully, for this conversation, it doesn't matter. The point is, the "proper" mechanic to cover this doesn't exist. Why not? Simply, because there are far too many scenarios to cover for a manual to list every single one of them. And let's consider there are other factors that would change this scenario as well:

Maybe the ball is hit more slowly (or harder), it's hit to the shortstop's right instead of his left, the runner on second decides to go back to second instead of head for third . . . and no doubt there are many other possibilities, just on this one play. You can't expect a manual to be able to cover every single one. And it also doesn't mean there is a right or wrong way to cover every possible scenario.

Sometimes you have to let your baseball and umpiring instincts take over.

By the way, for what it's worth, on this particular play I chose to stay roughly where I was, believing there might be a possible play involving the shortstop and R2. There wasn't. The shortstop fielded the ball cleanly, R2 avoided him, and the shortstop made a good throw to first base.

And now I was far away from the play at first and didn't

have a good look at it. It was close. I banged the runner out, hoping I got it correct.

If the reactions of almost everyone in the ballpark are to be believed, I didn't get it right. Had there been a supervisor watching me, no doubt they would've said close the distance toward first, which gives you a better look at the most probable play.

But had there been a tag play by the shortstop and I had chosen to move toward first for the most probable play, no doubt the supervisor would've told me to stay with the ball in case there's a play there.

Sometimes you just can't win, and sometimes you'll be told to do the opposite of what you did just because there is no manual situation to cover your play, and supervisors, as we all know, are blessed with perfect hindsight (not meant as a shot at supervisors - they do a great job. I myself am a supervisor).

All of this is to illustrate that you can't find the answer in a book to everything that can possibly happen on a baseball field, which means you don't have a set answer for everything that can happen out there. There are simply too many possibilities, and that's one of the beauties of baseball.

Sometimes you have to rely on your instincts and experience, and the only way to gain experience is to do lots of games, and, unfortunately, to make mistakes.

Figure out what works for you, ask lots of questions, learn how to take constructive criticism and, above all, enjoy this wonderful, wacky, weird game that allows more than 12 million possible plays to happen in one game.

It's the greatest game there is, and getting to umpire it is a huge privilege.

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"Some questions will never be answered. Some things will never make sense."
- Unknown

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Page 2


Changes are coming to the strike zone

Whether you like it or not, the automated ball-strike (ABS) strike zone is coming to Major League Baseball.

Exactly when and exactly what type of automated system is still not known, but you can be sure of one thing: the Minor Leagues aren't using the system just for fun; they're acting as a testing ground for MLB, just like they do for many other major rule changes.

ABS systems will continue to be used in Triple-A this year and in nine of the 10 parks in the Single-A Florida State League (only Daytona won't have it).

Here's where it gets a little confusing (warning: It gets a LOT more confusing as you read on after this).

Baseball America says on its website the ABS system will call all pitches for Tuesday-Thursday games in Triple-A and the nine FSL parks. That's the system where the home plate umpire will signal the call after hearing it in his earpiece.

The ABS challenge system will be used Friday-Sunday. That means the home plate umpire will call pitches, but the batter, pitcher, or catcher can appeal the call. The ABS system will then rule on whether the call stands or is overturned.

Each team gets three unsuccessful challenges per game. If the challenge is successful, they don't lose any of their challenges.

Now here's where it gets more complicated, as we promised earlier.

It used to be that the width of the strike zone was the same from Little League to the Major Leagues. Not so any more, apparently.

In Triple-A, the zone will still be 17 inches wide, with a two-dimensional rectangle at the midpoint of the plate. The top and bottom of the strike zone will be set at 53.5% and 27% of the batter's height, respectively. That's for the ABS system only. I've yet to see an umpire who could judge if a pitch was at 53.5% of the batter's height.

In the FSL, the zone will be bigger. The width of the zone will be 20 inches. You read that correctly.

The top and bottom of the zone will use the Hawk-Eye visual tracking system, and the bottom of the zone will be set to the height of the hitter's back knee, while the top of the zone will be set based on the midpoint of a batter's hips (you read that correctly), with the goal of making the top of the zone equal to one baseball above the batter's belt.

There are minor changes to the pitch clock and pickoff rules, but the big changes this year will be to the ABS, and what type of system will be used on what day.

What are your thoughts on the ABS? Should MLB adopt one of the two systems, and, if so, which one? Or should MLB stick with using human umpires for 100% of the ball and strike calls? Send us your thoughts to umpirementors@gmail and we'll print the best in a future newsletter.

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