Updated: Feb 24, 2022
You're evaluating an umpire who is either fairly new to the job or hasn't received much instruction or feedback.
You'll probably see a few obvious red flags that will tell you he or she isn't quite ready to move up to the next level.
Not all of the indications are, by themselves, a problem that automatically tells you the umpire isn't ready. Some of them are just indications the official hasn't yet learned the finer points of umpiring and might still improve.
Let's go over a few of them.
Does the umpire show up in the proper uniform? Is it clean, worn properly and, more or less, fitted properly? In umpiring, as in many things in life, attention to detail is often an indicator of quality.
Just as the players and coaches will judge an umpire by their appearance, so will you. If the umpire isn't wearing a uniform properly, it can be an indication they don't pay attention to the many small things an umpire needs to be aware of.
In addition, appearance is one of the few things an umpire is in complete control of. So if he has an unkempt appearance, it can possibly show they haven't been taught about the importance of their presentation, or they don't care.
This one I see all the time. The batter fouls a pitch straight back to the backstop and the plate umpire throws both arms up in the air and loudly yells "FOOOUUUUULLL!"
Again, by itself it does nothing to negatively affect the game. But it's an indication the umpire isn't aware there's no need to vocalize or demonstrate on an obvious foul ball.
And never mind he's unnecessarily calling attention to himself by being so loud when he doesn't have to be. If an umpire is loud all the time, it takes away his effectiveness when he HAS to be loud on a close play.
PUTTING THE BALL IN PLAY
There are two versions of this one:
The plate umpire keeps pointing to the pitcher and saying "Play!" when the ball is already live.
The plate umpire doesn't put the ball back in play when he has to, such as after a time out or a foul ball, with runners on base.
TIMING, TIMING, TIMING
Making calls - whether they're safes and outs, fair/foul or balls and strikes - too quickly is an indication the umpire is too anxious and/or hasn't received much training. It's a lot easier to make a decision when you slow your timing down and let what just happened get processed in your brain. But, of course, this umpire hasn't learned that yet.
Most of us work the majority of our games in the two-umpire system. In that system, both umpires should be on the move most of the time the ball is put in play, especially with runners on base. If you watch the umpire you're supervising until the end of the play and he still hasn't moved from where he started, it's a sign he doesn't know, first of all, that he's supposed to move somewhere and, second, where he's supposed to go.
There's also a good possibility that when the ball was hit he just became a fan and started watching the play, not realizing he is no longer just a spectator.
The pitch is swung on for strike three and you see your umpire do a beautiful strike three mechanic, complete with voice and a great "pull the chain saw" mechanic. That probably means he's paying SOME attention, and he saw someone else, whether in a local game or on TV, do a strike-three mechanic. So he knows HOW to do it. He just doesn't know when to do it.
Does the official keep looking at the indicator, right in front of his face?
That's an easily fixable bad habit, but it's also a sign the umpire isn't aware of how much of the game he's missing while staring at his indicator.
Your umpire is in perfect position for a play at third. He makes a great "safe" signal, complete with good timing. He looks good. Everything is going great. Then he turns his back on the play and jogs back to his position.
IT'S NOT THE END
Dang it! He was doing so well! But experienced umpires know you never turn your back on a live ball. So now you know your guy isn't there yet.
There are several more indicators - such as what time your umpire showed up, whether he takes his mask off when the ball is put in play, how long he takes for discussions - but the ones mentioned here should tell you how much instruction your umpire is going to need.
And, again, these are only indicators that your umpire doesn't have much experience or hasn't had that much instruction. What really counts is if he is coachable, willing to work at umpiring, and willing to listen to your direction.
So the key, then, isn't necessarily to judge an umpire's ability by what you see on the field that first time. Take note, especially, after the game when you talk to him. Is he eager to get feedback, or is he in a hurry? Is he taking notes or at least listening intently? Does he implement your suggestions by the next time you see him?
I have seen dozens of umpires who looked so lost out on the field I didn't think they would ever be good umpires, only to see them work hard at it and become top-shelf.
On the other hand, I have seen good umpires who, thinking they knew it all, refused to progress or listen, and they were quickly passed by those who simply outworked them.
Baseball is a funny game. A player can be a great listener, and a harder worker than anyone else on the team. But it's possible that no matter how much he listens or how much work he puts in, he'll never be able to hit a curve ball.
Yes, you need to listen to coaches and to work hard if you want to be a successful baseball player. But even with all that, not everyone has the talent to become a high-level player.
That's where umpiring differs. Sure, you need some talent to be a good umpire, there's no doubt, but with a lot of work and feedback from the right people, almost anyone can become a very good umpire.
Everything else being equal, a hard-working umpire will eventually pass a talented umpire in ability if the talented umpire doesn't want to work or progress.
NEXT TIME: We'll look at some of the little qualities that indicate your umpire is going to be a good one, or already is.
The UMPIRE MENTORS book is now out! 422 pages of advice, tips, secrets and stories from 100 of the world's best umpire mentors. To have a look or get your copy, go to https://www.amazon.com/Umpire-Mentors-Secrets-Stories-Baseball/dp/1777689104/ref=sr_1_1?crid=3HYVKSKIVO6LJ&keywords=umpire+mentors&qid=1643221626&s=books&sprefix=umpire+mentors%2Cstripbooks-intl-ship%2C99&sr=1-1
- Pitching distance increased from 50 feet to 60 feet 6 inches.
- The pitching box was eliminated and a rubber slab 12 inches by 4 inches was substituted.
- The rule exempting a batter from a time at bat on a sacrifice was instituted.
The rule allowing a flat side to a bat was rescinded and the requirement that the bat be round and wholly of hard wood was substituted.
This Week's Umpire Quote
“You have a tendency to be less confrontational when you’re more confident in what you do out there.”
- Jim Reynolds
MLB umpire #77
This Week's Quote That Applies To Umpiring
“The postgame critique is a great learning tool. The best referees are the ones who are open to what you have to say and those that are willing to learn new things.”
- Eric Proctor
NCAA Div. 1 soccer official