Updated: Feb 24, 2022
Last time we looked at umpires who indicate they're not ready yet to move up (see APPEARANCE, TIMING AND FOUL CALLS: INDICATIONS TO LOOK FOR WHEN EVALUATING).
This time we'll look at things an umpire can do to impress an evaluator, or that will tell an evaluator this umpire has the goods and may be ready to move up.
If you're the evaluator, you'll be looking for little things that will tell you whether you're watching a good one or not, as long as the big things - such as positioning, timing and general rules knowledge - all seem to be OK.
Umpiring is basically made up of dozens of little things. A fan watching the game will generally only notice an umpire in a negative way if the umpire messes up one of the aforementioned big things - he's not in the right place, he messes up a call because of poor timing, or he gets a ruling wrong on the field.
But umpires - and especially evaluators - know to watch for the many, many little things.
- As plate umpire, does he go up the first-base line on a ground ball to the infield when required?
- When going up the line, does he stop before the fielder makes a throw?
- Does he get in a better position to watch the runner touch third, or does he make that judgment from home plate?
- On the bases, does he watch the ball and glance at the runners?
- Does he make sure he sees the runners touch the bases?
- When inside the diamond, does he move to get in a better position to make safe/out calls on the bases, or does he just make them from where he started?
- Does he communicate with his partner?
There are many more little things - and some not so little - that we'll go over here.
As an evaluator, it would be a good idea for you to show up not just in time for the first pitch, but when the umpires are expected to arrive. You should know whether the umpires you're evaluating show up in lots of time, or if they get there just before game time.
Showing up early will also tell you whether the umpires have a pre-game discussion.
Now you're ready for the game. And here are some other indications that your umpire knows what he's doing out there and could be ready to move up.
PUTTING THE BALL IN PLAY
With runners on base, every time the ball goes out of play or time is called, the plate umpire needs to make the ball alive again, by pointing to the pitcher (when all is ready) and saying "PLAY!"
Too many umpires don't do this, which leaves the base umpire in an uncomfortable position. Let's say there's a runner on first and there's been a foul ball. The pitcher gets a new ball, toes the rubber and everyone seems to almost be ready. Suddenly, the pitcher tries a pickoff at first base.
What does the base umpire do? Is the ball live? How would he know, if his partner hasn't consistently been pointing and saying "PLAY!" when everyone is ready again?
PACE OF THE GAME
This one is a big one for me, and it probably should be for you, too, especially at the lower levels where the games tend to take longer.
Imagine the umpire you're evaluating does this: The bases are loaded with two out in a tie game in the bottom of the last inning. There's a full count on the batter and the pitcher is ready to pitch. The crowd is going crazy in anticipation.
Suddenly, your umpire yells "TIIIIMME!" and comes out to brush off the plate. Are you kidding me? The pitcher was in a zone, the batter was in a zone, the game had a rhythm, and the umpire, who was not aware of the rhythm, messed it all up and suddenly became the focus of attention.
Brush off the plate at convenient times, such as after a foul ball or after a batter puts the ball in play, but before the next batter comes up. If you ever find yourself in a situation like the one described above, with a full count in a time game, and you notice the plate is dirty, ignore it. Better to have a dusty plate than have the rhythm and intensity ruined.
Please note this doesn't apply to safety issues. If you see something that may put someone in danger, call time immediately, rhythm be damned.
Other things an umpire can do to ensure the flow of the game is maintained:
- Make your between-innings discussions brief. Players should never have to wait for you to start an inning, barring some unforeseen circumstance like an injury or equipment malfunction.
- Get your baseballs between innings. Again, if there's a key situation in an inning, you ruin the flow if the batter hits a foul ball and you have to say "I have no more baseballs!" Now someone has to scrounge for a ball and get it to you, and the flow and focus are gone. If you're fine for baseballs between innings but find they're not being replaced during the inning, let someone know between batters, not in the middle of an at-bat, whenever possible.
- Write down substitutions quickly. I've seen umpires look like they're writing a book even though it's only a routine pinch-hitter coming to bat. C'mon. 6 is in for 7. Note it on your lineup card, put the card away and let's play. You don't need to note what inning it was or how many out there were, or anything else complex. If for some reason you want to put more information on the lineup card than just 6 is in for 7, do it later, when you have more time, such as between batters or between innings.
- Discussions with coaches/players. Again, there's a flow to the game, and all of a sudden there's a play that makes a coach come out to discuss it with you. Listen to the coach until he makes his point or starts to repeat himself, answer quickly but completely, then move on. No good can come from a prolonged argument or discussion.
WHAT'S HE LOOK LIKE?
I tell young umpires that if they want to become high-level umpires, they should act like high-level umpires. In other words, act and look like you belong. High-level umpires introduce themselves to the catchers. They get behind the catcher, in their regular position, to have a look at a new pitcher warming up.
You never know what kind of game you'll have when you get to the field. It might be the easiest game of the year, or it might be a game filled with anxiety and players yelling at each other. You just don't know because that's not always in your control.
But two things are in your control - your appearance and your energy level. High-level umpires look the part and they hustle. They don't hold up the game. They get where they need to be when they need to be there. And like well coached players, high-level umpires don't walk when they're on the field.
For example, there are no runners on base and the batter hits a ground ball to the shortstop, who throws to first base. As the plate umpire, you know to exit left around the catcher, go up the first-base line and stop when the shortstop throws the ball.
But what do you do when the play is over? I've seen too many umpires turn around and walk back to home plate. Not acceptable. Jog back. As an old supervisor told me many years ago, if you have to take any more than five steps, jog.
As for appearance, rare is the umpire who looks like a complete slob yet umpires like he's a pro. The appearance usually - usually - gives an indication about the umpire's ability. A clean uniform, shined shoes, a cared-for hat and a mask that has the harness straps trimmed off so he doesn't look like Goofy with his ears flapping around are all indications this umpire cares about details.
Of course the umpire has to metaphorically be able to walk before he can run. Nail down the basics first. Get good at knowing your positioning, work on proper timing, and have a good knowledge of the rules. There's no sense worrying about the proper time and method to brush off the plate if you don't have the fundamentals down.
But when you find that umpire who has the basics and is also showing he understands the finer points of umpiring, it makes your evaluation process a lot more fun.
NEXT TIME: It's time to talk about game management. What is it, exactly, and how do you get good at it?
Do you have some thoughts on this week's blogs or any of the other ones? Then please, let us know through the comments section or on our Facebook page. Look on Facebook for "Umpire Mentors" or "Umpire Mentors Group." And please, join our Facebook pages.
Reminder Part 2
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
From time to time, the old Umpire Development Program (UDP) used to put out a newsletter, and there were frequent tips for their umpires in the bulletins. Though the newsletters are old, most of the tips still apply.
Tips on calling balks
The call of "balk" should be made very loudly and emphatically.
When one partner calls a balk, the other umpires on the crew should chime in with the call also.
At the proper moment, all members of the crew should loudly and emphatically call "Time".
Remember to give the proper ball and strike count before resuming play.
Put the ball back in play when play is ready to resume.
- UDP News
- William Evans, at 22 years old, became the youngest umpire in major league history.
- The four-umpire system was employed for the first time in the World Series.
- The umpire organizational chart was established. The plate umpire was appointed the umpire-in-chief and the others were field umpires.
This Week's Umpire Quote
“The single thing that separates good (officials) from the average one is timing.”
- Steve Palermo
Former MLB umpire
This Week's Quote That Applies To Umpiring
“Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice, and most of all, love of what you’re doing or learning to do.”