There are different reasons experienced, high-level umpires sit in the stands and watch other umpires work games.
For example, you could be mentoring a learning umpire. That assignment is quite different than supervising or evaluating. If you're mentoring someone, you're just trying to help them improve. That usually requires a more hands-on approach, such as working with them on the field or talking with them between innings, in addition to a post-game debrief.
As mentor, you're also there for them to answer questions at any time. You're the learning umpire's sounding board, their guide to getting better. It doesn't just happen that one game. You have to be available to them all season, whether it's by watching their game, working with them, or dealing with them through phone conversations and texts.
Whatever your method, if you're mentoring someone, the goal is to have them improve by working on 1-2 things at a time.
When mentoring, you'll touch on mostly positive aspects of the umpire's game, and go into detail on only 1-2 things that they need to work on. Usually the learning umpire has more than several issues to work on, but you can't expect them to fix them all at the same time. So you take a patient approach and build the umpire's game through positivity, repetition and reinforcement.
But if you're supervising umpires, you already expect them to be at a certain level, and you're trying to find ways to help them improve. You're also trying to identify who in this group should move up to a higher level or work playoffs in the tournament.
With that out of the way, let's focus on supervising. It doesn't matter, for the purposes of this writing, why you're doing it. The bottom line is you're watching the umpires on the field, trying to help them get better and maybe also trying to find someone to move up another level, or work later into the tournament playoffs.
First of all, this job of supervising is not about you. If you're insecure about your abilities and try to find fault with the umpires you're watching so you can make yourself look and feel better, then you shouldn't be there, and you shouldn't be a supervisor.
Your goals SHOULD be to help the umpires working the game become better umpires, and you want to do that in a positive, constructive way. So how do you go about that?
Well, like everything, let's start at the start.
First off, dress appropriately. We teach our umpires that appearance is important. So don't show up in sweatpants and a ratty T-shirt. That doesn't mean you have to wear a suit, but dress like a supervisor should. If you have an association or supervisor golf shirt, for example, wear that.
You also have to be on time. How can you write down whether the umpires are there at the right time (for our association, it's 15-20 minutes before game time for the younger level umpires, 30 minutes for the high-performance games) if you weren't there to see it? You also need to be there before the game to note whether the umpires had a good and thorough pre-game discussion.
Cut them some slack if they've umpired quite a bit together. It's unrealistic to expect umpires who work together all the time to go over every minute detail in a pre-game, every game. But if they're working together for the first time or almost the first time, they need to do a thorough pre-game.
Do you have a plan for your evaluation once the game starts? Are you just going to sit there behind home plate and watch what happens from there, or are you going to move around? There are advantages and disadvantages to both.
If you stay behind home plate the entire game, you get a great view of the umpires' rotations and movements. You don't, however, get to see whether the umpires are always at the proper depth. When the base umpire is in B or C, is he deep enough? Too deep? When in A, is he too far behind the first baseman?
As for the plate umpire, is he too close to the catcher? Too far away? Can you really see his head height if you're directly behind him?
The best method is probably a combination. Sure, stay behind home plate for part of the game. But, if possible, move around for a few innings. Each ball park is different, so you might not be able to go where you want, but at least try to get to see the plate umpire from the side, so you can see his head height and distance from the catcher.
Also try to get a look at the base umpire(s) from the side of the field, roughly level with the base, so you can get a look at their distances, movements and timing. The game looks completely different from behind home plate than it does from the side, near the base level.
Once you have your positioning planned out, the next question is, What technology are you going to use for your evaluations? Are you strictly a pen and paper supervisor, or do you take some videos and photos, maybe with your phone or tablet? Do you enter your notes electronically, or just write them down?
There's no wrong answer, but keep this in mind: if punching in notes on your laptop, phone or tablet takes you longer than just writing in a notebook, consider using the notebook at the field and transferring the notes to your computer file later. Too many times I've put my head down to write down some point only to hear the crack of the bat and thunderous applause and I have to ask, "What did I just miss?"
Action on a baseball field happens quickly. There may be only one or two instances in a game where you get to see the umpire challenged by a tough call or movement. Make sure you don't miss it.
If you haven't yet introduced videos or photos to your evaluating toolbox, I hope you'll reconsider. I've often told an umpire his "safe" mechanic was lopsided, or he wasn't setting up properly in the slot, only to have them say "Okaaayyyy . . ." in that tone that says "I don't really believe you, but you're the supervisor, so I can't talk back."
But if you couple your assessment with a photo or video to back it up, suddenly you have a believer. Which gives you credibility to the umpire. Which means if you have a critique later that's not on video or in a photo, you have a better chance of being believed.
Next time we'll talk about what to look for in your evaluation, and how to actually go about the post-game debrief.
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.
And please visit www.umpirementors.com to get a better idea of what we're about.
MLB umpires held their first-ever strike. It lasted one day, during the League Championship series. The strike quickly prompted both American and National League presidents to recognize the newly formed Major League Umpires Association and negotiate a labor contract with them.
Bernice Gera became the first woman to umpire a professional baseball game. She worked a Class A New York-Penn League game.
This Week's Umpire Quote
“The most cowardly thing is blaming mistakes upon the umpires. Too many managers strut around on the field trying to manage the umpires instead of their teams.”
- Bill Klem
Hall of Fame umpire
This Week's Quote That Applies To Umpiring
“I really appreciate people who correct me, because without them, I might have been repeating mistakes for a long time.”
- Mufti Menk