Right off the top, let's point out that there's no way to cover in detail all the aspects of game management in one article. It's a complicated, detailed aspect of umpiring.
It's also one of the most important tools in an umpire's toolbox. Yet many inexperienced umpires aren't even aware it exists. That's because when they begin umpiring, they have to learn the basics first - positioning, rules, mechanics, calling balls and strikes, and safes and outs.
And that's how it should be. As a tennis instructor told me long ago, "First you work on the basics; then you can worry about getting good." The fundamentals, as mentioned above, are the cornerstone to good umpiring. But they're not everything.
Once you get comfortable with your plate stance, your timing, positioning, and basic rules, you need to learn about game management, if you truly want to progress as an umpire.
And what, exactly, is game management, you ask. Ah, there's the problem. There isn't one set answer for that one, so it makes it difficult for mentors to present a consistent message on that one.
One of the questions we asked in the book UMPIRE MENTORS was "What is your definition of game management and why is it important?" None of the 100 respondents argued game management isn't important, but there were almost 100 different definitions on what game management is.
So let's see if we can agree on this: Game management is everything you do as an umpire to make the game run as smoothly as possible once you step on the field.
In other words, it starts as soon as you step on the field. There are some who believe it begins even before you step on the field, with items such as arriving early and having a good pre-game with your partner(s). But those are separate issues. That's not managing the game itself.
It helps if you believe that there is always someone watching you from the moment you step on the field, and I'm not just talking about an evaluator or supervisor. Players are watching you. Coaches are watching you. Fans are watching you. Oh - and they're all judging you as well. It's human nature.
So be professional. Represent your umpire association and your umpiring fraternity well. You can be professional and still be friendly. It's OK to smile at the plate meeting or when you're talking to a coach between innings. Be approachable. That means be someone a coach isn't afraid to come talk to if he has a quick question, or someone a player isn't afraid to come up to.
But don't hesitate to crack the whip when you have to. That means telling teams to knock it off if the comments step over the line, or making a controversial ruling you know is going to upset one team. Don't let perceived friendly relationships with coaches or players get in the way of doing your job.
There are way too many aspects of game management to adequately cover them all here. Now that you're more aware of the importance of game management, you can do your due diligence to find out more about it. But here are a few of the bigger aspects of game management:
PACE OF THE GAME
Keep things moving. There's a rhythm to a good ball game. And umpires are a key part of that. Make sure you have enough baseballs. If you don't, the time to seek them out is between innings. Of course, you don't have an unlimited supply. If a batter fouls off five straight, there's a good chance you're going to run out. So during that at-bat, when you're down to one or two baseballs, let the home team (or whoever is in charge of supplying you with baseballs), that you need more. Now.
Just because the inning is over doesn't mean you get to sit back and relax until the teams tell you they're ready to go again. Sure, go get that drink of water or talk to your partner(s) if you need to. But at the same time, you have to take care of business. Make sure the defense has a catcher coming out. If their game catcher was on base or at bat when the inning ended, the team needs a warmup catcher to come out for the pitcher. If you don't see one, let the defensive coach know.
And keep an eye on the battery. If a ball gets away from the catcher, give him a new one so he can continue the warmup. Don't let him saunter back to the backstop, pick up the ball and saunter back to the plate.
Some leagues have a designated amount of time or pitches allowed between innings. If your league doesn't, a good rule of thumb is eight warmup pitches for a new pitcher or, for a returning pitcher, five warmup pitches between innings. Then let's get started.
As part of managing dead time, make your lineup changes quickly. You don't need to write a whole book when a pinch-hitter comes up. Just write that No. 8 came in for No. 6 in the 5th inning, or something similar.
Similarly, if you need to clean off the plate, do it during a natural break in the action, such as after a foul ball or before a new batter comes up. I wish I had a nickel for every time I've seen an umpire stop the game in the middle of an at-bat to wipe off the plate, and thereby ruining the flow of the game. The pitcher and the batter have to regroup now and find their focus again. If the plate is that dirty, clean it before the batter or quickly right after a pitch. Most of the time, the plate isn't that bad that you need to upset the rhythm to get it clean immediately.
And when there is a foul ball or time is called, be ready to put the ball back in play as soon as everyone is ready to go. Don't let the batter take a stroll outside the batter's box between pitches. Sure, let him gather his thoughts, but he can do that with one foot in the box, or at least he can stay in the vicinity so he can be quickly ready to go.
Similarly, don't let the pitcher wander around the mound like he's lost. Get everyone ready to go, in a polite but firm manner. You don't need to be yelling "C'mon! Let's go!" every time there's a small delay. But you can clap your hands and say, cheerily, "OK, let's go, guys!" just to let them know it's time to resume.
Probably the biggest part of game management is dealing with the players and coaches, and making sure the focus is on playing the game and not other things, such as fighting and arguing with the other team or umpires.
There's so much to this aspect of game management that it deserves its own separate discussion, which we'll do in the near future. But for now, let's just say that the teams, no matter what the age group, should be focusing on playing the game.
If they want to yell at the umpire over a certain call or non-call, they must do it within acceptable boundaries. And they get to do it once. It's a natural reaction to be surprised or shocked if an umpire makes a call the opposite of what you expected. So allow a player or coach to react with a yell or body motion, such as a loud "WHAAAAT?" or putting his hands on his hat in disbelief (note: those expressions would be unacceptable for a pitcher to do in disagreement with a ball or strike decision).
But anything past that gets a warning or, depending on the reaction, an ejection.
Similarly, do not let players or coaches yell back and forth to each other. That's just not baseball. They get to talk to their own team, about their own team. Anything else should be shut down.
In fact, you should almost hope you get something out of line early in the game, so you can shut it down early. If a player hits a weak one-hopper back to the pitcher and someone from the defensive team yells out sarcastically, "Nice hit, No. 5!" do not ignore that or let them get away with it. In a game with younger players, let the coach know that's unacceptable and won't be tolerated any more.
If it's teenagers or above, you can address the individual player and tell him to "Knock it off."
There's a lot more to game management, and there's a lot more to dealing with players and coaches. We'll deal with the umpire's relationship with coaches and players in a future article.
As for game management, we've only touched the surface here. The bottom line is, be aware you as the umpire - and more specifically, most game management issues fall to the plate umpire - have more to do than call balls and strikes, safes and outs, if you want to be a successful umpire that keeps moving up levels. Keep the pace of the game moving, keep the players and coaches focused on the game itself, and for the most part, you'll be on your way to successful game management.
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 www.umpirementors.com.
- Umpires began wearing chest protectors for the first time.
- Umpires in both leagues began the practice of rubbing mud into the baseballs prior to each game in order to remove the gloss.
- Umpires were no longer allowed to levy fines for illegal acts, as that was to be handled by each league president.
This Week's Umpire Quote
“I want the boys over in the dugout to be saying, 'Boy, he’s got confidence. He really believes in his calls.’ Players and managers can detect insincerity, and they know when you have second thoughts about your call. An umpire who hesitates is lost.”
- Durwood Merrill
Former AL umpire
This Week's Quote That Applies To Umpiring
“There are four ways, and only four ways, in which we have contact with the world. We are evaluated and classified by these four contacts:
1. What we do.
2. How we look.
3. What we say.
4. How we say it.”
- Dale Carnegie
American writer and lecturer