Monday, May 12, 2008

The Many Faces of Youth Baseball Umpires

Let me start by saying most of the experiences I’ve had with umpires while coaching youth baseball have been positive. These folks do a great job and help keep the game alive at the youth level.

During my years of coaching youth baseball I’ve experienced many different umpire personalities. Helpful, harmful, sometimes clueless, totally sharp, loud, subtle, entertaining, annoying… umpires come in many different packages.. all of them human. Here are just a few experiences with our favorite blue fixture of the diamond…

Youthful Ignorance…

I’m coaching a 9 year old travel team during a local town tournament. It’s one of the first tournaments of the summers so we’re all getting the rust out. We’re in the semi-final playoff game for our flight playing a strong team from the host town. The tournament is notorious for using teenaged umpires which is not the favorite of most coaches but for the most part the kids call a good game. However in this particular case we run across a strange issue. Our team is in the field ahead by one run in the 3rd inning of a 6 inning game. Bases loaded, 2 outs… ground ball to the 2nd baseman who makes an easy 4-3 play.. out of the inning right, with no runs given up right? WRONG! The umpire who has yet to start shaving shouts “out at first, runner on third scores”. The opposing team yells out… “Tie Game!”. My coaches and I look at each other with perplexed faces. I make my way over to the teenager and ask “blue, force play at first right? Runner doesn’t score, right?” He responds “coach, I made my call”. I maintain my cool and explain “son, with bases loaded, 2 out, if the defense makes a put out at any base the run does not score.”. To which he replies…”coach, I made the call, lets have a batter”. Now you would think the opposing coach would chime in with the right call.. but no such luck. Luckily for me I know the person who runs the tournament who by the way is also the head of umpires for their league. “Where is Mr. Doe today?” I ask. “He’s umping the game over on that field” the kid says. Now the other field is about 300 yards away. “ Son, I can’t a batter in the box until you confirm your ruling with the head of umpires. So will you please go ask him what the correct ruling is?”. The kid looks at me with fierce eyes knowing he doesn’t have a choice because teen umps are told to ask adult umps if the coaches question a critical call during the tournament game. The kid reluctantly stops the game and jogs over the other field to consult with Bill. After a quick discussion with Bill, he returns to our field and says “batter’s out, no run scores, let’s play ball”. “Thanks Blue” I say and I explain to my kids what happened. The games goes on from there with about 3 questionable calls favoring our opponents but I guess that’s to be expected. We end up winning the game by one run.

Having a Bad Day…

While coaching a 12 year old rec league team one of our players hits a ground ball to 3rd. I notice that he lightly tosses the bat back and lands about 5 feet away from the home plate umpire. The batter is thrown out at 1st. As he’s jogging back to the dugout the umpire calls me over from the 3rd base coach’s box. He calls the batter over as well and says to the kid in a threatening nasty tone “If you throw that bat again I’m throwing you out of this game”. Now this was an obvious over reaction to a simple mistake. This kid is a sold player who never throws the bat. There is really no need for this guy of about 58 years of age to strike fear into the heart a 12 year old over an accident. As the kid trots back to the bench noticeably shaken from lambasting. I say to the ump in private “Blue, I understand your point but I have to say your tone is uncalled for. That kid is a good player who never throws a bat. He made a mistake and I would appreciate it if you treat my players with the same respect you would expect from them.” He replies “I can talk to anyone anyway I like” to which I retorted in a calm tone “Your absolutely right.. you do have freedom of speech… but I have it also and if I use it to explain to the league how to you talk to kids I don’t think you’ll be getting too many more umpiring assignments”. With that he put his mask on and the game went on without anymore nasty scoldings. When my player asked… “I didn’t think I threw the bat…Is he going to throw me out of the game coach?”. “Nah” I said “that man is having a bad day and he took it out on you. You did nothing wrong… let’s play ball”.

A Perfect Pair…

My son’s 11U travel team is playing in one of the more competitive local summer tournaments. During one of games we happen upon a pair of umpires who happen to be brothers. These two proceed to put on the greatest demonstration of youth baseball umpiring I have ever seen. The home plate ump has strike and strikeout calls equal to Dutch Rennert (former MLB ump known for his demonstrative strike calls). Good pitches that resulted in strikes received his patented “OH YEAH!!” strike call. Ball were announces as “NOPE!!”. The base umpire punched out runners with splendid animation. It really gave the kids, coaches and parents a thrill to watch these two. After the game coaches from both teams took the time to thank these two for doing such a great job.

Coach Bob

1 comment:

umpdan said...

Coach Bob

i enjoyed reading your blog. Youth sports is going to provide a wide variety of umpires and how the coaches and parents handle it is very important. Umpires are getting hard to find both for Volunteer and paid programs. How they are dealt with is a big part of why.

Dealing with the mistake of the youth umipre on the scoring rule. Great Job, I believe from your writing tone that you were able to leave him with as much dignity as possible. Calls apparently went against you later in the game. If these were related to the conflict who knows, but most important is it appeared on the judgement calls you let the calls be the calls. Good job. Call will not always go your way and being a good sport when it happens matters alot. I assume this was a single umpire set up because he did not conference with his partner before asking an adult umpire at another field for confirmation. One man umpire crews at any level are going to miss calls (so do two man crews but for different reasons)As an official I hope the Youth was just missing the calls and not takeing it out on your team. Umpires must be neutral even when pressured or upset with a team or manager. Not letting situations effect calls is a sign of a great official.

The Bad day official can be your worst nighmare as a coach or as another official if he is your partner. First the decription does not sound like a thrown bat that cause an unsafe condition. Second there is no rule barring throwing the bat, If there was the runners would have to carry the bats on the bases with them after they hit the ball. Third if you are going to warn someone about a violation or problem in youth ball, work the the coach not the player, be respectfull. baseball is a game by tradition requires you to be respectfull to everyone involved.

This youth umpires with flare. Wow thats great. Flare is somewhat discouraged by many groups. I find that most youth players, fans and coaches enjoy some flare as long at it is with reason and does not show up players or coaches. Most important to the story is they go the calls right. If they had, had alot of flare but blown alot of calls the story could easly been about a couple of youth umpires showboating with out knowing the game. Flare is ok with excellent officiating skills. It can get you in trouble otherwise.

Thanks to Coach Bob for an Excellent blog.

Dan Blower
Umpire/Umpire instructor