Essential Signs for the Players and Fans

My first instructor made it clear: the plate umpire's right hand signals play, strike, out, fair ball - "the ball's alive", and on the rarest of occasions "infield fly" and hopefully even rarer, an ejection. The left hand does everything else including awarding bases, controlling the pitcher and holding the indicator and the mask. Remembers that simple instruction and almost everyone, coach, player and fan, will be crystal clear about your intentions.



Along with strike and ball, this is the one call the plate umpire will make most often during a game. Pointing at the pitcher (or the plate) with the right hand and calling "play." The call is essential for the batter and catcher. The gesture is essential for the pitcher, defense and offense.. In every case in the rule book (Section 5.00) it is clear that the play signal is a verbal signal: "....the umpire shall call "Play"."

Erick Barkhuis, an umpire from the Netherlands, points out that "this signal/call is very important for your partner(s) too! They must know the exact moment the ball becomes alive. If they don't, they will not be able to respond correctly in situations where the pitcher makes a pickoff attempt or drops the ball while standing on the rubber. These are just a few examples." Perhaps more important than the ballplayer knowing is your partner(s) knowing the ball is alive.

Even though umpires know it is important, it is not absolutely required however. Professional umpires may, or may not give the point and play indicator. As soon as the pitcher is "in contact" with the rubber, meaning they intend to start the pitch cycle, the ball is assumed to be alive.


Always signaled with the right hand, each umpire develops a personalized system for signaling the strike. Some do the traditional bang-the-door clenched fist; some indicate the strike out to the side with a pointed finger. Some umpires face forward, some turns. Some call strike then signal, others do both simultaneously. One essential element is not to turn away from the action particularly in a two man system. In a two or three man system, by not facing forward, an umpire might even miss a play at the plate while going through their actions. Umpire school teaches you to keep your eyes on the ball as you make this signal.


Should you say "Strike One," signal "Strike" or both?

Philip Gawthrop from Anne Arundel County, Maryland wrote to add this comment: "Generally, on a swinging strike, as the plate umpire, I NEVER VERBALIZE my call but rather indicate to the players and fans with a raised right arm (in my case, with a clenched fist). The exception to the NOT VERBALIZING is on a third strike; the plate umpire again raises his right arm and says "Strike Three" firmly but does not "sell the call." If the catcher has dropped or trapped the pitch, you still go through with a firm "Strike Three" keeping eye-contact with the batter/catcher."

Umpire school teaches you to say "Strike One," "Strike two," and "Strike Three!" with a growing emphasis on each one.


Never signaled, but maybe a touch of body english, but no hand gestures. The general preference is that the verbal signal "ball" loud enough that both dugouts can hear it. Calling "Ball One," "Ball Two," etc. allows you to maintain the rhythm of your calls. Never indicate why a pitch was a ball, for example: "High, Ball One"



Ball Four

"Ball Four" is announced clearly. You should NEVER point to first base even with the left hand. Just say "BALL FOUR". If the umpire points to first after the pitch and the defense thinks it's strike 3 and starts to leave the field chaos abounds. Even if you use the left hand, the players may not take note of which hand it was and be confused. Professional umpires never point to first.



Raising both hands into the air and calling in a loud voice "TIME!" All umpires on the field will immediately signal the time call. Sometimes the call must be made several times in order to shut things down. Once time is called every effort must be made by all umpires to stop the action taking place.


Umpires learn that there are many moments when time is out, and it has not been called. This is normal in the course of a game as the umpires change their field positions, players repair equipment, or hundreds of other reasons. It may be the a simple lifting of the hands communication between crew members, or the plate umpire holding the stop hand up. Not all "t"ime is big-"T"ime.


The Count

Balls are signaled using the left hand. Strikes are signaled using the right hand. Both hands extend to shoulder level at the same moment. A full count is always signaled as "three balls, two strikes" and never signaled using clenched fists. The count is relayed back to the pitcher after every pitch and a verbal report is made usually after the second or third pitch and from that point on. The count is always read aloud as "two balls, two strikes" and not "two and two" or "twenty-two" or other similar variation.


Both left and right arms are raised together, to shoulder level, in front of the umpire and then a sweeping motion is performed out, parallel to the ground, palms down. The verbal call of "safe" may be made. To complete the call you normally return to the set position. To sell a safe call you might consider doing it two or three times in rapid succession. It is not always necessary to even make the sign or call. If the play is obvious do nothing.



The clenched right fist and a short hammered motion seem to be favored by most umpires. Again, personal style is acceptable as long as it does not distract you from seeing any further plays taking place. Check that the fielder is really in possession of the ball. The signal can be made with only a gesture or can be sold with a loud call of "He's Out!" or "She's Out!" Signal every out.

Why "He's Out!" ???? Players are running by, not focused on the umpire, on a noisy diamond. If the player hears one sound he is "safe" ... if he hears two "he's out!" If the players hear nothing, the call is usually so obvious that everyone knows the result.

Never say "Strike Three - You're Out!"

Umpires are encouraged not to make this call a part of their repertoire. Why? In some leagues the third strike does not have to be caught while in others it must be caught. Often the plate umpire is in the worst situation to call the trapped ball, for example: a breaking ball in the dirt for the swinging third strike. An umpire should only call "Strike Three." If you have a situation where you know the batter now erroneously becomes a runner you can follow this by the call "The Batter Is Out!"


Uncaught Third Strike

Where this call is made the base umpire is often in a better position to relay the possession or trapping of the ball to the plate umpire. Signaling, not calling, a small discreet "out" means the ball was caught. Pointing to the ground with your right hand can mean the ball was trapped or not caught. Some crews are more insistent, and the base umpire will point to the ground announcing "On the ground, on the ground" several times. This is crew dependent and should be discussed before the game.

On the tag!

Point at the runner with the left hand; signal the out with the right hand. Complete the sign by saying "On the tag, he's out!" if you want to sell it a touch. (Remember you are the umpire, not the color commentator.)


Missed the tag!

A "selling it" call that occurs when a runner slides under the tag or the tag is high. You can save some grief by indicating a loud "Safe, he missed the tag!" and following it with a tapping motion where the tag was. Everyone will know you saw the tag and most will assume the runner had the bag before it.


Fair Ball

The right hand points into the field in fair territory. There is no call "Fair" anything ever made.


Foul Ball

The same signal as "Time" but the call becomes "Foul." Umpires often add a point into foul territory with one hand after giving the time signal. Once verbalized, this call sticks. Only in the rarest of moments can it be reversed.

The base umpire needs to pay specific attention to a ball hitting the batter in the batter's box. If the batter has not moved the base umpire will immediately call "Foul." If the batter is in motion the base umpire must delay to see if the plate umpire is going to make a call. Only if the plate umpire is silent, and the base umpire is certain the batter contacted the ball outside of the batter's box would the base umpire signal "Time, that's interference, the batter is out!" otherwise the call is "Foul!"

No Pitch

The same signal as "Time" but the call becomes "No Pitch." If you are the plate umpire, step away from the plate. You will use this call most often in a softball game. It is used to indicate a leading off violation in some leagues. The call is a clear "No Pitch" and the "Runner is Out!" with a point and Out signal..


The Run Counts

Here there are two schools of thought. Often you will see an umpires point at the plate each time a run crosses the plate legally. Scorers often key on this gesture (as well as catchers!) This is important on the "time-play" or a "third-out" situation. It can also be important on a force play.

Bob Bainter, a professional umpire noted, "As far as the point on the run scoring, I think it is a matter of personal preference. Umpire Development wants no signal from us whether it is obvious or not. It is not our job to let anyone know, because what if the defense wants to appeal and throws the ball away, allowing another runner to advance or even score? That is a situation could put the offensive team in a tizzy. It has happened before."

The Run Does Not Count!

Signal and announce when the runner does not score so that the scorer and coaches maintain accurate records. The signal, done by the plate umpire, begins by forming an 'X' with the arms in front of the body then sweeping the arms out to the "time" position. The gesture is repeated and the call "The runner does not score!" is made.