50 Quick Tips
for Amateur Umpires
For the Rookie in All of Us!
By Richard B. Siegel
Never verbally "call" a fair ball.
When you rule on a batted ball as fair or foul, only holler if you have a foul
ball. Hearing "Foul!" kills the play and the runners will know to stop
advancing. When a hit is fair, simply point to the infield as a silent gesture.
If you holler "Fair Ball!" it can very likely cause confusion. In the
clamor of any possible base hit, the word fair can sound just like foul.
Players quickly learn to assume the ball is fair until they hear the ump cry
Park near your partner. Since you will
usually have some dressing and undressing to do, park next to your partner and
begin your pre-game conference right there. After the game, you will be less
likely to be annoyed by a disgruntled parent if you are not alone, but engaged
in conversation with your partner as you both are undressing behind your cars.
Walk onto the field with your partner.
You and your partner are the third team on the field. It looks very professional
to arrive onto the field together. If you are early, wait in the parking lot for
your partner to arrive. Similarly, when the game is over, leave the field
together, as well. You'll be less likely to bothered by parents while on your
way to the parking lot.
Ask your partner to critique you.
Before every game, regardless of your partner's level of experience, ask him to
watch you. Since many guys will not offer advice unless asked for, ask for
it! Tell him to let you know, after the game, what he thought of your
mechanics, timing, rulings, etc. If you're less experienced than him, it will be
a great learning opportunity for you. If you're more experienced, it will
encourage your "rookie" partner an to ask questions and give him an
opportunity to learn from you. Additionally, he just might give you a new idea,
Be pleasant, but firm. Many rookie umpires
make the mistake of trying to be either, everybody's friend or Mr. Nasty. You
can never please everybody as an umpire. As soon as you make your first close
call, half the people there will no longer want to be your friend. On every
call, somebody will be mad at you. Being too friendly and easy going will make
you an easy target for constant complaints and chirps. This is because you will
seem like the kind of guy who wouldn't have the backbone to put a stop it.
However, if you come on like an ogre, you'll be perceived as a bully and
unreasonable. Keep your presence businesslike and approachable. Answer
reasonable questions professionally with a respectful attitude. Appear sure of
yourself and your decisions will get more respect and be more readily accepted.
Keep an extra indicator in your back pocket.
Those little wheels on that ball/strike indicator (a.k.a. your clicker) will not
spin forever. At the worst possible moment it will break, or you'll drop it and
sand will clog it, or you'll drop it and the catcher will step on it. It might
fly out of your hand on a energetic safe call and never been seen again! If you
depend on the clicker, it can be an enormous distraction to try to continue
without one. Don't expect a manager to have one to lend you.
Keep extra things in your car, be prepared.
If my partner showed up without any clothes or equipment, I could probably lend
him everything he would need! My car trunk is like an umpire's supply store. If
you want to be extra well prepared pack extra shoelaces, plate brushes, mask
straps, shin guard straps, belt, bag bags, clickers, hats, and protective cups.
Any of these things unexpectedly could break, or get lost. Also, stow a first
aid kit, emergency ice packs, some spring water bottles, and rule books.
Keep some baseballs in your car.
In most youth leagues the managers supply the baseballs. As the season goes on
they sometimes run out and forget to pick up more. Eventually you'll arrive at a
game and the home team manager discovers he is out of new balls. So he attempts
to borrow some from the visitor's manager. Of course, he out of baseballs too.
Somebody with some new baseballs in his trunk could make a little money, and get
the game started on time!
Don't let a coach make you get or give "help" to/from
your partner on a call. Don't offer advice to
your partner on a call, unless he asks for it. You may never overrule a
partner's call. If your partner requests help on a play, if you saw it, tell him
what you saw. Don't make the call for him. Let him use your "help,"
and make the call himself. If your partner makes a judgment call, and Coach
Wally comes out and implores you, "Can you go help your partner out on that
call?" Tell Wally, to talk to your partner. Tell him ask the man that made
the call and you can't do anything about it. If at all possible, though, it
helps to add, "...And it was a good call, too!"
Call balls and strikes honestly, or call strikes.
A professional umpire once explained to me at a clinic, "Never call a pitch
in the strike zone a ball, and never call a pitch out of the strike zone a
strike. . . unless you can get away with it." Now the intent of these words
of wisdom is not to encourage umpires to make up their own strike zone. The
objective is to get you to, "think strikes." Strikes lead to outs, and
outs lead to innings, and innings get the game over with sooner. If the pitch is
a bit inside or outside, and the catcher makes it look good, and it pops into
the mitt just like a strike ought to sound, ring it up! If you're
calling it right, only you and the catcher will know it was off the plate, and
he's not about to say anything!
Give the close "fair" call to the batter.
Even if he often doesn't deserve it, the pitcher is the beneficiary of the
"think strikes," attitude we are encouraged to follow as umpires. If
we're going to give the close ones to the pitcher, then we have to keep things
in balance and favor the batter sometimes too. That time is the close fair/foul
call on the hot line drive that sizzles down the line. Call every hit as
accurately, fair or foul, as you see it. However, when the ball lands so close
to the line that you're not sure if it landed fair or foul; or if the
ball bounced fair on the infield, then skipped over the bag and you're not
sure if it passed over the bag as fair or foul; give it to the batter! Call
the just uncertain ones fair. If the batter watches a close one go by and
doesn't swing, give it to the pitcher: "strike!," But, if he reaches
out a pokes one down the line so close that you are not sure, give it to him:
As a spectator, never criticize another official on the field.
Unless you're the first guy in the world who has finally reached perfection as
an umpire, don't open your mouth to criticize your fellow official who's out
there trying to be perfect, too. If you are at a game as a spectator, don't
answer other spectator's (who know you umpire) questions like, "How did
that one look to you?" Be vague. Cite a rule if you must. But if it's a
judgment call, it's best just say, "I didn't have as good a look at it he
did, so I can't be sure if he was out or not."
Get a professional rule book.
The official rule book published by Little League Baseball, Inc. is a modified
subset of the pro book. Many LL rules are modified from the "official
baseball rules" to make the game better for kids and to accommodate the
smaller field, fewer innings, and make the game safer. However, many of the
rulings that explain some knotty problems are dropped from the LL book. These
are good rules to know! Also, the "Umpire's Manual" published by NAPBL,
the minor league's umpire development program, is an excellent source of
information on difficult rulings and game control. Both books can be obtained
through Referee Magazine, which every umpire should read religiously.
If it's a hot day, drink water.
It used to be considered a sign of weakness if an umpire had to leave the field
during a game for any reason, even to get a drink of water! Most amateur umpires
are not in top physical shape, so we shouldn't push our bodies to do
extraordinary and dangerous things to preserve appearances. Studies have shown
that one's acuity and judgment are compromised as you become dehydrated. Whether
you prefer the commercial "sports drinks," or just plain old water is
unimportant. It is critical to maintain your alertness, consistency, your
judgment, and your life, keep a proper level of liquids in your system.
Get professional help. Even if you are the
best umpire in your town's youth league with 20 years of experience, if you have
never been exposed to professional training, you are missing out on a very good
thing! If you're the best umpire in your town's league, who can you
learn from? There are a few dozen weekend camps held each winter around the
country that are run by professional umpires that can make a real difference in
your game. No matter how comfortable you are with your skills and knowledge,
professionals will teach you new techniques and methods you never knew existed.
They will catch little mistakes you make and improve the effectiveness of your
calls and mechanics. For 300 to 500 dollars, you can become a ten times better
umpire in the course of four days! And, the camp experience is a lot of good
clean fun, too!
Hustle! Half the battle of winning the
respect of coaches, players and spectators is knowing how to apply the rules and
having good judgment. The other half is having a good appearance, in uniform and
the way you conduct yourself on the field. Your movements transmit the essence
of your umpiring style. If you move slowly, drag your feet, allow a shirt tale
to hang out, wear your hat backwards, speak in mild ineffectual phrases or groan
when you squat down or get up, you will appear lazy and unconcerned. Once you
step onto the field, think about everything you do and say, because you're
always being watched and judged. Hustle is the key word. Keep your
appearance sharp, in both uniform and movements. Jog instead of walk, speak in
expedient and efficient sentences, using crisp conversational tones, and utilize
precise mechanics and meaningful gestures. All that can be summed up in the one
Show up early. Allow for traffic
delays on your way to the game. Always give yourself plenty of time to arrive
early so you can get a good parking spot where your car is least likely to be
hit by a baseball! By the way, if you are forced to park within batted ball
range, face your car away from the field. At least you can still drive
home with a smashed rear windshield. Another by-product of an early arrival is
the extra time you will get to get into your uniform and, be sure your equipment
is on right. You'll have that extra moment to check everything twice so you
don't walk onto the field and start the game, then realize you didn't put in
your cup! Being hurried is distracting and causes concentration problems.
Stretch out before the game.
Just as you would if you were a player in the game, you would take time to warm
up and stretch your muscles. Whether you're the plate man or on the bases, the
demands of hustling on the field as an umpire are not much different. Before
each game, leave yourself time to do a set of squats, knee bends, trunk twists,
and arm rolls. The last thing you want is to pull up lame with a strained
hamstring while trying to get down covering third base.
Never warn, "Say just one more word..."
As the man in control, you often need to snuff out a player's or coach's
objections with a quick and powerful warning to stop the complaining and get
your game back on track. Prefacing your warning with the phrase, "Say one
more word..." is a bad choice of words. Using that phrase ties your hands
and commits you to toss the guy if he says another word! That word
might be "OK!" If you don't act on that "one more word,"
you'll be sending the message that, "It's OK to ignore my first warning,
because I'll just give you more warnings." It's acceptable for the
complainant to have the last word, as long as he says it while he's going away.
When you need to give a warning be sure to choose words that still allow you the
flexibility to act, or not, without appearing indecisive.
Don't try to "even up" a bad call.
Occasionally you're going to accidentally make a bad call, and you'll know it.
Under most circumstances, you cannot change the call because further play has
already been made based on your bad call. What's worse, changing a call will
undermine your credibility, too. Suppose you called a bad pitch a strike then,
after reconsideration, changed it to ball, you'd appear indecisive and you'd
than be constantly asked to change your mind on every other close pitch
afterward! When you've kicked a call, even if the coach comes out and gives you
an earful, you have to live with the bad call. "Coach, I made the call. We
can't do anything about it. Let's play." If you know the coach can handle
it, you might consider telling him you kicked it. But, you still can't change
things. Everybody inadvertently makes a mistake now and then. However, the worst
thing you can do is deliberately make another bad call to favor the
other team to "even things up." You just got rid of th e first ranting
coach. Now you'll have the other team's coach out there angry with you, too!
Most reasonable coaches expect that the umpires will miss one occasionally. But
nobody expects or wants to see an umpire to do it willfully.
When the game is over, disappear.
Many times I've wanted to disappear in the middle of the game.
Nevertheless, as soon as the game is over, get your things and, together with
your partner, head for your cars. Either walk out through the outfield, or if
you have to go out via a dugout, exit through the winning team's
dugout. Don't expect any thanks as you're passing through. Even the winners will
still consider you a villain. The losers blame you for losing, and the
winnerís figure they won in spite of you. My thanks are knowing I did
the best job I could, and my partner telling me, "Richard, you didn't stink
Put safety first. In any amateur
contest, always remember that it's just a game. The kids have to be in
school tomorrow and none of them should risk injury for the sake of a
"win." As much as they may want the game to continue, you have to
balance their desire to play with the possibility of injury. You may end up
being found not liable for an injury when some parent sues you. But do you even
want to risk the wrenching hassle, expense and inconvenience of enduring a
courtroom trial? Don't allow unsafe equipment to be used by the players. As soon
as you hear thunder, or see lightening, or if you find the field is too slippery
in the rain, or it's getting too dark, or if the field is otherwise somehow
unsafe, kill the game! There will always be many more tomorrows to play
if you stop it now. If you don't, pushing the limit, might make this game,
yours, or some player's last game.
Be prepared to do the plate.
Whenever you are headed for a game where you know you have been assigned to be
the base umpire, always go prepared to do the plate. Bring all the clothes and
equipment with you that you would need if you were assigned the plate instead.
In all likelihood, even if you have been assigned to work just a few two-man
games, sooner or later you will be "stood-up." For reasons that may
range from forgetfulness to a flat tire, your expected partner will be a
no-show. When that happens, the show must go on, and you're going to have to do
a solo act today. This means: "Change your shoes, Blue! You've got the
plate now!" It has been said that "the best umpires always want to
work the plate." I often feel that way, too. But ask me and see how I feel
about that saying when I'm about to start my third game of a 90 degree day,
after I've just done two plate jobs.
Don't look for trouble... because plenty
of trouble will find you! There are several rules in the book that have little
or no consequence in an amateur game. The application of many other rules must
be tempered by considering the spirit of the rule, as well. Some rookies umpires
make the mistake of memorizing the rule book cold, then they go out on the field
trying to prove to everyone how well they know those rules. If a 12 year old
shortstop comes out with a cap different from his teammates, it's a technical
violation, but how does that give him an advantage? Ignore it! If there are no
batter's box lines, but you think the batter may have stepped out by two inches
when he bunted, how can you really know? Don't call it! If the pitcher asks for
an extra warm up throw, is that going to turn him into Tom Glavine? Give it to
him! Don't be a hard-headed umpire. Call the game by the correct playing rules,
but if you find yourself enforcing too many extraordinary procedural rules that
never seem to creep into most other guy's games, you need to think about if you
might have become a "nit-picker," or not.
Read the rule book often. Then, read it
again and again and again. Visualize a play where each rule would apply as you
read them. Look for opportunities to work with more experienced umpires. Find
the time to discuss rules and game situations with them. I used this tip in
the first 25 Quick tips, but this tip can't be overstated enough!