50 Quick Tips for Amateur Umpires

Youth League Style

For the Rookie in All of Us!

By Richard B. Siegel

  1. Clear the Catcher. On a pitch that gets by the catcher, you must clear the catcher and keep your eye on the ball. A common mistake made by amateur umpires is to remain in one spot and focus on the runners stealing bases. Nothing can happen without the ball! You must turn, back off from the plate and watch the ball. You must watch for the possibility of the ball going out of play, or the chance of a lodged ball. Either would require you to call time, declare the ball dead and award one base to all runners. (Rule 7.05 h & i) Watching the passed ball allows you to keep out of the catcher's way, if the he chooses to throw the ball to somebody to make a play on a runner. Let the ball lead you to the play. Finally, youth league batter's often have the bad habit of backing out of the box on a wild pitch, when they shouldn't. You have to watch the catcher's attempt to throw out a runner to rule on any possible interference by the batter.

 

  1. Don't say "Ball four, take your base!" Saying this helps the offense. It is actually a form of coaching! As an umpire, you would never shout to a runner to "slide!" or "get back!" When it is a ball four, don't point to first base, either. Most of the players know where it is. Your pointing arm could be confused as a strike gesture. Just say "ball," like you would on any other pitch. It is the responsibility of the batter to know the count. Plus, you should verbalize the count often, especially when you've got either 2 strikes or 3 balls, or when asked.

 

  1. Never say "Strike three, you're out!" In a youth league, just saying "strike three," is humiliating enough for the batter. Everyone knows he's out. Nevertheless, it's a bad habit. In teenage leagues and over, when the ball is not caught by the catcher, it might be strike three, but the batter may not be out until the catcher tags the batter or throws to first base. If you say "he's out," prematurely, you might kill a viable play.

 

  1. Always call "play!" to make the ball live. After any dead ball situation, (i.e. foul, requested time-out, ball out of play, etc.) Always verbally command and physically signal the pitcher to "play!" This is especially critical when runners are on base. But, as a good (and professional) technique you should always do it. It shows that you are in control of the game. And it prevents any misunderstanding when the defense attempts a play on a runner with a dead ball.

 

  1. Insist that the ball be made live properly. Whenever the ball is dead, to make the ball live, the ball must be given to the pitcher, and the catcher and batter must be ready. As soon as the pitcher contacts (toes) the rubber, call "play!" This is the only legal way the ball can be made live.

 

  1. Hold up the anxious pitcher. Don't let a pitcher go into any pitching motion when the ball is dead. He must wait until you call "play!" Even if you're just about to say "play," if the pitcher begins his motion, throw up you arms, holler "Hold it!" Carefully slip sideways out form behind the catcher. Don't holler "time" here because time is already out. Explain to the pitcher that he must watch YOU and wait for the signal and command to "play!" before he can pitch. If he throws, it's a no-pitch.

 

  1. Dress the part. All of the players come out in their game uniforms. So should you. You don't have to spent allot of money to do this. In fact you probably have what you need right now. Where neat trousers, a solid colored shirt or jacket (preferably blue) and a dark colored cap. Choose items with no (or very small) logos on them, but never wear items with sports teams, tobacco or liquor emblems. Walk onto the field looking like the game is important enough to you to dress properly for it. You don't want to appear like you just stopped off to ump the game while on your way to the beach.

 

  1. Look out for your partner. As a plate umpire, never call "play" until you are sure you field umpire is ready. Especially at the beginning of an inning, your partner may have run to get a sweater from his bag behind the backstop, or he might be answering nature's call in the port-a-potty. It is very embarrassing to have the lead-off batter of an inning ground-out to first base and nobody is there to make the call!

 

  1. Don't look sideways on a strike call. Many umpires like to make a grand strike gesture that sometimes involves turning their heads sideways to the right. By doing this, they're taking their eyes off the field and the baseball. It's a bad habit. If you do this, sooner or later you'll miss a play. Keep the grand gestures if you must, but keep your eyesight trained on the field.

 

  1. Your palm means "time." When a plate umpire holds up his hand(s) in the "stop" gesture. It means "time." The ball is dead, any play or pitch is nullified. If you hold up your hand, you must then signal the pitcher and command him to "play." Don't say "pitch," "OK," "Go!" etc., just say "play!"

 

  1. Keep the game moving between innings. The pitcher is allowed 8 warm-up throws within one minute. (Rule 8.03) Some local leagues allow fewer warm-ups. Be reasonable, but firm. Don't let a team waste your time. Cut short the warm-ups and order the batter to step into the box, if the defensive is not hustling into their positions and nobody comes out right away to warm-up the pitcher while the catcher suits up.

 

  1. Don't "shut down." Shutting down, is the blunder of taking your attention away from a play too soon. This is a common mistake made by amateur umpires after a safe call, and usually at first base. Example: The runner beats out a play on him at first. He is called safe. Immediately after making the call, the field umpire, turns away and heads for his "B" position, or buries his head in his "clicker" to reset it. There are many things a runner can do, especially at first base, that can get him tagged out after he gets there safely. When you call him safe, stay right there and watch! Keep your eyes on the ball and the runner. He might fake at going to second base, or the defense might be attempting the hidden ball trick. When the ball is finally returned to the pitcher, only then should you head for your "B" position, but still keeping your eyes on the ball!
  2. Don't give time to fielders. Under normal game circumstances, fielders might ask you for time before throwing the ball back to the pitcher. Granting that fielder's request for time deprives the offense from benefiting from a possible wild throw. Don't give them time. Aside from a player's injury, lost contact lens, or some other special case, only give time to pitchers who have the ball, or to the catcher when the pitcher has the ball.

 

  1. Don't be too quick to give time to runners. Runners love to ask for time after sliding into a base. Since you're such a nice guy, you'll be inclined to grant it on the spot. However, (aside from injuries, or other special cases) develop the reflex to say "No, wait." Quickly survey all the bases for any other possible movement or plays on other runners. If the there are any other runners still moving on the bases, don't give time until all play has come to a natural end. If you call time while runners are moving, you've got to send them back! Even when you explain to the offensive manager that HIS runner asked for the time, he'll tell you "So! You didn't have to give it to him!" He is right.

 

 

  1. Don't give time to a coach while a batter-runner is advancing to first base on a base-on-balls. Often an impatient coach wants to talk to his pitcher after the sixth consecutive walk. He'll stride out and bark "time" to you and expect that he can have it. Tell him to "Wait. Coach!" The ball is live! Allow the batter-runner to get to first and then wait for him and any other runners to show you that they're not attempting any further base advancement before you give him time.

 

  1. Don't let the fielders distract you. When at position "B" or "C" on a regulation field (90' baselines). You might sometimes set yourself directly in the way of the shortstop or second baseman. If one of them calls, "Hey Blue, can you move over?" Fight the urge to turn around and look where he is, or ask him, "Which way?" That's exactly the time the pitcher will balk, or attempt a pick-off at first base and you'll miss it. Or the batter will launch a bee-bee right off your coconut! If a fielder asks you to move, just quickly slide over two steps to one side without response or averting your eyes from where you're looking. Similarly, if you're asked for the pitch count, just put out your fingers so that it can be seen from behind you.

 

  1. Tell your Chief it's OK to play. Whenever a field umpire grants a time-out, he must communicate to his umpire-in-chief when the game can resume. As soon as the need for the time-out is over, the field umpire should hustle to his proper position (A, B, or C), and gesture (a point or salute) to his partner behind the plate that he can call "play" as soon as he is ready.

 

  1. Don't look at your "clicker." Looking at your ball/strike indicator, especially while resetting it, is a perfect time to get burned by a sudden pick-off attempt, or a quick-pitch, that you'll miss. Don't be distracted by the clicker, only glance at it. Reset it while not looking at it, then glance again to make sure it's 0-0. When you must look at it when the ball is live, don't look down at it, and hold it up at your eye level. Glance over at it while you're still watching the field.

 

  1. A foul tip is never a foul ball. A foul tip is always caught by the catcher and it is live and it always a strike! Runners may steal on a foul tip. If the tipped ball is not caught by the catcher, it is a foul ball and it is a dead ball. All runners must return to their bases on a foul ball. An umpire should never declare "Foul tip!" when it happens because the very mention of the word foul will cause runners to stop running and confuse everybody. On a foul tip, make the tip gesture and just say "Strike!"

 

  1. Appeals: The ball must be live to make an appeal. Therefore, runners can steal and advance during an appeal. Only fielders, not coaches, may ask for and make the appeal. If a fielder asks for time, and you grant it, then he makes an appeal, do not rule on it! Say "I will rule on the appeal when the ball is properly made live." If the defense appeals an infraction by a runner still on base, they may also choose to tag the runner, instead of the base. A runner cannot be tagged once he has entered the dugout. Calling for, and receiving "time" does not nullify a team's opportunity to make the appeal when the ball becomes live.

 

  1. A pitcher standing on the rubber with the ball does not stop an advancing runner! In youth league, runners who have stopped at a base may not leave the base once the pitcher has the ball on the rubber, AND the catcher is behind the plate ready to catch. The catcher must have his mask on, but he does not have to squat. Runners who continuously advance may always legally continue. Standing on the rubber with the ball, and a catcher being ready, does not stop an advancing runner! Runners can always be tagged out with a live ball, if off base. This rule, 7.13 (LLB) only applies to runners who have decided to stop at a base, or in-between bases. A runner is never called out for leaving a base before the pitch reaches the batter. He is usually sent back. Know this rule, re-read it often.

 

  1. Ignore spectators. Try not to react to spectator's shouts or questions. Don't give the count or the number of outs when a fan hollers at you for it. Allowing the spectators to communicate with you is a source of distraction that could cause you to miss a play. If fans are shouting discourteous comments about you or anyone else on the field, send a coach of the appropriate team to handle the problem.
  2. Don't accept a replacement baseball while the game ball is live. At youth league games, often fans, coaches or players chase down a foul ball that has gone out of play. They're anxious to get it back to you and you're anxious to get it back. Don't allow yourself to be distracted by the helpful person returning the ball. If you hear, "Hey Blue, here's that foul ball." Don't turn to accept it or even acknowledge the person until the game ball is dead. Politely remind the helper to wait for a time-out next time.

 

  1. When you're not sure, sell the call! From time to time, you'll see a tag or a force play, where it was so close that you have no idea if it's safe or out. If it was that close, then nobody else will be sure either. Make a decision, then this is the time to make your most emphatic call and animated mechanic. If you seem absolutely sure of your call, then everyone watching will be sold on it too.

 

  1. Read the rule book often. Then, Re-read the rule book often. Look for opportunities to work with and discuss rules and game situations with more experienced umpires.

26.     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 "Foul!"

 

27.     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.

 

28.     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.

 

29.     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, too!

 

30.     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.

 

31.     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.

32.     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.

 

33.     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!

 

34.     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!"

 

35.     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!

 

36.     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: fair ball!

 

37.     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."

 

38.     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.

 

39.     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.

 

40.     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!

 

41.     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 word: Hustle.

 

42.     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.

 

43.     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.

 

44.     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.

 

45.     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.

 

46.     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 today!"

 

47.     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.

 

48.     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.

 

49.     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.

 

50.     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!