By colin99 •  Updated: 10/03/14 •  8 min read

by Patrick F.

I think there should be a requirement for all people considering officiating and rules that need to be met for all levels. Just because someone plays in the 12-year-old division and is watching his girlfriend’s brother on the other field does not make him qualified to be an ump for the game when asked.

I came across this issue last season. I am a Certified Level IV Ice Hockey Referee in the USHL and do NCAA Division I games all the way down to the Tyke levels in hockey. I have also attended many umpire schools and do high school, college and tournaments. I am no spring chicken and have umpired all levels of baseball and softball in my 25+ year military travels in all states and even Alaska and Hawaii leagues. I have also attended the Jim Evans Academy of Professional Umpiring in Kissimmee, Florida, and I umpired in the Western Athletic and PAC 10 Conference. Two years ago, before I retired from the military, I worked the games in the Osceola Country Stadium and Sports Complex. This is where the Houston Astros hold their Spring Training. I worked 11 games at the Complex for Spring Training that year, and it was when the Astros played the Tigers, Red Sox, Yankees in double-headers and other single games if it weren’t the split-team schedule. The reason I mentioned this was because at last years local game, they pulled a 13-year-old kid to ump from the stands and didn’t ask if anyone else was sanctioned. It was simply an older kid, recognized by a coach, to ump the younger kids. I didn’t steal the “thunder” and just watched the game.

During that game, the second base ump called a runner safe, which the runner was obviously out and never touched the bag. The runner even slid short, never made it to the bag and got up, grabbed his helmet, lowered his head in embarrassment and trotted off the field. The coach went totally berserk and asked the home plate umpire to over-rule him, which he did. This is incorrect. He CANNOT over-rule him as no ump can over-rule another ump. Unless one ump asks another to assist him because of the angle he may have seen it, he cannot be over-ruled. So, I went to the other coach and told him of this. The opposite coach came over, and I was asked, “Who the “F” I was, if I was umping the game, to set down, shut the “F” up. I told the other coach to notify the umpire he was playing under protest.

He did, and the director came up after the game. He showed up after the guy was called safe and scored the winning run and asked what business I had instigating an issue!! There was no “validation” for assisting or bringing up the rules, just shut the hell up attitude. So, I went to my car, brought back my “kit bag,” set it on the ground, pulled out all my umpire gear, threw my association and sanction cards on the bench, pulled out the photos from Florida in game photos, pictures with me exchanging lineup cards with Jim Leyland, Terry Francona, Don Mattingly, Kirk Gibson and Davey Johnson to name a few. They shut up and looked at the pictures and asked if I was an ump? I ignored them and turned to the rulebook I just pulled out and showed them, “The umpire who made a call or ruling may ask for help if he wishes. No umpire may overrule another umpire’s call. Rules: 9.02(b, c).”
I told them for them to chastise and belittle someone without knowing anything about them made them look immature. The kids were all watching and without making them. The other coach was called over and told his protest would be reviewed and even though I showed them all the data, the accreditation and had photographic evidence I wasn’t some disgruntled father (I had no kids playing in that game, but one in the next game) the ruling stood.

I am not sure what influence you have, but as a representative of both ice hockey, softball and baseball from the little leaguers to the Major Leaguers, I was embarrassed at how some officials portray themselves. When an umpire is between innings, that is his time to talk to his counterpart, talk about watching for checked swings. This highlights my point, how many times this week in the World Series has a catcher asked for assistance on a checked swing? The home plate up will ask the other before the checked ump offers his decision. Assistance must be asked and never offered as an over rule.

Between the lines it is a sport. Umpires should not be checking their cell phones and letting pitchers get 15 warm up pitches between innings while they use the bathroom and get a hot dog to eat. I have never been told by any team in any sport I could not get a drink of water and went to wait at a concession stand for Gatorade. And when you think back to when we were growing up, you WANTED the ump to come over and get a drink from your teams cooler because mentally you thought it might give you an advantage in some way.

The one thing I noticed when I umped the Far Eastern Little League teams in Japan (when I was in the military, and they were playing for Williamsport) and they were playing to represent the Far East. They came prepared. Parents were not allowed to talk to the players when the games started. A strike was a strike, and there was no rolling their eyes at the umpires, no arguing the calls and they represented not just their country, but baseball. I see way too much on a 2-0 count a fastball come straight down the middle, I call it and I hear a groan from the batter. I also despise umpires that whisper the call and even the catcher says, “What was that?” On more than one occasion, I have had parents and coaches telling me it was fun to have me ump because I will belt out the “Ball, inside” or “Striiiiiiike” loud enough to hear three diamonds away. It makes it fun for the kids when they see and hear umps being professionals. And please, don’t get me started on umps in shorts and sandals. Nothing says, “I am just here to impress the little girls more than a 12-year-old in a skateboard shirt, cut-off shorts and sandals,” when a team pulls up to the ball field.

A strike zone is a specific area and have had batters move out of the batters box after the pitcher starts his wind up and walk out of the batters box only to have me call a strike because it was a strike. The coaches will argue, and I refer them, that no time was called, the batter didn’t ask for it, and he was in the box when the wind up started. Also, when a strike is called without the batter swinging, they will look at me if it was. I go over between innings to both teams and tell them. “Okay players, listen up, I am letting both teams know. My job is to make the strike zone the same for both teams. If you let a strike go thinking it is a ball, and I call it a strike, just ask me if it was too high or whatever. I will let you know. Pitchers are entitled to this as well. As me if it was high, low or outside. This way, as batter and pitchers, you know what I am calling and you have the standards. No umpires are the same but when you know the umpires standards, you know what you have to do as a ballplayer.”

I apologize for such a long reply, but think some of the quality of play has diminished for youth. When I grew up, you tried out for a team you wanted to play for. If you were good enough, you played. If not, you practiced your craft until you did. Today, I have heard way too much from a parent something like, “We paid our money, and he only played two innings and the others four innings.” Or, “His grandparents are in town, and we want him to play sooner.” Too many parents and kid expect to play and don’t learn their basic ball playing skills.

Thanks for your time and patience and have a great weekend.