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Don't Be "That Guy"

Forward—I write this not to say I am the world’s greatest umpire, or my partner sucked, because my partner called a good sound game. But I write this as a demonstration of how drastically game management effects the game. I initially I was going to title this article “don’t be a Smitty”, but my partner is hardly a Smitty. He is an experienced guy, has solid mechanics, good rules knowledge, good hustle and great appearance. So he doesn’t fit the “Smitty” label. He just lacks game management skills, which I feel is a strength of mine. My partner is a good guy, good umpire and probably able to use is more outgoing personality to diffuse knotty situations better than I would and I would definitely work with him most any time.

I finally had my first paid games of the season and was really excited to get out on the field. If you’ve seen my posts here or any place else you probably know I live for umpiring. I just wish there would be a way I could make a living at it. You’d be hard pressed to find somebody who is as enamored of umpiring as me. I’d rather have a game with 2 terrible teams than no game at all. But I don’t want to be out there on a game that is dragging out.

So Sunday came my first three “real” games a AAU 13 triple header. In the beginning it was interesting because my partner was also a plate whore, so we had a little discussion on who would be working 2 plates. I actually ended up yielding to him because he is more senior than me. A choice I ended up regretting.

Issue #1 – My partner is very well known in the youth baseball community and a genuine grade A nice guy. One of the nicest guy’s you’ll ever meet. He is an umpire (obviously), a coach, on the board of one of local leagues, and knows virtually every coach, player and parent. Now my issue isn’t that he is well known it is that he is too “chummy” with everybody and that takes away from his authority on the field in my opinion. To explain just a bit better he cannot just say hi to somebody he needs to have a full blown conversation with everybody, and because he knows everybody we get into the how’s your brother, your sister...

Issue #2 – The pre game. We were early enough that even including the socializing we were able to get to the plate and start our plate conference early, which was a good thing. My partners plate conference took at least 5 minutes. We went from potentially starting the game 5-10 min early to starting on time.

Issue 2-A. He continued the socializing with both coaches at the plate conference.

Issue 2-B. Balks

Issue 2-B-i. He asked the coaches how they wanted balks called. This does not need to be discussed. That’s what we are there for as umpires, to make the calls.

Issue 2-B-ii. He asked whether the coaches wanted us to kill the ball on balks. This is an AAU game played under FED rules. There is no option.

Issue 2-B-iii. He then went on to explain to the coaches that under FED the ball is dead and OBR it’s live.

Issue 2-C. Ground rules

Issue 2-C-i. He pointed out every nook and cranny in the field. This does not need to be done. If you need to denote lines for DBT then do that “We taking this opening 90 degrees pole to pole otherwise the field is well enclosed with everything behind the fence” is all that needs to be said.

Issue 2-C-ii. We had a portable batting gage in foul territory up the left field line. This sparked another minute or two long conversation. My partner was asking how to handle that. If this were high school then ask the home coach before the plate meeting. Being that this was AAU and while one team used that field more regularly the term “home team” means much less so the umpire probably needs to be the one making the ground rules and taking control.

Issue 2-C-iii. He then asked me as the BU if I had anything to add. The base umpire never has anything to add, don’t ask. It may be out of courtesy or respect, but don’t ask. Our plate conference went 5+ minuets already. I had glazed over, I wasn’t going to add a peep regardless.

Issue 3. Coaching – My partner is an accomplished coach in the area and I would venture to bet that coaching is probably his true love over umpiring. This probably goes back to the “nice guy” thing as well.

Issue 3-A. Balk. We had a balk we both called. We had the runner on 2nd breaking as the pitcher started his delivery. But while in his delivery wanted to make a play on the runner. The pitcher looked at me questioningly and I told him, “You committed yourself to delivering the pitch.” He nodded and was ready to play. My partner came up to the mound and then began a +/- 2 minute pitching clinic. Complete with my partner toeing the pitchers plate and giving demonstrations of what he did and what he could have done. In the back of my mind all I hear is tick… tick… tick… I do believe pitchers deserve to be told why, but just the basics. In this case I gave my quick explanation and the pitcher seemed to understand and we nearly wrapped it up in 5 seconds.

Issue 3-B. Batter wanting to warm up on the wrong side. This should have been quicker than the balk, but was even longer. My solution would have been, “On deck batter, I need you to remain on your side please. Thank you” without even calling time as he’s attempting to go to the other side. Now I didn’t see him get over there, but wasn’t paying attention for it from the bases, but my partner calls time and begins walking him to the other side talking with him and apparently he offered him the opportunity to warm up behind the fence on the other side, which I wouldn’t have done. He apparently didn’t understand and started warming up behind the fence on his side, and my partner continues. And all I hear is tick…tick…tick…

Issue 4. Booger picking. No, not finger to nose; calling unneeded things. We had a situation where it was obvious that the pitcher was taking his signs directly from the coach. The opposing team hadn’t said anything, but my partner called time walked up to the mound to explain to the pitcher he had to take his signals from the catcher. Then walked to the coach telling him the same. Once again all I can hear is tick… tick… tick…

Issue 5. Between inning management. Now on the positive side I heard him tell each of the catchers every half inning, “Send the 8th/5th one down.” Which is great.

Issue 5-A. He didn’t do much to hustle the teams in/out. I did what I could from the bases clapping and giving some encouraging remarks as they go in or out, but that’s about the most you can do as BU.

Issue 5-B. When catchers weren’t ready, he didn’t say anything to get a coach or another player to warm up the pitcher. As for me, the first thing I do after the 3rd out is look in the dugout for my catcher and see what stage of ready he’s in. If he’s not ready I call for a coach to come warm up the pitcher immediately.

Issue 5-C. Okay, I feel somewhat bad for putting this one in but I still want to include it. Yes, yesterday was an unseasonably warm day which hit the mid-80’s. Plus he was taking 2 plates. Add to that last Monday we had snow and our high temps last week were in the mid-20’s it was a drastic change. But my partner would leave the field and go behind the backstop to get his water and cool off in the shade. We all have different temperature tolerances and while I wouldn’t call him old he’s got a few more miles under his belt than I do. I just felt it was probably more frequent than needed. I probably wouldn’t have cared/noticed if it weren’t for other factors.

Putting this all together the first two games took about 2:30 each to get 6 innings. Our second game started about 40 minutes behind schedule and our third game started over an hour behind schedule.

Well I had the plate for the third game and as I’m walking onto the field the coach tells me that on Sundays they’re not supposed to have the lights on past sunset. I ask him if that means no lights at all or we can use them at dusk. He said he was not sure and had never thought of it that way. I told him if he works with me, and can give me the lights during dusk, I can get the game in before sunset. He smiled and got on the phone to ask about the lights. After the first he told me as long as they’re off by sunset we’re good.

Maybe it’s just me and my typical egotistical, self-serving, big-headded self, but I truly think that by keeping the game moving the way I did everybody was more into the game. The coaches, players and fans seemed to have an extra spark of energy and were much more into the game. There was much more chatter and cheering while the level of play was the same. I did not have a coach question one call or play the entire game. And believe me on this field you do not need rabbit ears to hear every word coming out of the dugout because of the positioning of the dugouts and the plate. These same coaches were giving my partner a bit of a time for anything they thought didn’t go their way and my partner called a sound game. Did I call a better game? No, my partner called a fine game; I managed the game better. I think the coaches didn’t say anything to me on the few pitches that were close when they did say things to my partner because of my presence on the field and the way I managed the game.

We got a complete six inning game in just over 1:30. As I’m giving the balls back to the coach, he said, “I didn’t think you’d be able to do it, but you weren’t kidding.” I was back in my street clothes and on the road before sunset.