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What if You KNOW You Don't Know A Rule?


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So, as I study the 60+ page NFHS rule book along with the 90+ page case book, I realize (not that I didn't know, but now I REALLY know) that I don't know all the rules, and given the complexity and volume I likely will never know ALL the rules. What do you do in a game (especially when umping alone) if a play comes up and you don't know what the rule is, for example what a base award for a specific situation might be?  You're not supposed to pull out the rule book during the game, right?  So if not, do you just use your best judgment and wing it with a best guess?

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And if this was followed you'd have to fire half the umpires out there...and there's already a shortage. The only real practical way to prepare oneself is to do it.   Book smart only takes you so

Guys from NJ could send you the bizarre plays made up by our testing committee that occur with the same frequency as an unassisted triple play or a game where the shortstop never touches the ball duri

"Expect" is a strong word, especially at the amateur level.  But it should definitely be a goal - just realize that mastery takes hundreds, if not thousands of hours (it may not be 10000, but it's a l

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At a minimum you need to know the most important rules that are likely to come up in a typical game. It is not uncommon to have one of those "I have never seen this before things", and if it does, you will have to logically think thru it. 

I would say that base awards are pretty important so if you are looking for key things that you absolutely must know, that's one of them - time of pitch vs time of throw awards, etc.

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7 minutes ago, Rock Bottom said:

So, as I study the 60+ page NFHS rule book along with the 90+ page case book, I realize (not that I didn't know, but now I REALLY know) that I don't know all the rules, and given the complexity and volume I likely will never know ALL the rules. What do you do in a game (especially when umping alone) if a play comes up and you don't know what the rule is, for example what a base award for a specific situation might be?  You're not supposed to pull out the rule book during the game, right?  So if not, do you just use your best judgment and wing it with a best guess?

I see no harm in using what you know to determine what is PROBABLY the rule when you don't know.   Just do it with certainty.

But, be prepared, and open, for a discussion with a coach who is insistent your ruling is wrong....provided he is respectful - otherwise shut him down and tell him he's free to protest.  But, if he is respectful, take his opinion into account, and don't be afraid to change your mind.  (that in itself could be dicey - you better be really convinced...or, better yet, get both coaches in agreement)   The better approach is probably just say you're sticking with the call and will look it up to verify for next time.

Typically, in my experience, if you're coaching at a level where there's only one ump, the coaches are probably more open to be involved in an open and honest discussion with the ump and each other to get the call right (ie. one coach "knows", ump doesn't know, other coach isn't sure) and come to an agreement, with the pledge to look it up later for "next time".  As long as you have umps and coaches who all recognize they still have stuff to learn.

As a coach, at the rec level, I've run into a few umpires who were willing to say "you know what, I honestly don't know the rule...I'm using my best judgment and I have to go with it - I hear what you're saying but I need to stick with my call."   I have no problem with that...he's transparent.  And, as sure as I may seem, he doesn't "know" I'm right any more than he knows I'm wrong.  And at the rec level, I'm not protesting...ever.   At the club level, I can probably count the number of games on one hand where an ump didn't have a partner to consult...and certainly no admission of not knowing the rules.

 

In the end, I'd rather have an umpire who knows they don't know something than an umpire who thinks they know everything.  (same goes for coaches)

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Ugh. New umpires working solo. A recipe for disaster.

Learn what you can. I've been doing it 12 years and still find things every year that I think, "Huh. That's gotta be new?" and look at books from years past and see it's been that way.

As for a crash course, assuming you know the general rules, I'd concentrate on the following, based on what I see the most:

  1. Fair/foul (assuming you don't already know this)
  2. Dead Ball Table
  3. Baserunning Awards Table
  4. Interference/Obstruction
  5. Balks (pitching in general)

Those will give you enough information to rule on 99% of the things that happen on a baseball field. Even the Awards Table is full of once-in-a-blue-moon situations. For example, I've seen ONE thrown mitt at a batted ball (didn't hit it) and ONE umpire in C hit by a batted ball. While those are the situations where a knowledgeable umpire will succeed, they're also so rare that even the coaches won't understand what to do.

When a situation arises that you don't know the ruling and you're working solo (again, UGH), be confident in what you do. Nothing says you have to IMMEDIATELY do it, either -- call time when appropriate, think the play over, and make your best ruling and complete the actions as appropriate. If a coach questions you about it, have an answer -- don't say "I wasn't sure, so I faked it." Also, only entertain possible rule issues - not judgement issues (fair/foul, out/safe, strike/ball are judgement calls).

At this point, though, you're in a pickle. You're working a game solo with no one out there to help you, and you've got a coach that either knows you kicked a rule, or isn't sure himself. If you remain firm to your ruling, you risk looking bad if you did indeed kick it, but changing it makes you look like you both missed it AND caved to a coach. My advice: remain firm until he presses a protest. Once he hints at that, you've got a bit of an out: "Coach, give me a few minutes to check the rules at my car. If I did miss it, then I'll fix it and we'll continue; if not, I'll allow you file the protest." Go to your car, check the rules, and do what's right at that point.

This whole situation is a horrible place to put any umpire, much less an inexperienced one. If I were an assigner and had to have a 1-man crew, I'm sending someone that I know can handle that situation - and a new umpire isn't it.

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From the 2017-18 NFHS Baseball Umpire’s Manual--

Good umpiring is dependent, to a large extent, upon a complete knowledge and understanding of the rules. In fact, to be a competent umpire, it is necessary to know the rules thoroughly. Some decisions are repeatedly made, so that with experience they come by reflex. The correct way to prepare oneself for most effectively making decisions of this kind is through continued study of all possible situations. Then, basic fundamentals become second nature and correct interpretations are virtually automatic. To know the rules thoroughly requires constant and analytical study. It is not sufficient to only read the rules, but they must be studied so that mental pictures of plays and situations result.

Having developed clarity in the mental pictures, the umpire will be able to immediately recognize the situation and correctly rule on it automatically. Those who guess and who don’t know the rules soon lose the confidence of players, coaches, spectators and fellow officials. When you agree to work a high school game, you agree to officiate the game pursuant to NFHS rules. Thus, you are required to know these rules (and their interpretations) and how they differ from professional, collegiate or any other rules book. Using professional, collegiate or any other rules book in a high school game is inappropriate and, in fact, constitutes unprofessional and unethical conduct by the umpire.

 

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8 minutes ago, Senor Azul said:

From the 2017-18 NFHS Baseball Umpire’s Manual--

Good umpiring is dependent, to a large extent, upon a complete knowledge and understanding of the rules. In fact, to be a competent umpire, it is necessary to know the rules thoroughly. Some decisions are repeatedly made, so that with experience they come by reflex. The correct way to prepare oneself for most effectively making decisions of this kind is through continued study of all possible situations. Then, basic fundamentals become second nature and correct interpretations are virtually automatic. To know the rules thoroughly requires constant and analytical study. It is not sufficient to only read the rules, but they must be studied so that mental pictures of plays and situations result.

Having developed clarity in the mental pictures, the umpire will be able to immediately recognize the situation and correctly rule on it automatically. Those who guess and who don’t know the rules soon lose the confidence of players, coaches, spectators and fellow officials. When you agree to work a high school game, you agree to officiate the game pursuant to NFHS rules. Thus, you are required to know these rules (and their interpretations) and how they differ from professional, collegiate or any other rules book. Using professional, collegiate or any other rules book in a high school game is inappropriate and, in fact, constitutes unprofessional and unethical conduct by the umpire.

And if this was followed you'd have to fire half the umpires out there...and there's already a shortage.

The only real practical way to prepare oneself is to do it.   Book smart only takes you so far.  The only way to "study" is to see it happen in a game. Even memorizing the rule book and case book doesn't mean you will understand the situation when you see it...especially if you've never played the game either.   This means you need to learn, to some degree, on the fly...especially the scenarios that may only happen once or twice a season.  The key is being open to learning.   And until it gets practical to have umpire trainees do nothing but watch baseball games for a year, and then apprentice in baseball games for another year, the only solution is to fly by the seat of your pants.   In short, a green newbie who gets 70% on the FED test is not going into his first game knowing the rules.

You either need to put inexperienced umps with more experienced partners...or, if an inexperienced ump must work solo it should be in more recreational settings (ideally).

When MLB umps still kick rules I'm going to have a very high level of forgiveness for an amateur.   The above statement from the BUM is both pretentious and condescending...and, in many ways, simply not practical.

As a coach, I'd much rather have an ump tell me "you know, honestly, I don't really know" rather than "absolutely, the hands are indeed part of the bat".   Now, the further up I went in competition, to the national level, the less likely I was to see the first one...but I still saw the second one, and various other instances of an umpire "knowing" a rule incorrectly.

Frankly, I've always said knowing the rules is the easy part...even really incompetent umpires handle the rules part of the game correctly 95% of the time...because 95% of the game is routine.   Missing on an obscure rule that only comes up once every six months is not only forgivable and understandable, but expected.   If they're managing and communicating well (and that too, only comes with experience), that will go along way in overcoming a mistaken base award.

If FED actually believes the above statements, they might want to get around to building a framework to ensure it's feasible.  Otherwise it's just words.

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I think of it this way, 90% of the game uses 25% of the rulebook, you should know that 25% really, really well. And have an understanding of how the other 75% work. The biggest issue is that FED incorporates some differences that make no real sense and don't really need to be there. Is there really a good reason for a dead ball appeal? Many of the deltas are solutions looking for problems to solve. 

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24 minutes ago, Mister B said:

I think of it this way, 90% of the game uses 25% of the rulebook, you should know that 25% really, really well. And have an understanding of how the other 75% work. The biggest issue is that FED incorporates some differences that make no real sense and don't really need to be there. Is there really a good reason for a dead ball appeal? Many of the deltas are solutions looking for problems to solve. 

Good point. If NCAA and MLB would just stop with this nonsense of requiring a Kabuki theater of a live ball only appeal, we'd all be better off!

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Guys from NJ could send you the bizarre plays made up by our testing committee that occur with the same frequency as an unassisted triple play or a game where the shortstop never touches the ball during any play.

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Thanks everyone!  I especially appreciate the practical advice.  I know everyone SHOULD know every single rule there is, but as noted even MLB umps don't and it's their full-time job.  Expecting people who work 40-60 hours a week and do this on the side to know every single rule, including case rulings, is impractical to say the least. 

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Mr. Richvee, good, practical advice. And Minor League baseball agrees with you--from the 2018 Minor League Baseball Umpire Manual (p. 9) (also in the PBUC manuals):

“Good umpiring means a complete knowledge of and proficiency in all Official Baseball Rules, interpretations, policies, regulations of Minor League Baseball and their respective leagues, including those contained in this manual…You should read some portion of the rulebook each day.”

And the NCAA has nearly the same language as the FED in its CCA Baseball Umpires Manual—

“First, know your mechanics and rules cold. I don’t mean just have an understanding of them; I mean know them like you know your own address. By knowing the rules, it will advance your anticipation of what you could or should be looking at on any given play.”

2017-18 NCAA Conduct and Ethics

4. Umpires shall master both the rules of the game and mechanics necessary to enforce the rules, and shall exercise authority in an impartial, firm and controlled manner.

 

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12 hours ago, Rock Bottom said:

Thanks everyone!  I especially appreciate the practical advice.  I know everyone SHOULD know every single rule there is, but as noted even MLB umps don't and it's their full-time job.  Expecting people who work 40-60 hours a week and do this on the side to know every single rule, including case rulings, is impractical to say the least. 

You m,ight know you don't know a rule, but the coaches don't (necessarily) know you know you don't know a rule.

 

Be decisive and make a ruling based on what you do know.  Then, look it up after the game.

often wrong; never indecisive.

 

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29 minutes ago, noumpere said:

 

 

Be decisive and make a ruling based on what you do know.  Then, look it up after the game.

 

 

If you do this as regular practice when it happens, chances are, if you kicked it, you'll never kick that rule again. 

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15 hours ago, Rock Bottom said:

Thanks everyone!  I especially appreciate the practical advice.  I know everyone SHOULD know every single rule there is, but as noted even MLB umps don't and it's their full-time job.  Expecting people who work 40-60 hours a week and do this on the side to know every single rule, including case rulings, is impractical to say the least. 

 

11 hours ago, Richvee said:

Read the rule book every day. At lunch, on the can, watching tv. Just find a few minutes every day. You’ll be amazed how much learn and retain. Every day!!! 

"Expect" is a strong word, especially at the amateur level.  But it should definitely be a goal - just realize that mastery takes hundreds, if not thousands of hours (it may not be 10000, but it's a lot) to achieve.  You will know that rule book cold...after hundreds of games, and probably several years.   It's a process.   I'd love to be able to play the Hotel California solo the first day I get my guitar, but I should probably practice a few chords first.   

At the same time, it's not an excuse to remain ignorant.  There is a set of rules that any ump should know cold before ever taking the field.  There are others, that thankfully don't come up often, that will take time to sink in.

Like said above, when you get a weird one, look it up that night and learn from it (or confirm).  Too many umpires aren't interested in finding out they were wrong - that's not an umpire flaw but a character flaw, and many humans suffer it.   The only true wisdom is knowing you know nothing.   Measure twice, cut once.  Trust in God but tie up your camel.

Reading the rule book every day is great advice, but it has to be combined with experience.  Having a couple of hundred games under your belt gives the rule book so much more context - things start to fall into place and make sense.

In fact, I would say, especially early on in the umpiring experience, each game should highlight something that you would want to look up that evening.  It could be a call you weren't 100% sure of.  Or it could be a what if scenario...it didn't happen in that game, but it almost did.   I did this as a coach - first hundred games I was looking up something almost every night.   And 500 games later situations were still arising that would drive me to the book.

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I'm 6 years in, about 140-180 games per year, so approaching but not quite at 1000 games, and would summarize this topic here:

1) Make sure at any level you are doing you know the base awards, dead ball tables, interference and obstruction,  and pitching rules fully. Ruling on these in real time decisively and with confidence helps you keep control and manage your games with much less angst and trouble, and the coaches will tend to respect you more when you prove knowledge in these areas. Maybe i should add in to know fully the league or tourney specific rules as well, or else respect will be hard to get at the field.

2) mechanics, timing, judgement on fair/foul, catch/no catch, safe/out, ball/strike will be a continuous improvement effort over your entire career, and will need to be worked on every game you umpire

3) Throughout each season, reading through the case book at intervals (i kindle it, and read it when i travel for my other job, and i have a hard copy i read in the hammock over the summer when I'm goofing off), as well as places like this forum for cases that arise in games, helps you move up the experience curve by reading other people's experiences and how it would relate to the rules applications

4) my first 300 games or so over my first 3 seasons i would write down one or two things that either occurred in the game or "almost happened" or "what if this situation happened" or something I needed to improve with mechanics, then look them up and work on them. I still do it now, but not every game - now if something unusual happened or "could have happened" i will note it and look it up to make sure i know the rules that would apply and how to apply them.

That should get you through most of the situations in fairly good shape as you gain experience and knowledge.

Now for fun, some examples of some rules I blew over the years that I had to look up afterward and realized i botched:

1) Rec league, HS age: batter for some reason switches batters boxes for the third time in same at-bat. It was annoying to the pitcher, the catcher, and, frankly me so I tell him he needs to declare which box he is going to hit in and stay there for the entire at-bat. I KNEW I did not know the rule, but faintly recalled that the pitcher needed to declare, so the batter must have to also, no? The batter questions me at first, I insist, and he buys it and complies. NO complaint from any coach, so I get away with it. I note it in my notebook, look it up, and I am dead wrong. 

2) Little league, my second year: batter bunts, a really crappy mostly dirt field. Ball goes up, lands in foul territory up 1B line, hits a big rock, bounces into fair territory, and hits the BR in the leg in fair territory. I call time, foul ball. Defensive coach questions me that shouldn't he be out, but clearly he is unsure. i state that bad bounce off the rock made it inadvertent, so foul ball. he buys it and the kid whiffs for strike three next pitch. i note it in my notebook, look it up, and I am dead wrong. not only wrong, I am making up new "inadvertent" rules

3) My third year, i think, 11U Tourney ball, OBR rules: Two outs, R1 on 1B. Defensive Coach calls time and comes out to ask us a rules question: He wants to send his pitcher to the outfield, and bring in a new pitcher for the next batter. but he wants to bring his original pitcher in from the outfield to pitch after the next pitcher. My partner is PU and UIC. He is unsure, so calls me in for a consult. I say that it is legal to do so, as long as the old pitcher is reinstated as the pitcher before the inning ends, and per the Rule 3.03 comment, he can only flip him once per inning. Since there are two outs, he is taking a chance, because if the new pitcher gets the third out, the inning is over, and the old pitcher cannot return as a pitcher. Both my PU/UIC and the coach buys it, and he keeps the old pitcher in as pitcher. He induces a groundout on first pitch to end the inning and i get away with it. i make a note, look it up, and boy did i botch that one.. I completely made up a rule!

 

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