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Guest Dave G

Conflict of Interest

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Guest Dave G

The home plate umpire for our 12U game also teaches lessons to the pitcher who pitched against us. The game was not close this time as this pitcher was pretty dominant this outing but there is a change we face the same team down the road with the same umpiring crew. This umpire also gives pitching lesson to 3 other players on this team.

I do not umpire and have wondered if anybody has encountered this situation. Even if you were not intentionally trying to be biased, human nature tells me close pitches would be of benefit to the pitcher.

I think if this is going to happen the umpire should at lest be up front of this information to the opposing team. We did not learn about this to after the game was over.

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49 minutes ago, Guest Dave G said:

The home plate umpire for our 12U game also teaches lessons to the pitcher who pitched against us. The game was not close this time as this pitcher was pretty dominant this outing but there is a change we face the same team down the road with the same umpiring crew. This umpire also gives pitching lesson to 3 other players on this team.

I do not umpire and have wondered if anybody has encountered this situation. Even if you were not intentionally trying to be biased, human nature tells me close pitches would be of benefit to the pitcher.

I think if this is going to happen the umpire should at lest be up front of this information to the opposing team. We did not learn about this to after the game was over.

My opinion only here, but if the umpire did not give a larger strike zone to this pitcher, then where's the problem?  There is no conflict of interest as long as he was fair and equal to both sides.  Would your knowledge of his teaching (that you learned of after the game) have made a difference during the game?

I have umpired games where my son played for one team and the other team never knew it.  If anything, I called it better for them when he was up as to not allow even a whiff of partiality in my umpiring.

I have umpired games for the high school I graduated from - again, no issues because no one knew it.  It seems to me that if this umpire were to disclose that he offers pitching lessons to a player on one team, then this would open him up to accusations of favoritism.  

I am curious how you found out he offers these lessons.  If you say the game was not close and there was no evidence of favoritism or partiality (which you did not say, but I think it's implied by reading between the lines) then I don't see a problem.   I don't know you and am not judging you, but whoever told you this umpire offers lessons to the other team sounds like he/she has a bone to pick and is trying to use you to do their dirty work.

Again, this is only my opinion, but as umpires we are told not to go picking boogers.  In other words, if there isn't an issue, don't create one.  Just my two cents.

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I also umpired games that my sons played in and would agree that if it was close I probably ruled against my sons so not to be accused of being biased!

 

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1 hour ago, Guest Dave G said:

The home plate umpire for our 12U game also teaches lessons to the pitcher who pitched against us. The game was not close this time as this pitcher was pretty dominant this outing but there is a change we face the same team down the road with the same umpiring crew. This umpire also gives pitching lesson to 3 other players on this team.

I do not umpire and have wondered if anybody has encountered this situation. Even if you were not intentionally trying to be biased, human nature tells me close pitches would be of benefit to the pitcher.

I think if this is going to happen the umpire should at lest be up front of this information to the opposing team. We did not learn about this to after the game was over.

It's either a ball or a strike.   And if it's close it's still either a ball or strike.  If it's close I'm getting them and would expect other umpires to do the same.  

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on a serious note, there are 2 good examples above.  He is probably more stringent on them.....if ANYTHING.

 

on a lighter note, now you have a POC for your pitchers to improve their game.  :sarcasm:

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Is it a conflict?  Yes.

 

That said, In some communities, the shortage of umpires is such that all conflicts can't be avoided.  For example, the umpire in question might coach others on different teams and all of those teams were playing than night and no other umpires were available.  There's going to be a conflict on one game or another.

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2 hours ago, Guest Dave G said:

The home plate umpire for our 12U game also teaches lessons to the pitcher who pitched against us. The game was not close this time as this pitcher was pretty dominant this outing but there is a change we face the same team down the road with the same umpiring crew. This umpire also gives pitching lesson to 3 other players on this team.

I do not umpire and have wondered if anybody has encountered this situation. Even if you were not intentionally trying to be biased, human nature tells me close pitches would be of benefit to the pitcher.

I think if this is going to happen the umpire should at lest be up front of this information to the opposing team. We did not learn about this to after the game was over.

Sounds like you need to add yourself to the local umpire corps.  Your son will not like it when you call one of his games though.

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What was the over/under on this game? The line? How much was at stake over all?

Oh, just an amateur game? Sheesh, let the kids play. 

FWIW, I always favor the pitcher: pitching is hard. I'm giving that big, fat strike zone to all of them equally, and the batters will figure it out and start swinging.

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To our guest, Dave G, you raise a valid issue. There is an organization that we baseball umpires can join for such services as insurance--it’s called the National Association of Sports Officials (NASO). NASO is also a not-for-profit educational organization. As part of its educational resources it has a sports official’s code of ethics. NASO “believes the duty of sports officials is to act as impartial judges of sport competitions. We believe this duty carries with it an obligation to perform with accuracy, fairness and objectivity through an overriding sense of integrity.”

Here is part of its ethics code—

ARTICLE II

Sports officials recognize that anything which may lead to a conflict of interest, either real or apparent, must be avoided. Gifts, favors, special treatment, privileges, employment or a personal relationship with a school or team which can compromise the perceived impartiality of officiating must be avoided.

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33 minutes ago, maven said:

What was the over/under on this game? The line? How much was at stake over all?

Oh, just an amateur game? Sheesh, let the kids play. 

FWIW, I always favor the pitcher: pitching is hard. I'm giving that big, fat strike zone to all of them equally, and the batters will figure it out and start swinging.

And hitting is easy?  Some 4'8" kid with a 28" bat is supposed to hit an outside pitch?

Why favor the pitcher? Call it the way it's supposed to be called.

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27 minutes ago, Senor Azul said:

Sports officials recognize that anything which may lead to a conflict of interest, either real or apparent, must be avoided. Gifts, favors, special treatment, privileges, employment or a personal relationship with a school or team which can compromise the perceived impartiality of officiating must be avoided.

I agree with all of that, absolutely, and in a perfect world it should be followed.

There are a couple of things we also need to keep in mind. 1) Covid19--there are a lot of umpires (look back at the C19 discussion) that are sitting this year out. 2) 99% of us have other jobs, that actually support our families--meaning that someone may not be available to be scheduled or may drop out at the last minute because of work/family issues, etc. Sometimes things happen that may complicate the assignment of games.

Personally, I have no problem with this. After my son went to HS baseball--as I was coaching when he was in "youth" ballI-- I would umpire on days he didn't play.  Anyway, I would umpire games and teams would have kids that were on my teams when I was coaching for the previous 8 years or so. No one cared, no one said a word. I'd ask them how is school going, how are your parents? In a regular season Tuesday night game does it really matter?

Again, I'm not saying our guest doesn't have a legitimate complaint--if the other team was getting ridiculous calls or the like. But that doesn't seem to be the case here.

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In my work, we had a guiding principle to "avoid the appearance of impropriety"--that is, even the appearance of a conflict. Although the circumstances pointed out by aaluck and noumpere may justify this, it is, if not an actual conflict, the appearance of one. If I were that umpire, I'd be terribly uncomfortable. If I give my student a close call, will it look like I'm favoring him? Will it look like I'm biased so as not to lose his business? If I don't give him a close call, will it look like I'm deliberately doing so to avoid criticism? Either way, it might look as if I'm favoring or disfavoring my student. YMMV.

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3 hours ago, Rich Ives said:

And hitting is easy?  Some 4'8" kid with a 28" bat is supposed to hit an outside pitch?

Why favor the pitcher? Call it the way it's supposed to be called.

Thanks coach, your insights about how it's "supposed" to be called are always illuminating.

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The really easy answer here from the umpire's perspective is to disclose it to his association and let his association's leadership decide. As we all know, this is a big world with lots of perspectives. I have worked in associations where it would NOT be ok to umpire games of one's pitching clients. I have worked in other associations where this would be frowned upon but, permitted. And still other associations where you would be removed from the association immediately.

By disclosing this information to the league leadership, as an umpire you are putting the decision in THEIR hands not yours. They might say it's ok. So, you can now tell anyone else who asks you about a possible conflict, "I have spoken with my association and I have been approved to work this game."

They might say it's not ok. So, you can now make an educated life decision about whether you want to teach pitching...or umpire...or maybe find another association with different policies.

They might ask for a list of your clients and then tell the assignors to not schedule you for your client's games. In ANY environment, you are demonstrating proper ethics anytime you go to leadership and say, "Is this a problem?" provided of course you comply with their decision.

~Dog

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The OP asked for stories if it ever happened to us ...
 

Three different times while one of my daughters was playing softball in high school.  Two were road games and one was a home game.  All three times the schools had a late cancellation and could not find anybody (mad flurries of e-mails and text messages going out).  I contacted the ADs (who all knew me) and said “I will be at the game since my daughter is playing.  I always have my gear in the car.  I am offering, but you need to make sure everybody knows and is OK with it.  I also prefer not to do the plate since my daughter could pitch.”
 

First time I called my daughter out on a close play.  Second time I called her for obstruction.

Third time it got ugly and I tossed a parent.  Only parent I have tossed, but you can’t get much more explicit than “His check is in his pocket, he’s a cheater.”  Direct quote.  Turns out she was already mad at me for being one of the few umpires who would call her daughter for illegal pitches (leaping) during summer ball — to the extent the coach wouldn’t let her pitch if I was umpiring.  (No, I didn’t know it was her at the time.) 

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18 hours ago, LRZ said:

In my work, we had a guiding principle to "avoid the appearance of impropriety"--that is, even the appearance of a conflict. Although the circumstances pointed out by aaluck and noumpere may justify this, it is, if not an actual conflict, the appearance of one. If I were that umpire, I'd be terribly uncomfortable. If I give my student a close call, will it look like I'm favoring him? Will it look like I'm biased so as not to lose his business? If I don't give him a close call, will it look like I'm deliberately doing so to avoid criticism? Either way, it might look as if I'm favoring or disfavoring my student. YMMV.

Again, if we are talking about a varsity HS game or college game, I get it. But these are youth baseball games. Are we really going to cheat for a kid?

I can honestly say that in our area it is uncommon for an umpire NOT to know a family or two of the team he is umping. If I had to pull myself out of every game where I knew a parent or kid I would have very few games. Despite that I have never been (not seen a partner of mine) accused of favoritism--ever. 

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Are we going to cheat in youth baseball? No. Are parents and coaches going to think we cheat and accuse us? Possibly. Are we going to be influenced subconsciously? Possibly. Please note that I talked about the "appearance" of impropriety--that is, how others perceive us.

And there is a significant distinction between (1) umpiring for kids we know and (2) umpiring for kids we coach and teach and with whose parents we have a business arrangement to our financial benefit. I have no problem with the former, but I find the latter situation problematic.

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I've been in with the same LL & district for 21 years.  You get to know people.  As @LRZ and @aaluck mentioned, it's youth baseball.  I have coaches that brought their kids through the program, developed friendships, etc.  Now they are bringing their GRANDCHILDREN through.   Does that mean I need to stop umpiring in my home town?

 

Parents, you don't know me from Adam...............but if I miss a few calls today, little Johnny's college scholarship or draft pick will not be impacted.

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18 hours ago, The Man in Blue said:

Third time it got ugly and I tossed a parent.  

... I thought that was going to be your wife!!

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On 7/22/2020 at 11:46 AM, Guest Dave G said:

The home plate umpire for our 12U game also teaches lessons to the pitcher who pitched against us. The game was not close this time as this pitcher was pretty dominant this outing but there is a change we face the same team down the road with the same umpiring crew. This umpire also gives pitching lesson to 3 other players on this team.

I do not umpire and have wondered if anybody has encountered this situation. Even if you were not intentionally trying to be biased, human nature tells me close pitches would be of benefit to the pitcher.

I think if this is going to happen the umpire should at lest be up front of this information to the opposing team. We did not learn about this to after the game was over.

Riddle me this - are umpires not allowed to play baseball then...as certainly any umpire who could get assigned to a game will know, and work with, and maybe even work for, that umpire who is pitching, fielding, batting or running.

Until this gets to NCAA...and maybe into the State Championships and beyond of club/HS ball...it shouldn't be an issue or concern.  Amateur umps are going to do their best...and frankly, the same conscious and subconscious "biases" can happen if the umpire thinks a particular coach is a good guy...or an asshole.

Lots of amateur umpires are also coaches, players, and parents to coaches and players.  If the community is small enough, they work together, or do business together, or are neighbors.  Hell, I live in a city of over a million people and I have had former teammates and co-workers who have umped games I have played or coached...that's what happens over 30 years.  There are also players I formerly coached that are now umpires.  As someone who has been Tournament Director, I have also bought beers for umpires at the end of a long Saturday.  If you take a potential conflict of interest far enough, you'd have to eliminate 80% of umps 100 miles in every direction from games I'm involved in.

 Unless you want to start solving one of those puzzles where the dog, the cat and the mouse need to cross a river with one boat that only holds two animals you gotta let it go.   Yeah, sure, ideally an ump announces his potential conflict, but frankly, it gets to a point that nobody even realizes that there is a potential conflict because there's a difference of opinion in how far removed someone is or is not....and all it does it becomes an excuse for someone.

 

The only time I ever questioned the wisdom of a particular assignment is when a teenage boy was the solo umpire of a game where his younger brother was the pitcher on one of the teams - and at that point, I simply felt sorry for the kid.

 

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Another thing the OP should keep in mind is that umpires might not even know of a potential conflict until teams show up for a game -- especially in a tournament's bracket play where it's not known in advance who will play which games in the elimination or championship stage. At that point in time, it's difficult at best to move umpires around to avoid the conflict; there's the possibility that an umpire switch intended to resolve such an unexpected conflict might end up creating another.

Hand in hand with @noumpere's comments, assignors strive to do all they can to schedule games so that no umpire has a conflict of interest. With the shortage in many areas, though, all it takes is one umpire to be sick, injured, or unavailable due to work or emergency to create an opening in the schedule that may need to be filled by someone with a potential conflict of interest simply because nobody else is available -- especially during the regular season. Most governing bodies, especially for high school competition, have their own conflict of interest rules for post-season assignments.

Additionally, @SeeingEyeDog probably has the most practical advice: Know the relevant conflict of interest rules that apply to your assignors and situation, and speak up when you have a clear conflict of interest or potential one. Let whomever assigns the game(s) decide if it's enough of a conflict to necessitate alternate arrangements.

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On 7/22/2020 at 7:58 PM, maven said:

Thanks coach, your insights about how it's "supposed" to be called are always illuminating.

And your batting average was what?  I'm getting sick and tired of reading posts about how the pitcher needs the breaks and that objectors to that stance are clueless. We aren't. We have to teach hitting too. We coach both offense and defense. Both matter. There's no "close enough "safe or out". There's no "close enough" pitch either. 

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2 hours ago, Rich Ives said:

And your batting average was what?  I'm getting sick and tired of reading posts about how the pitcher needs the breaks and that objectors to that stance are clueless. We aren't. We have to teach hitting too. We coach both offense and defense. Both matter. There's no "close enough "safe or out". There's no "close enough" pitch either. 

I agree with this Rich ... IMO, a coach saying we need to “help” his pitcher means the coach is not doing their job and has no confidence in his player.

One time I even told a coach he was insulting his pitcher by saying that.  It was a 12u softball game with two of the best 12u pitchers I have seen dueling it out.  One coach was whining and hollering through a few innings.  As he came out between innings to go coach third base, I walked with him a few steps.  “Coach, neither of these pitchers are going to get any ‘help’ because neither of them need it.  This is one of the best pitched games I have seen at this age group.  You asking for more is demeaning what your pitcher is doing.  No more of it.”  Put my line up card holder away, watched him nod, and played on.

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