By Jay Miner
I’ve read every umpire manual ever written back to Hank O’Day’s turn of the century (20th) handwritten notes. Manuals are good and provide umpires with solid basic knowledge and guidelines for all phases of umpiring. Nevertheless, when it comes to managing coaches, the manuals always refer to “normal” coaches.
What I mean is the manuals are written to calm down or defuse a normally placid coach that is uncharacteristically excited or irate about something that occurred. Likely there are good calming techniques in most manuals to bring those coaches back to reality. Unfortunately, I’ve never read a manual that addresses how to deal with perennially nasty, recalcitrant coaches who come to the game looking to show off, show you up and generally are a pain by raucously disputing every close call and questioning every ruling imaginable. I’ve seen potentially good new umpires quit because of the actions of such coaches. I’ve declared war on those coaches and provided methods about how to manage, mute or eliminate them at least for the game at hand.
I’ve garnered a lot of experience by working many hundreds of war games, men’s fast-pitch money games, and semipro baseball games and encountered many Earl Weaver, Billy Martin and for old-timers, Leo Durocher wannabes.
“The first thing I do prior to a game is to find out the coach’s first name and give them mine and ask them to call me by name.”
The first thing I do prior to a game is to find out the coach’s first name and give them mine and ask them to call me by name. I know some umpires like to play the “high planes” umpire with “no name” but they end up being called “Blue,” “Umpy,” “Hey You,” or some other disrespectful name. You must demand respect from difficult coaches and then convince them you deserve it. I’ve found coaches are not as aggressive and mean-spirited when they are conditioned to call you by your name. It’s easier to scream, “That’s two you missed, Blue,” than to say the same thing followed by the umpire’s name. I never desired to be friendly with a coach or tell jokes or think of them as friends. I want to be professional, businesslike and prepared for the difficult task at hand.
I do not try to forestall an explanation, question or argument by asking an approaching coach if he formally requested time when it was obvious that all playing action has ceased. That technicality only foolishly prolongs and exacerbates the situation and further infuriates the coach. I manage situations as they occur and do not try to rush coaches off the field by saying, “I’ll explain that between innings,” or “We’ll talk about that later.” I want to resolve the problem one way or another and put it behind us and not drag out the situation. I avoid unnecessary eye contact with coaches and do not encourage dialogue by being slightly aloof. I am there to manage a competitive game and not make it a social event.
At the same time I try to give the impression I am very serious about my officiating, but I am not going to be a nitpicking official that is going to use Gestapo tactics by hunting through equipment bags and scrutinizing equipment and give needless and unnecessary warnings. I try to establish an understanding of “if you don’t mess with me, I won’t mess with you.” More politically correct that means establishing peaceful coexistence. I try to not threaten coaches, but if I do issue a warning, there will be dire consequences for the next infraction. I don’t make the mistake of believing that bad behavior will go away if I ignore it. I understood that difficult coaches are much like difficult children. I don’t have the time, desire or inclination to try any fancy techniques to build a less adversarial relationship with them. My main request is good sporting behavior.
“I establish the fact that I do not tolerate any attempts of intimidation or threats and that I will make any such attempts unpleasant for coaches.”
I establish the fact that I do not tolerate any attempts of intimidation or threats and that I will make any such attempts unpleasant for coaches. When I work the plate, I don’t hesitate to use a judicious “glare” to show my displeasure when I am criticized about balls and strikes. During arguments I listen to the coach’s reasonable concerns. Nevertheless, I do not allow them to make ludicrous complaints or repeat the same argument over and over. Contrary to popular opinion, I do not eject anyone unless it is necessary. Fortunately, I usually have a good partner to share game management responsibilities but I realize that is not always the case.
When someone is ejected it is the duty of his or her partner to escort the ejected individual off the field. I’ve found that law enforcement people are much quicker to come to the aid of a colleague. I rarely follow the company line and never the clamor of television commentators that umpires should walk away from confrontations especially when working the plate. I consider the plate area my office and no one is going to make me walk out of my office.
On the bases I sometimes take a few steps away from a coach to give him or her a chance to depart, but I am completely prepared to manage any situation to its conclusion. After 36 years and 7,000 games I can say my methods work well for me. I’m hoping but not guaranteeing the same is true for you.
Jay Miner is a longtime umpire, rules interpreter and former assigner from Albany, N.Y.
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