One of the most difficult calls for base umpires is the checked swing. When the plate umpire comes to you for help, you have a brief moment when everyone is watching you to see what you are going to call. And no matter what you call, one side is going to be unhappy with you.
So how do you exude confidence when ruling on checked swings? Here is a list of ways you can nail checked swing calls and help your crew.
Know the Rules
This sounds simple, but in reality, can you cite what the rules are regarding checked swings for the particular codes you work? Below are the actual rules or interpretations for each of the codes.
NFHS — As an aid in determining a checked swing, the umpire shall note whether the swing carried the barrel portion of the bat in front of the batter’s body and in the direction of the infield. However, the final decision is based on whether the bat actually struck at the ball (2-11).
NCAA — As a general rule, there are four factors when determining if a batter has swung at the ball or checked the swing: (1) Did the batter make an attempt to hit/bunt/slap the pitch? (2) Was the barrel of the bat out in front of the front hip? (3) Did the batter roll the wrists? (4) Did the batter swing through the ball and bring the bat back or draw the bat back before the pitch arrived? (11.10 Note).
USA Softball — Normally, these are the four areas which could constitute whether or not a batter swung at the pitched ball or checked their swing. (1) Did the batter roll the wrists? (2) Did the batter swing through the ball and bring back the bat, unless the batter draws the bat back before the pitch arrives? (3) Was the bat out in front of the body? (4) Did the batter make an attempt to hit the pitch? (R/S 10).
USSSA — The umpire shall, in order to be consistent, have guidelines to follow. The rule that most umpires follow is: If a batter swings halfway or more across the plate, it is a strike. In other words, if the bat is swung so it is in front of the batter’s body or ahead of it, it is a strike (Feb. 2018 Interp.).
To clarify, all four codes have slightly different language or guidelines to go by to assist in calling checked swings. Ultimately, however, it comes down to your judgment. Did the batter attempt to swing at the pitch? The barrel of the bat out in front of the body and rolling of the wrists are usually dead giveaways the batter swung. But ultimately, you need to determine if the batter attempted to swing. The rule of thumb is if you are in doubt, the batter checked the swing. Never guess a strike.
In Your Mind, Rule on Every Swing
Even if your plate partner does not come to you to ask for help, you should rule on every checked swing in your mind. This way, when your partner does come to you for help, you are ready. A delayed response indicates doubt and doubt leads to credibility issues. Already have a determination in your mind before your partner comes to you. This is a good practice and habit to get into so when you do need to make a ruling, it is second nature.
After every pitch, especially on those involving a potential checked swing, stay engaged on what is happening at the plate. There is nothing worse than being a plate umpire and having a catcher or coach ask you to go to your base partner for help and that partner is not paying attention. Having to get that partner’s attention looks bad, it slows down the process and it takes away credibility of the call. As a base umpire, stay focused on the plate and be prepared for your partner to come to you for help. Granted, there are times when a team asks for an appeal much later than it should. Those, however, are few and far between. The majority of appeals come right after the catcher catches the ball. Be prepared for your plate partner to come to you for help.
Sell Your Call When Necessary
When you do need to give an opinion, especially if it is the difference between strike three or ball four, sell your call. Sometimes, plate partners get blocked and may come to you on an obvious checked swing or swing. In those instances, you don’t need to be big and a simple safe or out call is perfectly acceptable. However, when it is close, sell it. This will show you have confidence in your call. While one team is still going to be upset with you, it gives them less of a reason to argue when you are decisive and display confidence.
While it is true no two pitches, or swings, are exactly alike, be consistent. If you call a batter on team A for a strike and then are asked to make a decision on a team B batter that does the same thing, the calls should be the same. Otherwise, it will appear you are just guessing and eventually no one will be happy. The best way to be consistent is to have repetition. Even if you aren’t working a game but you are watching in person or on TV, practice making calls on checked swings. The only way to get better is to practice. It can take a lot of games before you feel comfortable ruling on these plays and even veteran umpires will say this is one of the toughest calls to make because it happens so quickly and you don’t always have perfect angles.
Give the Plate Umpire What You Got
Some veteran umpires use the adage, “If I come to you, just echo what I had.” That doesn’t fly anymore. And quite frankly, it never should. The umpire behind the plate is trying to judge the pitch and then trying to judge what the batter did. There are times when you can’t do both. As the base umpire, you should rule on what you saw and not just go with the plate umpire’s call. If you are being asked your opinion, give it.
Wait to Be Asked
One final piece of advice: Do not rule on a checked swing until your plate umpire points to you. Allow your plate umpire time to make sure the team is actually asking him or her to come to you for an appeal. Just because the catcher points at you or the coach yells from the dugout, it doesn’t mean you should give a signal.
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Note: This article is archival in nature. Rules, interpretations, mechanics, philosophies and other information may or may not be correct for the current year.
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