The three major keys to success in the two-umpire system include a system of angles, compromises and priorities. Here’s what that means.
In the two-umpire system, the ability to obtain good angles on plays is paramount. Angle beats distance every time when covering a play. You’ll work to get an angle where all the elements of the play will be in front of you. The elements of plays usually include the ball and the fielder; often the runner and the base — and sometimes the location where all the elements come together.
When covering a play, work toward getting your best possible angle first and then continue hustling to reduce your distance to the play. The old adage, “There is a close correlation between closeness to the play and correctness of the call,” is an effective method of covering a play.
Avoid “straight-line” officiating whenever possible. Unfavorable straight-lining occurs when the ball, the runner, the fielder, the base and the umpire are all in a straight line. The umpire must work an angle to avoid straight-lining.
A good angle and a proper distance determine your proper calling position. Yet your work is far from over. Once you have arrived at your calling position be sure to focus on the vital elements of the play before announcing your decision. A good calling position from a stopped set position goes for naught if you are not focused on the proper elements of the play. You must see the essentials.
Umpires should strive to pause, read and react on every play situation and then apply “stop, set, focus, hold and call” to announce their decision.
When two umpires are responsible for covering the entire field, your crew must cooperate by making intelligent compromises and strive to keep the field in proper officiating balance. The best way to accomplish that is by communicating and reaffirming with your partner what your intentions are, where you are and where you will be going. You can do that with good verbal communication and effective hand signals between you and your partner. Never smother a play at the expense of being out of position for any ensuing play.
There are two types of priorities for umpires to understand. Priority Type A in the two-umpire system is that the crewmembers focus on the more important events of the play. That is, ball-strike, safe-out, fair-foul, catch-no catch and live ball-dead ball are priority calls that require more attention and focus than whether a batter is possibly out of the batter’s box, the pitcher commits a technical infraction, a runner possibly misses a base by half an inch or whether a runner tagging up leaves a base a whisker before a caught fly ball is first touched by a fielder. Never turn away from a catch-no catch situation to view a tag-up as that is usually when the ball drops to the ground.
Priority Type B is that it is essential that both umpires of a crew decide whether the runner or the fielder has priority on every play that occurs and know when that priority may change from the offense to the defense or vice versa.
For example, the runner or runners have priority when running the bases while a batted ball is being played in the outfield and a fielder who impedes a runner’s progress has committed obstruction. Unless there is an overt infraction by a fielder, the defense cannot commit obstruction when a fielder has the ball or is in the act of fielding a batted ball in all codes and when a fielder is about to receive a thrown ball in NCAA or USSSA SP.
When obstruction occurs, the play will continue under the delayed-dead ball provisions and the umpire is to nullify the act of obstruction at the conclusion of the play by awarding bases as necessary.
Conversely, the fielder has priority when the fielder has possession of the ball or is in the act of fielding a batter ball. A runner who illegally complicates a play for a fielder has committed interference. When interference occurs, the ball is immediately dead, the offending runner is declared out and other runners are entitled to the bases reached at the time of the interference.
A player who is granted “priority” by the rules on a play becomes the privileged player and as a privileged player she is protected by the playing rules. Priority, privilege and protection are the three “P’s” of obstruction and interference to help guide umpires through difficult play situations.
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