How many umpires does it take to rule a foul ball? In this case, four, and that’s OK. California umpires (from left) Kevin Danley, Gardena; Vincent Stair, Rialto; Donald Paysinger, Los Angeles (hidden); and Alex Phelps, Mar Vista; asked for each other’s help to make the proper ruling. Offering assistance when you have information (and acknowledging you haven’t got anything to add when you don’t) is a key to good officiating. (Photo Credit: Bob Messina)

I stumbled upon a couple of clips of MLB games and got a chuckle out of how the announcers reacted to two situations. It’s important to note that the plays occurred before instant replay was added to the umpires’ arsenal.

In the first play, the batter bunted back to the mound. The pitcher displayed incredible flexibility and fielded the ball near his shoetop. The plate umpire ruled it a catch. The pitcher fired to first base to double up the runner. The announcers, whose loyalties were with the team batting, howled in protest.

“He’s gotta get help on that call!” they demanded, certain that another umpire would convince the plate man he was mistaken. Multiple replays from various angles could shed none of the requisite evidence that would have been needed had technology been used to assist in making the ruling, but the announcers were adamant that, not only should the plate umpire have seen it himself to begin with, but the play was of such a nature that he should have solicited opinions from one if not all of his colleagues and possibly a beer vendor who could have set him straight. There were the predictable ejections and the play stood.

In another game involving two different teams, the batter hit a slow roller down the first-base line. The first baseman fielded it a few feet in front of the bag and attempted a swipe tag of the batter-runner. The umpire gave the play a good look and signaled safe. The announcers, representing the team at bat, praised the umpire for his acumen and his eyesight.

The manager of the defensive team sprang out of the dugout as if his pants were aflame and confronted the umpire. An animated discussion followed, after which the umpire beckoned the plate umpire to find out if he could offer new information. Sure enough, after a short exchange, the base umpire reversed himself and signaled out.

The announcers’ attitude changed as if a switch had been flipped. “He can’t do that!,” they blurted. “How can you make a call then go to another umpire who is 100 feet away and let him overrule you! That’s pathetic!”

After a spirited discussion, the first-base coach, the batter-runner and the manager had no further participation in the contest.

I wish I could tell you the announcers were the same in both cases, because the irony would be delicious. Make up your minds, fellas!

Anyway, this column isn’t another preaching-to-the-choir diatribe about how you can’t please anybody. No, this column is about going for help, which we are sometimes too hesitant to do. We, the amateur officials, need to be less reluctant to lean on our crewmates and partners more often.

Listed below are but a few of the reasons (they could also be called excuses) that officials don’t seek help from a partner or crewmate. There are probably more, but let’s address the ones that are generally accepted to be most common and consider some thoughts that might invalidate those reasons.

Reason 1: We don’t want to be perceived as being unable to make the call on our own. It doesn’t show weakness to ask for help. On the contrary, it makes the crew as a whole look stronger. Unlike the whiners cited above, you will often hear commentators say, “I like to see this. Instead of standing by a call that could be wrong, they’re talking it over.” Crew meetings should be brief and few in number. But you shouldn’t hesitate to get information that could help you make the correct call.

Reason 2: After we confer, everyone connected with the team that didn’t benefit from the call will be mad at everyone involved in the decision, not just the official who made the original call. If you base your calls on how players, coaches and fans will react, you’re in the wrong business. In the end, how you feel about the call is more important than how others feel about it.

Reason 3: If we confer and I change my call, the coaches will want us to ask for help on every close play. Let ’em ask! Unless the rules of the sport you’re working mandate that you must get help when asked, you don’t have to grant such requests. Save your consultations for especially difficult plays or those in which circumstances didn’t permit you to see the play.

Reason 4: If I go for help and the other official didn’t see it either, we’re in deep doo-doo. There will be times when a partner or crewmate can provide no help. If the rules of the sport specify a solution to such a situation (use of the arrow in basketball, a replay in volleyball, or when-in-doubt axioms), avail yourself of that method. If not, use the information you have at hand. Did the ball change direction, leading you to believe it was touched? Did the player of one team celebrate and the opponent appear glum? Sometimes your gut is more reliable than your eyes.

A final note: If you find yourself needing help once or twice a game, it’s time to brush up on your mechanics and positioning. The manuals are designed to put you in the best position to see most plays. Adjustments sometimes need to be made, of course. But for the most part, if you continually consult with your partner, the problem is likely you and not the mechanics.

And a final, final note. If the game is televised and you catch it later, ignore the announcers. Invariably, according to them, you did the wrong thing even when you did the right thing for the game. If you don’t believe me, ask your partner.

What's Your Call? Leave a Comment:


Previous articleNobody Told the Officials (August 2006)
Next articleBasepath Blunders
Referee, the world’s original sports officiating magazine, educates, challenges and inspires officials at all levels.