ABUA Newsletters

Batter-Runner Interference and the 45-foot Box Part I 

Part of Rich Marazzi's Ruleball ABUA Column 

Havent you ever wondered why there is a 3-foot wide 45-foot long box between home and first base but not between any of the other bases?

The purpose of the box is to protect the fielder taking the throw at first base by keeping the batter-runner away from the fielder as much as possible. Why is the fielder given this protection at first base but not at second, third or home? Heres a bit of history.

In the early days of baseball it was common practice for the batter-runner to crudely barrel over the first baseman when he received a throw from an infielder on a routine play. To keep the batter-runner away from the fielder taking the throw at first base, the 3-foot wide 45-foot long box the last 45-feet between home and first was established in 1881. Thats right. It has been around since Chester A. Arthur was President of the United States. It may be more of a baseball tradition than peanuts, popcorn and crackerjacks.

When the rule was created the first base line ran through the middle of the bag. They changed the position of the base, but didnt fix any rules pertaining to it.

In the modern era, the box is designed to protect the defense from a batter-runner who interferes with a throw to first base normally made by a pitcher or catcher.

Infield Fly

Part of George Demetriou's ABUA Column

The infield fly rule was written to deal with a very specific situation a fly ball with runners on first and second or loaded bases with less than two out. The rule dates back to 1894 and its purpose is to prevent an undeserved double play. Except where noted, the material applies equally to NFHS, NCAA and pro rules.

An infield fly is fair fly ball, excluding a line drive or bunt, which can be caught by an infielder with ordinary effort (NFHS 2-19-1, NCAA 2-47, pro 2.00 Infield Fly). The pitcher, catcher and any outfielder who stations himself in the infield on the play are considered infielders for the purpose of this rule. If the ball is handled by an outfielder, it may still an infield fly, if, in the umpire's judgment, the ball could have been easily handled by an infielder. Arbitrary limitations such as the grass or the base lines do not apply.

Little League expanded replay at World Series

Little League Baseball expanded the use of instant replay at this year's World Series.

The replay system started at last year's tournament to review questionable home runs and other close plays at the outfield fence. The system was used twice in 32 World Series games, but neither review resulted in a call being reversed.

ABUA Umpires Go International

The following ABUA umpires will be representing the ABUA and USA BASEBALL this Summer and Fall in International Competition.

Umpires working these events are selected by Dick Runchey, Director of Umpires IBAF and Exec. Dir. of ABUA. If interested in working International Competition please contact Dick Runchey
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for details.

Jason Rogers - World Baseball Challenge - Canada
Kevin Daugherty - IBAF Championship - Taiwan
Scott Higgins - IBAF World Cup - Europe
Jeff Hendrichs - IBAF World Cup - Europe
Cord Coslor - COPAPE Qualifier - Venezuela

ABUA & USA Baseball

ABUA membership continues to be a benefit for USA BASEBALL assignments in Cary this year. ABUA Umpires who want to work those events must contact Ron Sebastian, ABUA Vice President for details at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Disputed umpire's call ends with arrest for Grand Forks father 

A Grand Forks father who was arrested at a Babe Ruth League tournament in Wahpeton, N.D., said Wednesday he regrets his behavior, but that the incident has been overblown.

“It was just a bad call, and I blew up,” 44-year-old Michael Lizotte said. “Was I wrong? Yup, I agree with that.”

Wahpeton Police Chief Scott Thorsteinson said Lizotte was ejected from the stands for yelling obscenities at the umpires during a Sunday evening game. Lizotte said he was not ejected, but left on his own.

An off-duty deputy who was volunteering at the tournament told Lizotte to leave the area or risk being arrested, Thorsteinson said.

Thorsteinson said that after the game, as the umpires were walking to the changing room, Lizotte got in the face of one umpire and began yelling. The two were separated, and the deputy escorted Lizotte to the parking lot, the chief said. Lizotte said he did not have to be separated from the ump.

“All I said to them was, ‘That was the worst f-ing call I’ve ever seen. That was horrible.’ ”

Lizotte said the deputy, who was wearing plainclothes, identified himself as an officer, but did not show Lizotte law enforcement identification until after the deputy called the police.

“He was arguing with me, and I was arguing back,” Lizotte said. “I thought he was a parent.”

Lizotte said he would have acted differently if he had earlier seen proof that the man was a deputy.

When police responded, Lizotte said, he asked the officers to arrest him discretely so not to embarrass his son. Instead, he said, he was placed in a police vehicle where others could easily see him as they left the game.

“That’s when my son seen me and started crying,” Lizotte said.

Lizotte posted $500 bond on a disorderly conduct charge and was released from the Richland County jail the same day.

Lizotte said he tried to apologize to the officers the next day and that he plans to write a letter of apology to the umpires.

Thorsteinson said it was an isolated incident and that the other supporters of the Grand Forks team were well-behaved.

The Grand Forks team made up of 14-year-olds came in second in the tournament, losing to the Fargo Americans, said Bill Palmiscno, a board member of the Forks Area Youth Baseball Association.

Palmiscno, who’s also the superintendent of recreation for the Grand Forks Parks District, said unruly parents are occasionally ejected from youth sporting events in Grand Forks, but he hasn’t heard of any being arrested here.

Disorderly conduct is a Class B misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of a $1,000 fine and 30 days in jail.

Umpires confiscating softball bats due to safety issues

Umpires took more than 50 bats from players at last year's USA/ASA 18-under National Fastpitch Championships in the Quad Cities.

The same thing happened in Normal at last month's Firecracker Tournament.

With some bats costing more than $300, having one taken out of play is no small matter. "It's all a safety issue," said Donna Shurtz, the umpire coordinator for this week's USA/ASA 12-under National Fastpitch Championship at Champion Fields.

Shurtz, standing over a barrel of 10 confiscated bats in the press box Wednesday, said bats are taken out of play if any chips or cracks are visible no matter how small.

"Every now and then you will see a bat actually shatter," said Tim McKeown, coach of the BNGSA Angels 12-under team, co-host of the tournament with the Angels 11s. "There are a lot that are fracturing."

Some bats are made of exotic materials including aluminum lined with graphite and titanium. Others are made of composite materials such as carbon fiber, fiber glass and Kevlar.

Bat makers seek to create lighter bats with bigger "sweet spots" so batters can generate more power in their swing.

Shurtz remembers Californians bringing bats to the Quad Cities last year only to learn they couldn't be used.

"They're upset and I'm sorry about that," she said. "As umpires, it is our responsibility that all equipment is safe and legal for the safety of the kids."

Kim Nelson-Brown, coach of the Angels 11s, said her daughter, Tyler, is on her fourth bat of the year.

"It's just kind of frustrating with the amount you pay for a bat," said Nelson-Brown, who has spent $500 on bats the past seven months and it would have been more if some hadn't been under warranty. "One lasted two practices and one lasted one."

The end caps on Worth brand bats kept breaking for Nelson-Brown, who was forced to call a local sporting goods store Sunday morning to see if she could buy a bat.

"I know there were like four other people doing the same thing," she said. "Bat manufacturers need to step up to the plate." Wallets aren't the only things getting hurt. Olympia Fire coach Doug Haesele said his team had a bat declared illegal at the Firecracker Tournament. "I wasn't upset that they did it," he said. "We had a girl, at that time she was a really hot hitter. It took her mentally out of the rest of the tournament."

Umpires have never taken more bats out of play than in the past two years, according to Shurtz. Bat makers Easton and Demarini have come out with particularly bad models, she said.

"We know now these bats are just terrible," she said. Shurtz's 46 umpires will check every bat on every team before every game this week along with every batting helmet and catcher's mask.

If one player gets hurt because of faulty equipment, she said, "That ruins our tournament."
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From official playing field dimensions to all of the rules. The Official Baseball Rules has all the answers.


IBAF Names Donna Lopiano, Ph.D., as Chair of the Women's Baseball Committee

(LAUSANNE, Switzerland) The International Baseball Federation (IBAF) today announced that Dr. Donna Lopiano has been named the chair of the womens baseball committee. Dr. Lopiano is the former Chief Executive Officer of the Womens Sports Foundation, and has been internationally recognized for her leadership advocating for gender equity in sports by the International Olympic Committee, the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the National Association for Girls and Women in Sports, the National Association of Collegiate Women Athletic Administrators and the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics. She is currently President, Sports Management Resources, a consulting firm based in Easton, Connecticut, USA.

“We are truly honored that Donna has decided to join us as we formulate our global plan for women’s baseball and its inclusion in our bid for the 2016 games,” said IBAF President Dr. Harvey Schiller. “There is perhaps no one more respected in sports or the development of women and girls in athletics than Dr. Lopiano, and we look forward to having her work with us in this very important endeavor.”

“Baseball is a global game that embodies all the ideals of the Olympic movement, and one of those ideals is fair play for all,” said Dr. Lopiano.  “I am honored that the IBAF recognizes the great global opportunity that they have in giving women of all ages the chance to take part in baseball at any age, and am looking forward to helping in any way that I can to get baseball where it belongs for both men and women, as part of the Olympic programme.”

The IBAF announced on 6 April that it would add a women’s discipline to its bid for the 2016 Olympics, and a committee to oversee the growth of the women’s discipline would be formed.  The organization has been accepting nominees for the committee from its member federations and interested parties, and will announce that committee in the coming days. 

Over 30 countries currently offer a women’s discipline, with an estimated 300,000-500,000 girls playing baseball globally.  Japan
won the bi-annual Women’s Baseball World Cup in 2008, with the next event slated for 2010 at a site currently out to bid.  The 2016 Olympic tournament, made of eight teams, would take the place of the World Cup during the 2016 calendar year.


Dr. Donna Lopiano is the former Chief Executive Officer of the Women’s Sports Foundation (1992-2007) and was named one of “The 10 Most Powerful Women in Sports” by Fox Sports.  The Sporting News has repeatedly listed her as one of “The 100 Most Influential People in Sports.”   She has been nationally and internationally recognized for her leadership advocating for gender equity in sports by the International Olympic Committee, the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the National Association for Girls and Women in Sports, the National Association of Collegiate Women Athletic Administrators and the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics.

Dr. Lopiano also served for 18 years as the University of Texas at Austin Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women. During her tenure at Texas, she constructed what many believed to be the premier  women’s athletics program in the country; twice earning the top program in the nation award.    All eight University of Texas sports were consistently ranked in the nation’s top ten in Division I where they earned eighteen national championships in six different sports, produced 51 individual sport national champion athletes, 57 Southwest Conference championships and 395 All-American athletes, dozens among them Olympians and world champions.  Ninety percent of women athletes who exhausted their athletic eligibility at the University of Texas received a baccalaureate degree.  Prior to Texas, Dr. Lopiano served as an Assistant Professor and Assistant Athletic Director at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York

Recognized as one of the foremost national experts on gender equity in sport, Dr. Lopiano has testified about Title IX and gender equity before three Congressional committees, served as a consultant to the U.S. Office for Civil Rights Department of Health, Education and Welfare Title IX Task Force and as an expert witness in twenty-eight court cases. Dr. Lopiano has also served as a consultant to school districts, institutions of higher education and state education agencies on Title IX compliance and to non-profit organizations on governance and strategic planning. She received her bachelor’s degree from Southern Connecticut State University, her master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Southern California and has been the recipient of five honorary doctoral degrees. She has been a college coach of men’s and women’s volleyball, women’s basketball and softball and coached the Italian national women’s softball team.

As an athlete, Dr. Lopiano participated in 26 national championships in four sports and was a nine-time All-American at four different positions in softball, a sport in which she played on six national championship teams. She is a member of the National Sports Hall of Fame, the National Softball Hall of Fame and the Connecticut and Texas Women’s Halls of Fame, among others.

In Need of Rescue, International Baseball Turns to Harvey Schiller

Even his closest confidants wondered why Harvey Schiller devoted his free time to return baseball to the Olympics. The task seems difficult to some, impossible to others, but everyone in Schiller’s elite circle said there was a catch. Impossible, they say, for anyone but him.

Of all the men or women the International Baseball Federation could have elected president, it chose Schiller, who runs a risk-mitigation company and has little direct baseball experience. N.B.A. Commissioner David Stern referred to him as St. Jude, the patron saint of lost causes.

“There aren’t any executives with a background like his,” Stern said. “None.”

Tracing Schiller’s career path is like a cross-country trip without a map, full of random stops and unexpected turns.

A tall and commanding man with spiky gray hair, Schiller is known for an ability to break complex problems into smaller elements, an attribute he demonstrated early on at Michigan, where he earned a doctorate in inorganic chemistry in 1970.

The walls of his Manhattan office at Rockefeller Plaza are covered with pictures of him and notable others: Billie Jean KingAl GoreBill ClintonLance Armstrong.

With Schiller, three degrees of separation usually suffice. He earned a Distinguished Flying Cross, learned football under Al Davis at the Citadel and wears dog tags gifted from George W. Bush.

“I would venture that no one in the world has his range of depth and experiences,” said Daniel L. Doctoroff, the president of Bloomberg, L.P., and a former deputy mayor of New York.

But what makes Schiller particularly qualified to lobby for baseball’s return to the Olympics is something else: people have long turned to him in times of need.

Even as the youngest member of his squadron, Schiller flew with pilots who had crashed on their next flight. He identified the boxers who died in a plane crash in Warsaw for USA Boxing while he was the chairman of the Air Force Academy’s chemistry department.

He helped George Steinbrenner start a lucrative television network for the Yankees, worked with Bo Schembechler to build a football practice field at Michigan and helped reshape the United States Olympic Committee in the early 1990s.

Schiller has plunged into his latest project with the same vigor with which he attacks his strenuous daily workouts. Although the executive committee for the International Olympic Committee does not meet until June and voting will not be conducted until October, Schiller has traveled the world, making baseball’s argument, pressing flesh, issuing updates via Facebook.

“Somehow, through my whole life, I have always been the person that people have sought out when there’s some kind of tragedy,” he said. “No one hires me when things are great.”

Brooklyn Roots

Those who know Schiller best have followed his winding career path — as the commissioner of the Southeastern Conference, as the U.S.O.C.’s executive director. They know that his bosses included Ted Turner and Steinbrenner and that he headed an asset management company for athletes and entertainers.

They describe Schiller as a human bookshelf, a devourer of novels and almanacs, the quintessential “Jeopardy!” contestant. They marvel at his penchant for innovation, his random telephone calls with enterprise ideas, the way Schiller, who turns 70 in April, had a Facebook page before his daughter did.

His family described a driven father whose military hardness and intimidating nature have melted around his grandchildren.

“Everyone was afraid of my father,” said Erica Schiller, his daughter. “And when I say afraid, I mean absolutely petrified by him. When you get to know him, he has a very soft side. He’s eccentric and he’s intimidating, and he teeters and totters between those two.”

Friends find in Schiller a fierce competitive streak, an executive who organized touch football games at the academy and who was unafraid to give college students a forearm shiver.

They find a seeker of adrenaline, an athlete who has completed several legs of the Tour de France, who not only befriended Olympic athletes but also attempted almost every Olympic sport, including ski jumping, luge, biathlon and team handball.

“He is magnetic in the sense that you really wanted to find out what made him tick, so you hung on, because you wanted to solve the riddle,” said Mike Moran, who worked with Schiller at the U.S.O.C.

Schiller was shaped in large part by his surroundings.

Brooklyn produced the drive. He grew up there, the son of a father who drove a truck for a meatpacking company and a mother who worked in sales. He took any job that paid, starting at age 15 by selling scorecards at Ebbets Field. Later, he ripped newspapers in a fish market, delivered suits and waited on tables.

The Citadel provided discipline, a regimented approach to life. Years later, while interviewing with the SEC, Schiller told the university presidents that he had come from an institution that did not lie, steal, cheat or tolerate anyone who did. He said they represented institutions teeming with all four vices.

He landed the position.

Vietnam gave Schiller his first test in crisis management and taught him to cope with stress. He volunteered for service in 1966 and eventually piloted C-123 planes on about 1,200 missions out of Saigon.

At the Air Force Academy, Schiller and his colleague Dr. Hans Mueh, who is now the athletic director there, would sit in Schiller’s office and kick around ideas for the future. Schiller told Mueh he would make a million dollars by age 40. He made much more than that.

The U.S.O.C.’s move to Colorado Springs led to Schiller’s involvement with the organization, which led him to volunteer for USA Boxing, which ultimately led to much more.

Schiller turned down an offer to run the U.S.O.C. once but finally accepted the position in 1990. With the help of Steinbrenner, who headed an overview committee, Schiller restructured the U.S.O.C. while dealing with issues like the Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding figure skating fracas.

Moran said Schiller’s five years as executive director was the most effective period of leadership in U.S.O.C. history, pointing to increased drug testing and athlete support.

This pattern continued throughout Schiller’s crisscrossed career path. At YankeeNets, for example, his arrival in 2000 coincided with a period when the Yankees, the Devils and the Nets ranked among the elite teams in their sports.

Finn Wentworth, a fellow board member at YankeeNets said, “He’s the Warren Buffet of sports timing.”

Craving a Challenge

Why baseball? Why now? “Because he’s fearless,” said Jay Kriegel, another friend who worked with Schiller on New York City’s failed 2012 Olympic bid. “He’s fearless and he’s endlessly optimistic. He’s brimming with energy, with excitement, with possibility.”

Especially with returning baseball to the Olympics.

Issues include scheduling (the best players are in the middle of their season during the Olympics), drug testing and news media coverage. Schiller must also navigate lingering anti-American sentiment abroad.

“Other than that, I think it’s easy,” he said. “I don’t know if I can do it.”

Moran, for one, dismissed those who believe the man who has solved everything has now taken on the problem he cannot fix. If he closes his eyes, Moran said, he can envision Schiller throwing out the first pitch in 2016 in Chicago, Rio de Janeiro, Tokyo or Madrid.

“This is as tough as anything he’s every tackled,” Moran said. “But that’s why there’s a chance they’ll get back in. And if baseball doesn’t make it, somebody else will ask him to do something else. Guaranteed.”

Fake Umps Phenomenon Hits Nationals Park to Great Delight of Fans

WASHINGTON -- If you've tuned into a Blue Jays game at the Rogers Centre this year, chances are you've seen Tim Williams and Joe Farrell. If those two names aren't ringing a bell -- and there's really no reason they should -- how about a description.

Williams and Farrell, both Jays season-ticket holders, often take their seats in the first row behind home plate dressed from head to toe as umpires. Their impersonation of the men in blue doesn't end there. For the entire game, Williams and Farrell mimic the calls of the umpires, raising their arms and bellowing out strike calls, sticking up their fingers to let fans behind them know the count and brushing one hand over the other emphatically to signal foul tips.

"There are 7 billion people on the planet. Do you know how many of them travel to another city to fake umpire a game? You're looking at 'em," Williams tells FanHouse Friday night at Nationals Park.

For the first time this weekend Williams and Farrell, who have a bit of a cult following in Toronto, took their show onto American soil, traveling to Washington for a three-game series between their hometown Blue Jays and the Nationals.

If the fans at Nationals Park -- even the stuffy ones sitting in the $325-a-game President's Club seats -- are any indication, that cult following could grow quickly. 

During Friday night's game, a 2-1 Nationals win in extra innings, Washington team president 
Stan Kasten approaches Williams and Farrell to shake their hands and compliment their work. Scores of fans rush up during every half-inning to get their picture taken with the faux men in blue, while others take delight in either cheering or heckling their calls.

"We were out in the tent (a beer garden just across the street from the ballpark) having beers before the game, and we took 38 pictures with people," the pair explains. "They thought we were the real guys going to get juiced up before the game. We were like 'No, no, we're not gonna be on the field tonight, we're just fans.'"

Their appeal is undeniable.

"We love baseball, we love umpires, we love the Blue Jays and we like having fun. That's it." Williams says.

But the act doesn't pass muster solely because of their enthusiasm for their fake job. Williams and Farrell have authentic umpire uniforms. They have the short-brimmed hats, the official major league umpire shirts with numbers stitched on the sleeves, gray slacks, masks (which they only don when the Jays are pitching), clickers to track the count, brushes, pictured right, to clear dirt off of home plate and ball bags saddled to their right hips. Every time the actual umpire behind home plate throws a new ball to the pitcher, they dig into their bags, pull out a baseball and follow suit.

"We're the real deal," they say, explaining that there are 14 different ways for a pitcher to balk in the rulebook. (There are 16 different ways, 
according to Wikipedia.) I ask them to reel off all the ways and, fittingly, they balk at the task. Even more fittingly, Nationals relief pitcher Jesus Colome actually commits a balk moments later, moving Toronto shortstop Marco Scutaro up from second to third base. 

Williams and Farrell, both traders at the 
Toronto Stock Exchange, got their equipment after a chance meeting with a few umpires (they neglect to name which ones) at a local steakhouse.

"You can't buy these anywhere," they boast. (Who knows? Perhaps their following will grow, compelling Major League Baseball to sell umpiring gear online?)

Funny enough, the enthusiasm, authenticity and commitment to their act seems to actually be paying dividends. The umpiring crew always notices them.

"Oh yeah, yeah, [the real umpires] laugh." Farrell says. "Did you see 
C.B. Bucknorover at second base? Can't even control himself! He went into a caniption when he saw us."

They were planning to visit with Blue Jays players in the clubhouse Saturday in Washington. And next month, when the Jays head to New York for a series with the Yankees July 3-5, Williams and Farrell will be in their customary seats in the first row behind home plate at new Yankee Stadium. Ordinarily those seats, located in the Legends section, would cost more than $1,000, but they were such a hit on a YES Network broadcast last month that the Yankees arranged to have them fake ump the July series.

The game in question, 
a May 13 broadcast, got them into the network's The Weekly Dish segment, a roundup of the top five sports clips hosted by Teddy Spicer. (They finished second behind musician John Tesh, but seemed plenty content to "beat the Brazilian guy calling a goal for 10 minutes.")And they also amused and befuddled YES color man, and ex-major leaguer, Ken Singleton.

"[Singleton] couldn't even put a sentence together," Farrell says. "When we rung up Alex Rodriguez in [the fourth] inning, he goes 'multiple umpires ring up A-Rod," and Ken Singleton's a pretty serious stiff, eh."

"He's a very strait-laced guy and he couldn't even put a sentence together," Williams confirms happily.

"While that game was going on, I had a best friend in a bar in New York, and he's watching the Yankees," Farrell continues. "Even before he told them he knew us, there were 500 people in the bar who loved us. They were going ballistic. And he goes, 'I can get 'em to wave,' and [someone in the bar] goes 'What's that guy's name?' Our friend says 'Farrell,' and he had 500 people in the bar going 'Farrell! Farrell!'"

The Williams and Farrell world tour is only beginning. In addition to the New York and D.C. trips, they are planning to be in Oakland for a series that will span the end of July and the beginning of August. And there's plenty more to come.

"We're just going to sporadically pop up," promises Farrell.

"Randomly, randomly," Williams says. "Dude, you'll be watching a Cincinnati Reds game one night and you'll go 'those guys!'"

Even if their antics don't leave you rolling on the ground, you have to give Williams and Farrell this. Their motioning and gesticulating is orders of magnitude more interesting than someone waving and talking into their mobile phone.

Black and Blue

By Doug Glanville


When I first started playing professional baseball, I was told by my head coach in single-A, Bill Hayes, that I was being too formal in how I addressed the officials of the game. I called him (and others) “Coach,” and on the field I referred to all umpires as “Blue.”

No one seemed to like those names, so eventually I accepted that I would have to use their first names. I treaded lightly because I knew my southern-raised mom would cringe at the idea. But with my 1992 season in Winston-Salem, I began my journey in dropping “Mr.” and “Mrs.” from my conversation — ironically, in my mom’s home state of North Carolina.

The formality came from a place of respect. Umpires were the judges on the field, their job was to uphold the law. Sure, it was more like “uphold the rules,” but during a game, in the midst of the exploding sliders, 34-inch bats and high-octane fastballs, it was law to me. Every pitch was in the hands of these arbiters, so I hardly saw it as any different from addressing a police officer, or an elder in church.

Unfortunately, I learned very quickly that umpires and cafeteria food share a common problem. No matter how good they are, we will always find something to complain about.

It must be tough to be measured constantly against perfection. If you get every call right, you are just part of the landscape, but if you miss a call, you have littered on the grounds of that beautiful sierra with the sunset. There is no in-between. It is either/or in its rawest form. You are doing what you are supposed to be doing, or you are flat-out wrong and ruining everyone’s dream.

My one attempt at umpiring happened when I was in high school. I somehow got roped into officiating a game and, thankfully, I had the bases, not balls and strikes. Still, I had no idea where to stand. My instincts kept telling me that I should be in a good place to catch the ball, not where I would be invisible. I worried about blocking the second baseman’s view, and getting hit by a line drive the pitcher had stabbed at, never mind making the right call on a close play.

At one point, a ground ball was hit to short, culminating in a “bang-bang,” whisker-close play at first, where the runner’s foot hit the base just as the first baseman caught the ball. I was still a solid 90 feet away, acting more like a spectator than anything else. I called the runner out only to learn between innings from the first base coach that the first baseman didn’t have his foot on the bag. There was no way I could tell because I didn’t know how to get into the right position to make the call. Then again, it takes a lot of training to move around like a ninja, always be in position and then go back to stealth.

By the time I became a major league player, I knew (at least by name) a few umpires from my minor league days. Andy Fletcher, C.B. Bucknor and Bruce Dreckman had matured and learned their craft right alongside us in the farm levels. Long travel, bad motels, getting yelled at by upset booster club members. They paid their dues.

Despite my warm conversations with a few umpires in the Carolina League, I knew hardly any of the umpires who oversaw major league games once I made it up. My first week in the big leagues, I was greeted by the famously edgy Joe West. I got to second base and Joe came up to me and asked, “Who the heck are you?” I told him, “I don’t know, but I guess we will find out.” No one knew the rule book better than Joe, so even when he was checking you with that poker face, you understood that he just loved messing with you.

But umpires don’t have a lot of latitude to be warm and fuzzy, anyway. They have to maintain objectivity; they can’t really shake your hand on the field or make any connection that appears partial. So, for years, you learn their names, you chit-chat a little on your way to center field, or maybe you see them in the hotel lobby, but it is hard to get close. I was able to brush past that line in the sand for a moment with Jim Wolf, whose brother Randy was my teammate in Philadelphia. I sat with Jim once in the hotel in San Juan, P.R., briefly, on a day off. It was the longest conversation I would ever have with an umpire. And I almost felt like I was cheating.

I imagine that makes for a lonely road at times. They’re part of a game they love, but they can’t share that sentiment with the players. Someone like Jerry Crawford, who has seen generations of great players, must find himself impressed by what Albert Pujols just did, or by the way Tom Glavine hit yet another outside corner — but he certainly can’t cheer.

And while they might seem like a mystery, it’s not reciprocal: they know you. One day during spring training with the Rangers in Arizona in 2003, I went to a Phoenix Suns game. I was sitting courtside when a ball bounced into my lap. The referee came over, got the ball from me and then paused for 10 seconds to say hello and tell me how much he enjoyed watching me play. It turned out he was Jerry Crawford’s brother, Joe. How did he even recognize me? But Jerry apparently shared with his brother stories he couldn’t share with others — stories that showed a connection he may have made with a player or two.

I can claim that I never got ejected from a major league game in my career. The most I ever argued a call was on a close play at first base during a game in Florida against the Marlins, when I was with the Phillies. Brian Gorman was umpiring, and I was frustrated — with my playing time, with the team’s poor record and with my batting average. So “bang-bang” plays needed to go my way. Gorman called me out, I argued, and to this day I feel bad about it, especially after I looked at the replay later on and realized he was right. Sorry, Brian.

Umpires are measured against a standard only a machine could approach for accuracy. Super slo-mo replays might show what happened on a given play, but in real time, it is a roadrunner blur. I wish I’d had the luxury of slowing a few pitchers’ fastballs to super slo-mo; I would have waltzed into the Hall of Fame.

Sometimes you hear talk about how umpires are getting more confrontational, but I am amazed at how calm they stay over the course of a season. For the most part, they keep on an even keel, even when coaches are in their face and players are yapping at them and fans are booing them out of the stadium. I’m surprised they don’t snap more often, because they take a beating all year long. The Braves manager Bobby Cox ranks first in ejections year in and year out, as he tries to win a battle of attrition with the home plate umpire every single night. Hearing him all game long would drive anyone to the brink.

There was an incident recently when Paul Schrieber ushered the Tigers’ Magglio Ordonez along by nudging him in the back towards the dugout after a called third strike. Since there is sort of a “no-contact” rule, Detroit manager Jim Leyland came out heated and in Paul’s face.

I knew Paul over many years and he was always pleasant, always cool. He just wanted Magglio to get off the field. (Balls and strikes get debated even though the rule book says you can’t. Players and coaches do it mostly to try to get an edge for that next borderline call.) Schreiber conceded his mistake and apologized for putting his hand on Ordonez; Leyland and Ordonez conceded that Schrieber meant no malice; and everyone moved on.

Once, I took the time before a game in Philadelphia to tell the home plate umpire from the night before, Greg Gibson, that he had called the best game I’d ever seen. He didn’t miss a pitch; no one argued anything the entire night. It was like he bowled a 300 and no one had a clue, it wasn’t on “SportsCenter,” it just fell into that bucket of how it is supposed to be every night. The exchange clearly was important to Greg — he thanked me, with a surprised look on his face. I just thought, everyone always voices their displeasure, what’s wrong with voicing a compliment?

So next time you go to game, take a few innings and watch the men in black move on the field. On a fly ball deep into the outfield, you will see the choreography of base umpires moving into position. It is like some sort of judges ballet. One is sprinting towards the play to see whether the catch was good, one is moving towards third base to anticipate the runner tagging up; masks are off, and the catcher’s is being moved out of the way by the home plate umpire. I certainly wouldn’t want to run in their special protective shoes. Do they get a Nike contract?

These guys are the best in the world, hands down, and like us all, they make mistakes — which, unfortunately, is the only time they ever get noticed. But I saw them every single day and there is no other group of professionals in the world I would want to uphold the rules. Even if, once in a while, it tastes like cafeteria food going down.

IBAF in the WBC…

In November 2008 at the Major League Baseball Umpire Clinic in Compton , Calif. , nine International Baseball Federation (IBAF) umpires were selected to work the 2009 World Baseball Classic (WBC) by Dick Runchey, Director of Umpires.

It was here that Carlos Rey (Puerto Rico), Willie Rodriguez (Puerto Rico), Corrie Davis (Canada), Stephane Dupont (Canada), Paul Hyham (Australia), Luis Ramirez (Mexico), Daniel Toledo (Mexico), Jorge Perez (Cuba), and Edgar Estivison (Panama) began their journey. Working under the direction of MLB Umpires Supervisor, Rich Rieker, at a one week umpire camp, the team became familiar with the MLB four-man system, was evaluated by MLB Umpire Supervisors and prepared for the 2009 WBC from March 5March 23 in seven different venues around the World.

MLB Holds Camp For Marines

SAN DIEGO -- Former Padres great and San Diego State manager Tony Gwynn held an impromptu chat on Monday morning with a group of prospective umpires on a field adjacent to the campus stadium that bears his name. "Take charge," said the Hall of Famer and .336 lifetime hitter in his 19 seasons with San Diego, a career that ended in 2001. "Control the game. Take charge of the game. It's your game. We'll follow."

It was no ordinary group of umpires listening to Major League ump Hunter Wendelstedt describe how to judge the strike zone. The event was the first of its kind -- a free, one-day umpiring camp conducted by Major League Baseball's Umpiring Dept. in an effort to train members of the U.S. Marines in the fine art of calling a game.  

The camp was coordinated by MLB's Department of Baseball Operations with the idea of giving members of the military -- who already have the discipline and the focus -- to take advantage of the rare opportunity to transfer those skills to umpiring.

The next step for those interested is an invitation to the annual one-week school of umpiring, staged at baseball's Urban Youth Academy in Compton, Calif. This year, it will be held from Nov. 8-15.

As They See 'Em on the way to the Best Seller list!

Reviewed in the New York Times by Jim Bouton, a former pitcher for the Yankees and the author of Ball Four, is the commissioner of the Vintage Base Ball Federation.

Men in Blue: NY Times Book Review

No father ever lit up a cigar, pointed to his new baby and said, That kid is going to be a major-league umpire.

This is how Jim Evans, a former major-league umpire, greets students at his Academy of Professional Umpiring. Its one of two schools approved by Major League Baseball, a necessary step on the road to Americas most thankless occupation.

For future aspirants, the first step should be reading Bruce Webers As They See Em, a wonderfully detailed look at the craft of umpiring. The author, a reporter at The New York Times, spent a good part of three years in the Land of Umpires, hanging out with them, attending Evanss school and ultimately working behind the plate in a major-league spring training intrasquad game.

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