6. Discuss how ejections will be handled
Cover ejections in your pre-game. Fortunately, ejections occur very rarely. However, when they do occur, they can get ugly fast unless the umpires have an idea of how they will be handled. First, whenever a coach comes out to discuss a play and the conversation starts to drag or get heated, the other umpire should walk within hearing range. Listen to what’s being said and don’t participate unless asked by the umpire involved in the discussion or if the conversation obviously is dragging on.
Secondly, it must be understood by all umpires on the crew that the discussion is over once the umpire walks away or the coach is ejected. When that happens, the other umpires should try to get the coach away, either to the bench or out of the ballpark in the event of an ejection. Be careful not to put your hands on a coach or player. Sometimes by walking toward the dugout, you can get the coach to follow you while pleading a case.
It’s very important that the ejecting umpire stay out of that process; participating at that point will only intensify the problem. Finally, it must be understood by all crewmembers that when a coach is ejected, the coach must leave the playing field before the game is resumed. Be sure to follow whatever procedures are in place for whatever level of ball you are working.
7. Know how to handle darkness, rain and lightning
This part of the game probably gets umpires into more trouble than any other area. Why? It’s because umpires are in a “can’t win” situation. However, there are some things umpires can do to lessen the pain. First, when dealing with darkness, know what time sunset is. You can get that information from your daily paper or the Internet. That, obviously, is no problem when the sky is clear. But on cloudy days, you have a lot more credibility with a coach when you say you are calling the game because sunset occurred 10 minutes ago. Don’t fib, because the first thing a coach will do after getting home is to check it.
Secondly, get your partners together with both coaches before you start a new inning and tell them play will continue as long as you think it’s safe. A good guideline is to watch for any player hesitating in seeing the ball. Don’t make the mistake of telling everyone you’ll play one more inning. There have been times when the light conditions are brighter at the end of an inning than at the beginning.
Lastly, remember that few games have ever been decided by playing an extra inning. The reason should be fairly obvious. Neither team will allow it to happen. Each team will gladly take a tie rather than a loss. So what happens? Say on the first pitch of the extra inning, the batter hits a home run. The visitors know that if the home team can’t finish the inning, the score will revert (high school rule except in Minnesota all games are suspended now). So the visitors start to swing wildly at pitches to speed up the game. This puts you right in the middle of possible acts that may cause a forfeit. In the same scenario, the home team now comes to bat. Guess what will happen? Down by a run, they are going to make sure they cannot complete the inning so the score will revert. So, the home team slows down the game as much as possible and you are stuck with another possible forfeit situation.
In another scenario, the visitors are out on about five pitches. Do you think for one moment the visiting team is going to deliver a hittable pitch to the home team? Not at all. The visitors will throw about four wide ones, the catcher will go out to talk to the pitcher, then the pitching coach will come out, then make a pitching change, etc. A change in the outcome of the game is so remote it’s just not worth the aggravation for the umpire. You might also seriously consider the legal consequences of trying to be a nice guy. Who do you think a player’s parents and attorneys are going to go after if someone is hit in the face with a line drive or an errant pitch?
Rain can be a little trickier. If the rain is only a drizzle, ask your partners to watch the footing of the pitcher and the infielders. In threatening conditions, you should ask the home coach if drying materials and tarps for the mound and home plate are available. If tarps are available, stop play earlier. If you wait too long, the tarps will create a greenhouse effect and cause the playing surface to hold more water.
Lightning is the worst weather condition for umpires to handle. That is probably due to the frightening fact that more often than not, the first bolt you see is the one that can cause life-threatening injuries to people in the immediate area. Err on the side of safety and stop a game whenever you feel there’s even the slightest possibility of danger to the participants or spectators. There are now guidelines for NCAA and National Federation that you must follow. Make sure you know them and follow those guidelines.
8. Handle forfeits correctly
The most important aspect to remember about forfeits is that they are very serious. Obviously, if a coach or player strikes an umpire, you can forfeit the game immediately. However, in most other situations, you need to do a couple of things. First, whenever possible, be sure your partners are aware of what is happening. Secondly, be absolutely sure a coach knows that his continued conduct or the continuing conduct of his team is grounds for a forfeit. Make sure your partners are in on that conversation. If possible, you and your partners should explain the circumstance to the other coach. Then, if you do have to forfeit the game, try to do more than the rules provide. For example, if the rule says a player must be removed within one minute, make sure you give him a little more than a minute and certainly not less than one minute. The reason for that is simple. If you do forfeit the game, that coach is going to have to defend his actions to someone. And when he does explain his actions, you are going to be the scapegoat. The most popular excuse a coach may use is, “I didn’t realize the game may be forfeited,” or, “Nobody told me.” Also, be sure to record all pertinent information that should be included in your report.
9. Writing incident reports
Remember that your league may consider your incident report a legal document. Therefore, you must be extremely careful in getting the information correct. Whatever the situation, whether it’s an ejection, a forfeit or other matter, stick to the facts and keep it brief. A long rambling report doesn’t do anyone any good, especially the person reading it. If profanity was used, state the exact words used. Saying a coach swore at you doesn’t carry a lot of weight. If you use the exact words, he might have a tough time explaining to someone why he used that type of language, especially in a youth league game. You should also contact your assignor or whomever else you are required to notify as soon as possible. If it is a serious incident, your partners should also send in a report. The only time you should use rule references is if the report involves a protested or forfeited game, then you’ll want to cite the rules used to make your decision. Otherwise, league presidents don’t really need to know the rule reference. However, if your league requires rule reference for all incidents, by all means supply the information.
10. Have a realistic strike zone
We all know coaches and players just want umpires to be consistent when calling balls and strikes, but umpires must be realistic in applying that principle. The lower the level of baseball, the bigger the strike zone. In high school or college baseball, umpires should be more generous on the knee pitch and on the corners than on pitches, which are considered up in the zone. Regardless of the level, don’t go to extremes. That applies to all levels of baseball. Don’t be a voice in the wilderness. Your strike zone should be fairly consistent with the other umpires calling the same level of baseball.
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