Whose Call Is It Anyway?

Seven Plays That Cause Two-Umpire System Confusion

By Rick Woelfel

All umpires should have a thorough knowledge of mechanics.  Those of us who have been working for a while have learned where to be and when to be there.  But the nature of the game encourages some variations, particularly in the 2-umpire system.While some umpire crews might prefer deviating from the manual, it is rarely a good idea to use a different system of mechanics at the level your crew is working than what is listed in that level’s mechanics manual.Most variations seem to come from when one crew of umpires has worked together for a long time – partners who have worked many games (or possibly all of their games) together may think their way is better.  But then when it comes to the playoffs or when a substitute partner is on a game, it can be a recipe for confusion.  Following are the most common plays in which umpires seem to think they have a better way.  While an argument is made for either option, Referee recommends following the manual in all situations.Regardless of your beliefs, these plays are ones you definitely need to review in your pregame discussions.

Play 1:  R1 breaks for 2nd on a steal attempt.  The ball is bunted in fair territory and B1 is retired at 1st.  R1 continues around 2nd base and heads for 3rd.  Who has the call at 3rd base?à        

The Base Umpire Makes the Call - Right

The NFHS manual, which was revised for 2009-10, gives the base umpire the responsibility for the play at 3rd base in that situation.  That’s a change from the previous philosophy and brings NFHS mechanics in line with those of the CCA and professional baseball.                          

On a bunt situation, the plate umpire must be concerned with a throw down the 1st-baseline and the possibility of interference in the running lane.  He has to be prepared to help out with a swipe tag at 1st base or, in rare circumstances, make a call at the plate if there is an overthrow at 3rd.            

The base umpire should have time to make the call at 1st and then move to the working area behind the mound to make a call on  the play at 3rd.  It’s not an ideal situation but the 2-umpires system is full of compromises.à        

The Plate Umpire Makes the Call - Wrong

Crews that prefer the plate umpire making the call argue that he is already accustomed to moving up the 3rd-baseline on a base hit and even after watching for interference in the lane or a swipe tag, he’s still going to be able to be able to get a better look at the play at 3rd than the base umpire can.  Additionally, they say that it is not possible for the base umpire to get into a good position for both plays.  At higher levels, umpires tend to be in better shape and are taught to get from one place to another quicker. Even though the plate umpire might be able to get a better angle initially, he is taking himself out of position for any play at the plate.  The situation is definitely tough for the base umpire, especially if both plays are close.  However, the plate umpire must help with the interference, pulled foot or swipe tag possibilities and cannot go to 3rd base when the ball stays in the infield.

Play 2:  With R2 at 2nd base, B1 hits a routine grounder in the infield.  As the throw leaves the infielder’s hand to retire B1 at 1st, R2 breaks for 3rd.  Who makes the call?à        

The Base Umpire Makes the Call - Right

Both the NFHS and CCA manuals have that call belonging to the base umpire.  He’s already starting in the C position on that play and will still be in the working area when he makes his call at 1st.  With the runner on 2nd, he won’t be able to get as close to the play at 1st as usual, but trading off three or four steps of distance is worth it to be able to get a good angle on the tag play at 3rd. 

The plate umpire is free to handle the play at the plate, which may develop if there is an overthrow at 3rd. à        

The Plate Umpire Makes the Call - Wrong       

The argument for that mechanic is that the plate umpire has the entire play in front of him.  R2 is likely to break for 3rd before the play at 1st is complete so the plate umpire will likely see the runner break and will be able to move up the line and get a good look at what is likely to be a banger at 3rd.                                                                                                                                                                                               

The problem with that mechanic is that it leaves the plate area uncovered and the base umpire should never rotate home in the 2-umpire system except in the rare case when he has gone out to the outfield and returned.

Play 3:  R2 is at 2nd with fewer than 2 outs.  A fly ball is hit to the outfield and the runner tags.  Who is responsible for the tag-up at 2nd base and the possible play at 3rd?à        

The Base Umpire Makes the Call – Right       

Both mechanics manuals say the base umpire should be able to take that play.  After all, there is only one runner remaining on the play.  From the C position, he’s in the ideal spot to line up the outfielder, the ball and the runner, while still having plenty of time to move toward 3rd to get an angle on the tag play.                                                                                                                                                             

The plate umpire remains in position for any potential play at the plate, while still being able to help rule on overthrows at 3rd. à        

The Plate Umpire Makes the Call – Wrong               

Even if the base umpire must watch a trouble ball in the V, he should still be able to get to the working area to make the call at 3rdThe base umpire might not get the best look, but if the plate umpire were to head toward 3rd, that would leave the plate area uncovered.                               

The plate umpire can only help with the catch/no catch if the ball is down one of the baselines.

Play 4:  Bases empty.  B1 hits a ball in the gap and tires for a triple.  Who takes the play at 3rd?à        

The Base Umpire Makes the Call – Right       

In the traditional 2-umpire system, the base umpire takes the batter-runner all the way around.  That play is no different from any other.  With no other runners to worry about, he can cut across the middle of the infield and watch the touches at 1st and 2nd while still getting a good angle at 3rd.à        

The Plate Umpire Makes the Call – Wrong       

The argument can be made that by moving up the 3rd-baseline, the plate umpire can get to 3rd well ahead of a potential play.  He can watch for overthrows just beyond 3rd and be in position to take the lead end of a rundown if the runner is trapped between 2nd and 3rd.                           

But once again, leaving the plate uncovered is not an acceptable practice with only one runner in play.  The plate umpire must be at home to be ready for any potential play there.Even if the plate umpire should have had to take the initial call on the ball, such as a line shot down the left field line or a trouble ball in left field that requires a catch/no catch decision, he must retreat home in order to be in position for the next play.

Play 5:  Runners at 2nd and 3rd.  Where should the base umpire stand?à     

 In the C Position – Right                       

The NFHS and CCA manuals put the base umpire on the 3rd-base side of 2nd.  From there he is in ideal position for a pickoff play at 2nd and can get a good look if the pitcher or catcher initiates a pickoff play at 3rd.In the event of a batted ball in the infield, he’s on the same side of the diamond as the 2 runners if there is a bobbled ball, or a  runner gets hung up between bases.  In the event of a routine play at 1st base, he’ll have time to get in position to get a good look.à     

In the B Position – Wrong             

Working on the 1st-base side does have advantages, such as being out of the way of a throw from the mound on a comebacker, pickoff try or infield ground ball.                                                                                    

Even though pickoff attempts at 3rd are rare and attempts at 2nd are uncommon in those situations (especially at higher levels), the   base umpire must still be on the left side of the field.                                                       

But the base umpire cannot sacrifice the potential of a pickoff play just because he would prefer to be in the B position.     

Play 6:  Runners at 1st and 3rd.  Where should the base umpire stand?à     

In the B Position – Right       

The manuals say the umpire belongs on the B side, for several reasons.  From the 1st-base side of the mound, the base umpire can cover the pickoff plays at 1st and be in the ideal spot to handle steals at 2nd.  At higher levels, it’s rare for there to be a pickoff try at 3rd base and he’ll have time to get in position if the catcher makes a snap throw.                                                                                                  

Also, if a double play is turned, the closer play is likely to be at 1st base and by starting on the B side, the base umpire will be able to be closer and get a better angle on that play.à        

In the C Position – Wrong       

At one point, the manuals did put the umpire in the C position, because he could get a better look at the runner leaving 1st on a steal attempt.  Either side works for getting the steal play correct, but there are more pickoff throws to 1st than to 3rd, so it is important to be in position for those plays, which means being in B.

Play 7:  Runner at 1st.  Pitcher is left-handed.  Who has the responsibility for making the call on the pitcher’s step to 1st?à        

The Plate Umpire Makes the Call – Right       

The plate umpire has the best look at what the pitcher does with his free foot.  He can draw an imaginary line at a 45-degree angle to help him determine whether the pitcher has legally stepped toward 1st on a pickoff attempt.  He also has an advantage over his partner because his view isn’t blocked by the mound itself, or the pitcher’s body.à        

The Base Umpire Makes the Call – Wrong                       

Base umpires often move closer to the mound, in an attempt to see this balk.  However, he just cannot see the angle correctly from behind the pitcher.


While most of the verdicts stated agree with what the manuals say, different associations and longtime veterans might have their own way of doing things.                                                                                                           

Keep in mind that at lower levels, coaches are more apt to attempt double steals or bizarre pickoff plays that don’t occur as often at higher levels.  That requires crews to be more alert to those types of plays and have a plan in place for how they’re going to cover them.               

All that underscores the importance of a thorough pregame conference.  Regardless of how many games you’ve worked, or been paired with a particular partner, every moment you can spend before game time discussing coverage and play situations is a moment well spent.                    

It looks really bad for a play to occur and either have 2 umpires making conflicting calls on a play at a base, or worse, have no umpires in position to make the call.  The perception of being in position and knowing where you are going on the field will solve a lot of the problems happening during the plays covered.                                                                                                                                                                                   

So even if you only have 5 or 10 minutes to talk with your partner, it will save you a lot of aggravation, and likely sooner rather than later.

All of the following statements are FALSE.


 1. The hands are considered part of the bat.

No baby was ever born with a bat in his hands.  Therefore, as an umpire you must judge if the ball hit the bat or the batter first.

2. The batter-runner must turn to his right after over-running first base.           

The batter-runner must make an attempt to advance toward 2nd base in order for him to be liable to be tagged out.

3. If the batter breaks his wrists when swinging, it's a strike.           

This could be one of the criterion in which you judge if he swung or not.  The best statement you can make when asked about a check swing is that he attempted or did not attempt to swing at the pitch.  Other criterion might be that the barrel of the bat goes past the middle of the batter’s body or not.  One other criterion might be that the bat crossed the middle of the plate.

4. If a batted ball hits the plate first it's a foul ball.           

To rule it foul it must have come to rest in foul territory or be touched in foul territory.

5. The batter cannot be called out for interference if he is in the batter's box.           

The batter’s actions are what causes interference and not necessarily where he is.  In the batter’s box, if he does nothing out of the ordinary, it is more difficult to commit batter interference but it is possible.

6. The ball is dead on a foul-tip.           

The ball is always live on a foul tip.  Therefore runners may be put out or advance at their own risk on a foul tip.

7. The batter may not switch batter's boxes after two strikes.           

The batter may switch batter’s boxes at any time while the ball is dead.

8. The batter who batted out of order is the person declared out.           

The batter that is supposed to bat is the one that is declared out.

9. The batter may not overrun first base when he gets a base-on-balls.           

This is true in National Federation Rules but it is not true in NCAA or professional rules. 

10. The batter is out if he starts for the dugout before going to first after a dropped third strike.           

The batter is out if he leaves the dirt circle around the plate area after a dropped 3rd strike unless he is making an attempt to reach 1st base.

11. If the batter does not pull the bat out of the strike zone while in the bunting position, it's an automatic strike.           

The batter must actually make an attempt to bunt the pitch in your judgment for it to be ruled a strike.  Just leaving it in the strike zone is not enough to consider it an attempt.

12. The batter is out if a bunted ball hits the ground and bounces back up and hits the bat while the batter is holding the    bat.           

If the batter is in the batter’s box when this occurs, it is simply a foul ball.  If he is out of the batter’s box at this time, he is ruled out for interference.

13. The batter is out if his foot touches the plate.           

This is true if the entire foot is out of the batter’s box when it touches the plate.  Having the foot touch the plate and the batter’s box is not considered out of the batter’s box.

14. The batter-runner is always out if he runs outside the running lane after a bunted ball.           

The batter-runner is only out if he is outside the running lane when he causes the fielder at 1st base to have trouble receiving the throw or he is hit with the throw while he is outside of the running lane.

15. A runner is out if he slaps hands or high-fives other players, after a homerun is hit over the fence.           

In high school and professional baseball this is not true.  In NCAA baseball, the 1st time this occurs, it would become a team warning and the next time it occurs it would be an ejection but it is never an out.

16. Tie goes to the runner.           

 In baseball, there are no ties.  The rule does state that if the ball beats the runner, the runner is out.  If the runner beats the ball, he is safe.  So, if it is a tie, it really goes to the defense and not the offense.

17. The runner gets the base he's going to, plus one on a ball thrown out-of-play.           

The runner gets 2 bases usually from the time of the pitch and other times he would get 2 bases from the time of the throw.  There are no one plus one awards.  There are only 1, 2, 3 & 4 base awards.

18. Anytime a coach touches a runner, the runner is out.           

The coach cannot touch a runner to help him advance or return to a base during a live ball.  However, on a home run out of the park, the coach may touch the runner.

19. Runners may never run the bases in reverse order.           

Runners may not run bases in reverse order to make a travesty of the game.  There are many times when the runner has to run in reverse order if the fly ball is caught or sometimes they run the bases in reverse order because they are confused to what took place.

20. The runner must always slide when the play is close.             

There is never a time a runner must slide but there are times if he does not slide, he will be called out for interference.  He also has the option of giving himself up, trying to avoid the tag by going around it, reversing directions, etc.

21. The runner is always safe when hit by a batted ball while touching a base.           

The base is not a sanctuary.  The only time he would be safe would be if with the infield-fly rule in effect.

22. A runner may not steal on a foul-tip.           

As we found out in #6 above, a foul tip is a live ball and runners may advance at their own risk and are subject to being thrown out or get a stolen base.

23. It is a force out when a runner is called out for not tagging up on a fly ball.           

Since the definition of a force is a runner is forced to advance because the batter-runner hit the ball, once the batter-runner becomes out on the fly ball catch, there is no longer a force in effect.  Tagging up on a fly ball is a rule that is not a force out.  It is an appeal play and therefore if any other runner advances ahead of the appeal     play on not tagging up runner, that advance is allowed.  If 2 are out in this situation it becomes a “Time” play.

24. An appeal on a runner who missed a base cannot be a force out.           

Appeal plays are sometimes force outs and other times they are not.  It all depends on which base was missed.  If   it is a base a runner is forced to, it is a force out.  If the force out becomes the 3rd out, then no runs scored will be counted on that play.

25. A runner is out if he runs out of the baseline to avoid a fielder who is fielding a batted ball.           

On the contrary, the runner would be out for interference if he did not avoid the fielder that is trying to field the batted ball.  The runner is out if he runs out of the baseline to avoid a fielder’s attempt to tag him.

26. Runners may not advance when an infield fly is called.           

Runners may advance on an infield fly.  They must legally tag up and try to advance to the next base if they can do it.  Usually, it is impossible to tag up and advance because of the short distances involved.

27. No run can score when a runner is called out for the third out for not tagging up.

No, these are time plays.

28. A pitch that bounces to the plate cannot be hit.           

Any pitched ball may become a batted ball.  That means a batter could hit an out or a base hit or foul it off on a pitch that bounces to the plate.

29. The batter does not get first base if hit by a pitch after it bounces.           

This statement makes no sense.  The pitcher pitched the ball.  If it hits the batter, it is the pitcher’s fault and not anyone else’s.  So, the rule must penalize the correct player.  In this instance, the pitcher receives the penalty.

30. If a fielder holds a fly ball for 2 seconds it's a catch.           

To have a catch, the fielder must show firm and secure possession and voluntary release of the baseball.

31. You must tag the base with your foot on a force out or appeal.           

You may tag the base with any part of the body as long as you have firm and secure possession of the baseball in your hand or glove/mitt.

32. The ball is always immediately dead on a balk.           

You are correct in high school baseball but in NCAA and professional rules, the ball is dead sometimes immediately but when the balk is followed immediately by a pitch, the ball is delayed dead and we wait until the end of the play and then either enforce the balk or allow the play to stand.  If all base runners, including the batter-runner advance one base or more after the balk, the play stands.  The coach or manager does not have an option on this rule.

33. If a player's feet are in fair territory when the ball is touched, it is a fair ball.           

It is the location of the baseball when it is touched or touches the gound that determines it being fair or foul and not the position of the fielder’s feet.

34. The ball must always be returned to the pitcher before an appeal can be made.           

If the ball is live, you may go directly to the missed base or the runner and tag him for missing the base or leaving it too soon on a fly ball that is caught.

35. With no runners on base, it is a ball if the pitcher starts his windup and then stops.           

For a balk to be awarded, there needs to be runners because the penalty is 1 base awarded.

36. The pitcher must come to a set position before a pick-off throw.            T

he pitcher need only come to a complete and discernible stop prior to pitching the ball and not for a pickoff attempt.

37. The pitcher must step off the rubber before a pick-off throw.           

In fact, if he does step off first and the ball is thrown away into dead-ball territory, the award is 2 bases.  From the rubber, it is only a 1 base award.

38. If a fielder catches a fly ball and then falls over the fence it is a homerun.           

If the catch occurs before leaving the field of play it is a catch and not a homerun.

39. The ball is dead anytime an umpire is hit by the ball.           

This is only true on a batted ball that the ball is dead.  On a thrown or pitched ball, it is unfortunate but the ball remains live.

40. The home plate umpire can overrule the other umps at anytime.           

The home plate umpire has no more right to overrule his partner(s) than they have to overrule him.  In certain situations the UIC may have to change a call because of more correct information but no umpire has the right to overrule another. 


By Larry Gallagher

March, 2009 Then and Now Column

Have you ever debated with a friend on who is the best baseball player ever?  I know I have.  Our conclusion is that we have our own idea on who it is and we cannot come to any agreement.  In this month’s column of Then and Now, we are going to explore that idea.

The problem with this great and fun debate is to define what we are debating.  First, most of us are really speaking about the greatest hitter that also plays defense.  I doubt many of us are speaking of a player’s defensive ability that also bats.

So, criteria #1 is hitting.  Now, criteria #2 could be defensive ability or base running ability or even power.  All of these can be defined with the player’s statistics in these areas.  Another criterion would be comparing him to other hitters in his era and how he stacks up against them because they played with almost all the same conditions present.  Some might use the criterion of strikeout per at bat ratio.  Strike outs definitely hurt a player’s productivity.  Many power hitters have a higher strikeout ratio than hitters that do not hit for power.

It seems the definition of the greatest player will be very difficult to agree upon.  On the offensive side, should how he interacts with teammates be part of the equation?  Even the era he performed in and how he played compared to his peers is part of the definition in some people’s opinions.  How about popularity with the media or fans?  How about his off-field behaviors such as, carousing, use of drugs, alcohol and even performance-enhancing drugs (steroids) or gambling on horses or even betting on other sports or his own sport?

I am going to try to analyze a number of offensive qualities to arrive at my definition of the greatest baseball player.

The criteria that I will be using are Home Runs, RBI, Stolen Bases, Batting Average, On Base Average + Slugging Average (OPS).

I will exclude pitchers because some were good hitters too but their main concern and ability was defensive.  I will limit this quest to mostly offensive statistics.

Some of the best players are scattered throughout different eras of the game.  Each of you probably have your favorites, as I do but I am going to look at players mostly because of their statistics and not with any preconceived notions.

There is a new statistic that is quite revealing.  It is called the On Base Average + Slugging Percentage.  It does not mention the formula for arriving at it but from what I can tell it is their OBA + their SLP added together to arrive at their OPS.]

In this category Babe Ruth is tops with a 1.1638 OPS.  The 9 hitters behind him are in order Ted Williams (1.1155), Lou Gehrig (1.0798), Barry Bonds (1.0512), Albert Pujols (1.0489), Jimmie Foxx (1.0376), Hank Greenberg (1.0169), Todd Helton (1.0138), Rogers Hornsby (1.0103) and Manny Ramirez (1.0044).  All players on the list have at least 3,000 at bats.

Three of these players are still playing and may be able to add or subtract from their average.  Barry Bonds may be able to get back into the game but I doubt it. 

Another statistic is just total bases and here we find Hank Aaron with the most RBI at 6,856 and the next in order is Stan Musial (6,134), Willie Mays (6,066), Barry Bonds (6,066), Ty Cobb (5,854), Babe Ruth (5,793), Pete Rose (5,752), Carl Yaztremski (5,539), Eddie Murray (5,397) & Rafael Palmeiro (5,388).

In the home runs category alone we have Barry Bonds with 762, Hank Aaron with 755, Babe Ruth with 714, Willie Mays with 660, Ken Griffey Jr. with 611, Sammy Sosa with 609, Frank Robinson with 586, Mark McGwire with 583, Harmon Killebrew with 573 and Rafael Palmeiro with 569.

So far we haven’t covered the 3,000 hits and 500 home run players.  There are only 4 of them on this list.  Hank Aaron has 755 home runs with 3,771 hits.  Willie Mays is second with 660 home runs and 3,283 hits.  Eddie Murray is third with 504 home runs and 3,255 hits and Rafael Palmeiro is fourth and last with 569 home runs and 3,020 hits.

Barry Bonds and Ken Griffey, Jr. might be able to reach these totals because they may have some time left in their careers to reach it.  Bonds has 762 home runs and 2, 935 base hits.  So he only needs 65 hits to reach 3,000.  So, if anyone gives him a chance he might do it.  Griffey may not have enough of his career left to be able to do it.  He has 611 home runs and 2,680 hits.  He is a long shot to get the 320 hits he needs to do it.  This would mean 2 more years where he averages 160 hits in both of the years.  He is young enough to do it but he has been hurt a lot in the last few years for him to be able to get that many hits in any one season.

That brings us to other players that did not have a full career such as Ted Williams missing 5 years to the armed forces and Willie Mays losing 2 years to the military too.  Babe Ruth spent most of his time from 1914 to 1920 with the Red Sox and pitched and didn’t bat very often in those years. 

One more statistic that is quite revealing is the 300-300 Club.  In the history of the game 114 players have hit 300+ home runs and 145 have stolen at least 300 bases.  But only 6 players have done both.  This rare combination of skills and longevity to join this club is really important to the game and to the fans.  Of the 6 players in the club 5 of them have combined to earn 36 Gold Glove awards as outfielders.

Barry Bonds leads this list with 757 HRs and 514 SBs; Willie Mays is 2nd with 660 HRs and 338 SBs; Andre Dawson is next with

438 HRs and 461 SBs; Reggie Sanders has 305 HRs and 304 SBs; Steve Finley rounds out this group with 304 HRs and 320 SBs.  The last 4 don’t really match in many ways the top 2 guys because they are not very high in the other categories listed previously.  It is also important to note that Barry Bonds is all by himself in the 500-500 club and also by himself in the 400-400 club.  So, he is truly the best in this category and all by himself.

Of these players only Willie Mays is in the 300-300-3000 club.  This means he has 300+ HRs, 300+ SBs and 3000 hits.  No one can match his totals here.

The last comparison is how much did these players compare to the players of their eras.  I am going to take only 3 players and speak about them in the era they performed.  Babe Ruth pitched and played in the dead-ball era and also in the beginning of the live-ball era.  He dominated the game at the time of his playing days.  No one even came close to him in # of hits, home runs, total bases and RBI in his era.  Lou Gehrig was the closest.  He also helped the game by being a great drawing card after the Black Sox Scandal in the 1919 World Series. 

Willie Mays was a dominant player also in his era except many of his contemporaries put up some of the same numbers he did at times.  Mickey Mantle did a lot of the same things Willie did. 

Barry Bonds also has done a lot to bring back the fans after the players strike.  However, many of his contemporaries have also tainted the game of baseball along with Barry himself in the use of Anabolic Steroids.  This will forever prevent him from really being thought of as the greatest player in the history of the game.  Which in my opinion, his statistics prove he was.

However, even though my favorite player other than the catchers when I grew up is Willie Mays, my vote is for Babe Ruth because he far exceeded any of his contemporaries of his era.

With this said, I know some of you will disagree with my conclusions.  I point out the number of lost opportunities that he had when he pitched and did not play every day in his first 5-6 years with the Red Sox.  I point out that he hit 59 home runs before he hit 60 home runs in 2 different years.  I point out all the teams he was on that won World Series.  None of the others that have hit as well or better than the Babe can say they were on that many World Champions.




Baseball in Columbia Heights

     When I was a young boy growing up in Columbia Heights we had it made trying to learn the wonderful game of baseball.

     We were blessed to have a wonderful recreation program that was funded by the community that allowed the Recreation Director hire an outstanding coach, Joe VanCisin as our summer coach.  He was the Assistant Basketball and Baseball Coach at the University of Minnesota during the 5 years he spent in Columbia Heights as our coach.

He supervised the entire program from Cub, Midget and Junior Baseball.  Cubs were 10-12 (like Little League), Midgets were 13-14 and Juniors were 15 and older.  We also had American Legion but that was not sponsored by the Recreation Department.  Cubs played only in the community but the Midgets and Juniors traveled to other communities.

Joe eventually left Minnesota to become the Head Basketball Coach at Yale for a long career and then became the Executive Secretary for the NCAA Basketball Coaches Association for 17 years and concluded his work in 1990 when he turned 70 years old and organized the 1990 NCAA Tournament in Minneapolis at the HHH-Metrodome.

Joe really was thorough in his teaching and coaching techniques and philosophies.  He structured practice so there was always teaching, learning and advancing our skills.  He taught us also to behave as competitors that respected our opponents and gave all of us respectful discipline when necessary.  He was great in helping us dream about our futures and gave us 1 on 1 advice and small group discussions on a variety of topics unrelated to baseball but to life.  We had chalk talks on rainy days, indoor sliding practice on the floor in the field-house (John Murzyn Hall now), instructional 8 & 16 millimeter film on baseball and even after the rain, sliding practice on the wet grass.  He made it fun to be a baseball player.

During the 50’s and 60’s and beyond, Columbia Heights was always competitive with the neighboring communities in baseball.  This is no longer true today.  I learned a lot about how to be a catcher from Joe and thought I could compete in the Big Ten as a player and after my freshman year at the U of M, I found out that I was not good enough to compete at that level.  I missed out on going to 2 Rose Bowls in football and also missed the 1960 NCAA Baseball Championship Team by leaving the U of M.  However, like I said, I was not good enough to play and went to Augsburg College instead and did start in football and baseball my junior and senior year there.  At the time I played, we lost a year of eligibility when we transferred and freshman could not play as freshman.

I met another Columbia Heights young man at the time I was growing up.  He was a freshman when I was a senior in Columbia Heights.  He was a catcher too and we actually played on the same team together after I was out of high school.  He was a better catcher than me and I went to the outfield that summer.  He was really good.  His name is and was Ron Wojciack.  He actually lived in NE Mpls. and went to Edison High School and later to the U of M.  He became one of the best athletes to come out of Columbia Heights and NE Mpls.  His 1964 U of M team became National Champions too.  In fact, Minnesota has 3 National Baseball Champions from 1956, 1960 and 1964.  Ron played very well in that tournament.  He had a 1.7 average in the tournament on his throws to 2nd base on steal attempts.  There has never been anyone better than that in the NCAA tournament before or since then.  The catcher’s in the big-leagues at the time were averaging 2.1 in games.

That summer he signed a bonus contract with the Minnesota Twins and Angelo Guiliani that signed him.  No one in our domain knew exactly what he signed for but most believed it was $25,000.  Ron never told us what was and I never asked him.

This story is mostly about Ron and how he made everyone that was his teammate a better player because of his great work ethic in trying to always improve his game.  This was a time before pitching machines and batting cages.  Ron and I spent many mornings at 7:00 am taking batting practice with about 12 baseballs.  First he would pitch to me and then I would pitch to him.  Not only did we get better as hitters and bunters (we never neglected that part of the game either), we developed our arms for throwing.  He never became a pitcher but I did some pitching after this.  I was never any good but I did pitch a 9 inning shutout once in amateur baseball as an adult.

One year after signing with the Twins and spending ½ the season in Rookie ball in Florida, he was feeling weak and was sent home to have a check-up.  It was found that he had lung cancer without a good chance at recovering from this illness.  He did go through the removal of 2 lobes of his lungs and chemotherapy but it did not succeed.  He and I had surgeries during the 1965 World Series that the Twins and Dodgers played here and in LA.  We did some walking together during our recoveries.  My surgery was not as serious as his. 

On October 1, 1966 Ron finally succumbed to his illness.  It has been 42+ years since his death and I still miss him.  Who knows what kind of player he would have become in professional baseball.  Ron spent the last summer before his death finishing up his degree in Fish and Wildlife Management out in the fields and slews at Itasca State Park.  Baseball was his first love but the outdoors was a close second.

He never complained to me about his fate in life but he did try to live his life with as much joy as he could.  He died on the same day that Barb and I moved into our house that we still own.  We were moving in when we had word from his hunting and fishing buddy Randy Amenrud.

The Columbia Heights Athletic Boosters still honor him each spring with their annual sports banquet for the community’s athletes and coaches or other prominent community people that have been important in promoting athletics in Columbia Heights.  I received the 1st Ron Wojciack Memorial Award in 1967 at the first banquet sponsored by the Boosters.  Many of the

Twins players attended and we had Halsey Hall as our guest speaker.  I have missed only one of these tributes to Ron since their


I hope that this inspires all of you to make the most of your life as I believe Ron Wojciack did with his.

The message of your mechanics and signals


 An officials’ style often depicts his attitude and approach toward his officiating habits and toward the game. You must be aware of the constant messages you send out to others with every one of your moves. An official who effectively uses the appropriate mechanics and signals together appears to be a well-rounded official and that appearance is critical toward acceptance.

Mechanics simply allow officials to be in the proper position (angle and distance) to make a call. Signals lets everyone know what that decision is. While often thought of as simple tasks, they are sometimes difficult to master. Repetition and experience are vital.Effective communicators do not deviate from set standards or make up their own mechanics or signals. You do not want to be an innovator. Take note of what officials do in your area and do your best to conform.


A good official who uses proper mechanics and effective signals adds one more characteristic to his appearance: bounce. It is difficult to define, but you know it when you see it. You’ve probably noticed minor league or top collegiate umpires, high-level basketball officials – the good ones have bounce.It is an athletic-looking self-projection that tones a more streamline, professional image. Officials who have bounce appear to exude higher levels of self confidence and relaxation. Bounce is a form of relaxed movement that is neither lazy nor rushed and is associated with hustle. It is the midway point between being robotic and extremely flamboyant.  

When practicing bounce, imagine your running surface is like a sprung hardwood floor, with just enough resistance to allow for athletic-type movements. Officials who have bounce will often trot or pounce rather than just run and set up for a call. In short, they look athletic. Their motions are deliberate, yet they have swagger. Officials who have bounce are perceived as being mentally in the game, enthusiastic and interested.

The five ‘C’s’. When setting up for and making a call, follow the five C’s: Crisp, Clear, Consistent, Communicative and Confident. All five elements must be present to increase your chances of your call becoming accepted. Work on each of the five elements individually, then incorporate them into the total package.

Advanced signals. As you move up the officiating ladder and are exposed to more veteran officials, you’ll notice other signals that aren’t a part of the list of "approved" signals. Incorporating additional signals is a sign of advancement and a better understanding of the game. However, proceed with caution. You do not want to make up more signals just for the sake of doing so; any additional signals must have a specific purpose and must be accepted by the other officials in your area. You don’t want to be inventive, you simply want to be more communicative.

Before moving onward to those advanced techniques, master the fundamentals by remembering that you want your calls to be noticed and interpreted easily. Make your calls clear, consistent, decisive and visible. Put some bounce into it!


Written by Tyler Hoffman, a former minor league umpire. 

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