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Southern Colorado Sports Officials Association

Helpful Hints

Helpful Hints for Umpires


 Every game is a new game. Don’t worry if you feel you have had a bad game. Review

it, and try to analyze your mistakes. Get ready for the next one.


Patience is not only a virtue - it’s essential. The umpires control the game. If you

lose your temper, you lose control.


Umpires function as a team. You should not be publicly critical of each other on or off

the field and should support each other as necessary.


Good mechanics are necessary. Calls should be made firmly and without hesitation.

Umpires who “showboat” detract from the game and do nothing to improve it.


Umpires may be requested to explain a decision, but should never become argumentative.


Umpires should always be alert to field conditions, which may call for special ground

rules. Keep unused equipment from the playing field and be continuously aware of and

looking for threats to player safety.


Keep your eye on the ball at all times. Be on top of the play, not part of the play.


Be competitive - the players give maximum effort, so should you.


Have your head on right. Don’t think your uniform grants you immunity from having

to take a little criticism. It’s part of officiating. Plan on it. Successful officials know how

much to take.


Don’t Bark. If you don’t like to be shouted at, don’t shout at someone else. Be firm

with a normal relaxed voice. Shouting indicates a loss of control - not only of one’s self,

but also of the game.


Show confidence. Cockiness has absolutely no place in officiating. Your presence

should command respect from the participants. As in any walk of life, appearance, manner, and voice determine how you are accepted. Present the proper image.


Forget the fans. As a group, fans usually exhibit three characteristics: ignorance of the

rules, highly emotional partisanship, and delight in antagonizing the officials.


Stay cool! Your purpose is to establish a calm environment for the game. Fans, coaches

and players easily spot nervous or edgy officials alike.


Have fun. Enjoy the sport you have chosen to officiate.


Arrive on time and be prepared. Nothing is more aggravating than a partner that

arrives two minutes before game time already dressed for the bases. In general, one

should arrive a minimum of 30 minutes before game time. Whether or not your position

has been assigned, you should always be prepared to work the plate. You should be on the field for ground rules and ready to go 10 minutes before the scheduled start. And, no, you can’t borrow my cup.


Always have a pre-game with your partner. This is a great routine to establish. It is

an absolute MUST when you are working with an unfamiliar partner. I must admit that

I am sometimes lax in this area when I am working with a familiar partner, but it should

always be done. It gets you on the same page and helps to get the crew focused on the

coming contest. Assumes that both umpires have arrived on time (see above). If one partner has arrived late, have a brief conference between innings.


Look sharp and dress the part. We’ve all heard that you are judged before you make

your first call. This is VERY true. Spend some of your fee and replace those pants and

shirts that have been around for the last ten years. And wash your uniform EVERY

TIME it gets dirty and keep your shoes polished. Perception is reality.


ALWAYS put the ball back into play. With runners on base, each occasion that time is

given or a ball is fouled, the ball MUST be pointed back into play. This may or may not

be accompanied by the verbal “PLAY” mechanic. The batter must be in the box and the

pitcher on the rubber with the ball. I’ve had numerous pick-off attempts where, as the

base umpire, I had no idea if the ball was live or not. Not a good situation. Also, a sharp

pitcher will see you point the ball into play and immediately throw to first hoping to

catch the runner napping. If you’ve made the ball live, there is no question that you have

a valid play.


Get your butt out from behind the dish. Unless a play at the plate is imminent or

a time play is possible, there is nothing for you to do staying behind home plate. This

means on EVERY PLAY. Get down the first base line on a grounder, down towards third

on a 1st to 3rd situation or follow the ball if hit into the outfield. Do you think that

players and coaches don’t notice that you’re lazy? Nothing makes you look worse than

trying to make a call at third from 5 feet in front of the plate because you didn’t think the

situation would allow the runner from first to advance. If the circumstances allow, get

down the base line and help your partner out with half of a run-down in progress. This is

one of the things that will be noticed, which leads me to....


Always hustle. It distinguishes you from the poor or average umpire.


ALWAYS STAY FOCUSED on the game. If you want to count the spectators or admire the scenery, do it between innings. Your lack of focus is noticed, and sooner or later you will get a late start or miss a play. This lapse can come up and bite you when you least expect it and in a matter of seconds.


As the base umpire, NEVER leave the infield with runners on base while the

ball is live. Your primary responsibility is the base runners. If you go out there, you will

never get back in time, and your partner can not handle multiple base runners. Never go

out any farther than the edge of the infield grass.


As the base umpire with no one on base, only leave the infield on fair/foul calls

down the first base line or possible trouble balls from the right fielder towards the

foul line. Everything else is the plate umpires’ responsibility. If the batter-runner continues to second, you will in no way be able to get back into position and the plate umpire may not notice that you can’t cover the play, since he should be watching the ball, not you. Come into the infield, pivot and glance over at the touch at first while following the ball. If you are leaving the infield, let your partner know by saying “I’m going” or I’m going out”. And....


If you are the base umpire, stop making out calls on balls hit to left or center

field with no one on base. It’s the plate umpires’ call. And you never want an even

number of umpires making a call.


Be humble. Never try to “run” the game or coach a player. It’s not your job at any

level and real players will resent it. You will also come off as an egotistical know-it-all,

and no one wants to work with an egotistical know-it-all or have one working their game.


Be aware that the strict and literal interpretation of the rulebook is not always

the way it is done. This comes through experience. Remember the level of the game you

are working. See above.


Use, give and respond to signals with your partner. Not just in an infield fly situation.

It is very important that you and your partner are on the same page, and this is a

reminder of the current game situation for the crew. No one is above this. The signals

should be repeated each time the situation changes, even if just one runner replaces

another on a base. Sadly, I am often giving signals to myself on the field. They are not

required when there are no runners on base. Learn what a time play is, when it applies

and the appropriate signal.


NEVER turn your head away from the field when calling balls and strikes. This

may be difficult to overcome, but sooner or later you will miss something. Slick strike three mechanics may look brilliant, but there is no reason to turn your head or turn your back toward the field.


PLEASE stop coming in and talking to the plate umpire between every half-inning.

Get out to short right field where you belong. If you have something to discuss relevant

to the game, fine, but we can shoot the breeze after the game. Circumstances permitting, I

do like to talk to my partner once or twice during the game just to see what’s up, but not

every damn half-inning. Never come in after a controversial call has been made (especially to explain it) unless you need medical assistance. The reason the base umpire belongs out in short right field is the fact that only the right fielder has to come anywhere near him between innings. I often find myself going out of my way to avoid the base umpire that continually comes in to talk.


Watch EVERY touch of the bases by the runners. This means EVERY touch of 1st

and 2nd as the base umpire and EVERY touch of 3rd and home as the plate umpire. I

have seen umpires asked for an appeal on a runner leaving early, and I KNOW they have

no clue. Missed bases and runners leaving early do happen and you MUST see it. Never

call a runner out unless you are SURE a base was missed or he left early.


Don’t say “Strike three-you’re out”, “Ball four-take your base” or point the batter-runner down to first. “Strike three” and “Ball” will do. A dropped third strike may not be an out. The batter should know the count and generally knows the location of first base. Also, after ball four, pointing the runner to first can easily be interpreted as a called strike.


Appeal to the base umpire on a check swing by pointing with your left hand. Ask

him “Did he go?” or “Steve, did he go?” This is another tough one to overcome. Being

right-handed, it took me quite a while to break the habit, but once I did, I never went

back to the right hand. Can easily be interpreted as a called strike.


Don’t indicate pitch location on called balls. I see umpires all the time that are constantly verbalizing or gesturing the pitch location. It’s not needed, unprofessional and

you’re asking for trouble.


Don’t call “time” until the base runners touch up. The play is not over until the

runners touch their respective bases on an award. Anything could happen.


Don’t call “time” every time a defensive player asks for it. It’s not needed, makes

a long game longer and you are taking a potential advantage away from the offense. A

short-stop should be able to throw the ball back to the pitcher from the infield dirt area.


NEVER call “time” to get yourself back into position. I’ve seen umpires that call

“time” in every instance that they have to return from the third base area or other positions on the infield. Again, the game is held up for no good reason. The ball could get

loose. You’ve got a partner out there.


Don’t hold onto the game ball at the mound and wait for the pitcher to arrive.

You’re not a porter. It’s not your job and it looks silly. Toss the ball to the mound and

either get out to short right field or down the base line. Also, staying there will make you

a target for disgruntled players as they take the field.


Slow down your timing!! Nothing is more embarrassing than seeing a base umpire

make an out call just as the ball squirts loose, or his right arm coming up just before calling a runner safe. Also, this virtually guarantees an argument. Behind the plate, the ball should hit the catcher’s glove, a second or so should elapse and then you should make your call. This gives you the opportunity to really see the pitch.


Work in the slot and keep your chin level with the top of the catcher’s head. The

plate umpire should see the ball all the way into the catcher’s glove. If you are directly

behind the catcher or your head is at his head level, there is NO WAY you can see the ball into the glove. Most umpires that work this way can not properly observe the low pitch and hence many pitches that are far below the strike zone are called strikes. Usually indicates a poor or untrained umpire. Or both.


Keep your head motionless. You must “lock in” your head position. Attempting to

accurately call balls and strikes while your head, and hence the strike zone, is moving is

virtually impossible. Coaches and players DO notice this. You can also be exposing yourself to being hit in an unprotected area. This can also be a difficult bad habit to break but it MUST be corrected.


Stop constantly looking at your ball/strike indicator. This also looks bad, is not necessary and makes you look like your memory span is less than 15 seconds.


NEVER make a call on the run. Always stop moving before making ANY call. You

must have a fixed reference point in order to properly call a play. Remember, angle is

MUCH more important than distance. Get the proper angle, get as close as you reasonably can and STOP! Get set and make the right call.


Don’t wear a watch. Keep it in your pocket if there is a valid reason for you to have one

on your person at all.


A foul ball is never a foul tip and a foul tip is never a foul ball. A foul ball is dead,

a foul tip is live. Repeat after me...a foul ball is dead, a foul tip is live....a foul ball is dead, a foul tip is live...


Don’t get talked into asking for help on your call after it has been made. There

are times when you may want to ask your partners’ take on a call after the fact, but only

on rare occasions.... and never let it appear that one side talked you into it. You are asking

for WW III from the perspective of one side or the other. If you are unsure of a tag or

touch due to the limitations of the two-man system, ask BEFORE you make the call. If

there is a need to confer with your partner, do so in private.


NEVER put your hands in your pockets. Also, don’t stand there with your arms

crossed. Both are examples of bad body language. Get a pair of gloves if your hands are

cold and get into a set position.


ALWAYS confer with your partner(s) before accepting a protest. An umpire’s

worst nightmare is to be overturned on an appeal after the game. ALWAYS discuss it with your partner(s). The primary goal is to GET THE CALL RIGHT! Even if it means overruling yourself.


DO NOT become best buddies with managers, coaches or players. This has enormous

potential perceptual ramifications. Be pleasant and friendly but not overly familiar.

First names are fine. Going out for a cocktail after the game with the manager is not. These facts get around faster than you would believe.


ALWAYS enter and leave the field with your partner(s). You are a team, and should

always appear that way. Also, there is strength is numbers.


Don’t hold your mask by the strap, and ALWAYS remove it with your left hand.

Walking around while your mask swings from the strap is another bad and silly-looking

habit that some umpires have. Hold your mask firmly by the lower left side. You need

your right hand to make calls, and switching hands is unnecessary and also doesn’t look

good. And practice taking off your mask without pulling your cap off with it. Make certain that your cap is not too loose or your mask is not too tight.


Don’t “Park” your mask on top of your head, or lay it on the ground. “Parking” your mask on top of your head is reserved for the catcher, and just plain looks silly. Laying your mask on the ground while you conduct a plate conference, or entering substitutions on your line-up card looks unprofessional, and makes you appear lazy. Your mask should not be so heavy that you can’t hold it in your arm for a few seconds, if it is, you may want to look into another mask.


Always enter substitutions and charged conferences on your line-up card when they happen. If you can’t prove that they happened, they didn’t happen. Remember you are the official book when it comes to charged conferences.


Always be careful what you say. You never know who is listening. Simply a word to

the wise. Stories abound dealing with umpire stupidity in this area.


Read the appropriate umpire manual and rule book regularly. No one is so good

that they can’t use a regular refresher.