Working with umpires is a delicate balance between diplomacy and losing your mind. I need to say that the overwhelming majority of the umpires we have had were outstanding and did their job well. There were times that I didn’t agree with them but that is to be expected in a game. There are a few things you learn about working with an official and I try to share them with young coaches. These are mistakes I made many years ago or have watched other coaches make. My favorite one was watching a young coach go to the umpire during a game and while he was talking to the umpire took the rulebook out of his pocket. He started to thumb through the pages for the rule he was referencing. He didn’t even get to the right section before he was tossed. I don’t even carry one in my bag and if I think something was wrong I look it up later and if we see them again I mention something about it when we are warming up or sometimes that is not a part of the game. It is even funnier to watch a parent have the rulebook out and try to talk to an umpire. Well, no matter how hard you try you sometimes go sideways with an umpire.
We were playing a summer game at Lincoln High in Denver. We always liked playing them because we matched up well against them and they were entertaining games. We had had umpire for one game that just got up on the wrong side of the bed. He was mad at everybody and everything in his path. The Lincoln parents also have a bit of a reputation for being hard on umpires and they were in rare form for this game. They never bothered me and I would even stop and talk to them on my way to third base to coach. Well on this day they had gotten him upset and he was taking it out on everybody. An example was that on one play he called a kid out at second. He called it from behind the play because it was a one-umpire game. That may have been why he was angry but I exclaimed NO! Now I have learned that if there is no chance of overturning the call you just move on. I knew he was angry so after I said it I immediately pivoted from my place in the third base coaching box and said nothing else and started to walk away down the line. I have learned that If you don’t say anything else and let it go, umpires will not say anything. Well as I am walking towards the left field I suddenly hear footsteps and turned around to see him running down the line and was almost at third and yelled at me to not say anything else. I had no intention of saying anything else and just nodded.
This went on for the whole game on both sides. I have seen umpires in a hurry to finish the game but never experienced what I did in the last inning of this game. We were down to our last out and behind by a run. If we didn’t score the game was over. The last at-bat went like this. The first pitch hit the plate, Strike one! While we tried to understand this one the second pitch came in and the catcher had to dive outside to catch it because it was so far outside. Strike Two. We were all dumbfounded including the fans. They were speechless. Now I want you to visualize the next sequence. I will use bullet points to keep everything clear. The third pitch came in this exact order:
- The pitcher gets into his stretch – Umpire reaches into the bag on his hip for the spare balls.
- The pitcher starts his movement for the pitch – Umpire moves to the left side of the box.
- The pitcher releases the ball – Umpire calls Stike Three!
- The umpire drops the balls and starts off the field – the pitch finally hits the catcher’s glove.
If you are familiar with baseball and are trying to reconcile this sequence, I will make it easy. By the time the pitch crossed the plate, the umpire was three or four steps off of the field and headed towards his car. The catcher turned around to look for the umpire but he was long gone. The only consolation was that the third pitch was actually a strike.