How to Deal with Baseball Umpires

As anyone who has played or coached a significant amount of baseball could tell you, umpires can be a strange breed; they’re blind, they’re brain-dead, they don’t apply reason … Just kidding, of course! The fact is that most umpires are former players or coaches, or simply just fans of the game. They love baseball as much as anyone else and they know the game extremely well – otherwise, they couldn’t be umpires.

Just the same, dealing with umpires can be frustrating, especially when you don’t see eye to eye on a particular call or rule interpretation. The important thing to remember is that umpires are human. They want to make the correct call more than anyone else on the field, but sometimes they do make mistakes. This guide provides some advice on how to make your dealings with the men in blue as productive as possible.

Come Out of the Dugout With a Purpose

This is perhaps the most important thing to remember when dealing with umpires. If an umpire makes a call with which you disagree, and you feel the need to speak to him about it, you absolutely need to be aware of the reality of the situation. With the exception of some rare instances involving incorrect rule interpretations, the call will not change.

Again, if the issue is balls and strikes, safe or out, fair or foul, or any type of judgment call, then the umpire will not change the call no matter what you say! You have to know this before you get into an argument. And for this reason, it is not worth coming onto the field just because you’re angry and you want to yell at the umpire. This won’t help anything. Always, always come out of the dugout with a purpose.

Most of the time, this purpose will fall under one of three categories:

  • Defend your players: If a player is particularly upset about a call – even if you think it may have been correct – it’s much better for the coach to argue with the umpire than the player. Arguing on your players’ behalf can go a long way towards earning their respect and building team unity.
  • Try to convince the umpire to ask for help: Often times, umpires don’t like to ask for help, either because of pride or because none of the other umpires had a better view. However, there are certain types of plays that they might be willing to discuss with their colleagues. At the very least, you can gain something by making the umpire aware that you saw something different than he did, so it’s possible one of the other umpires saw it as well.
  • Get the next call to go your way: If you can succinctly let the umpire know that he missed the call without showing him up or making a scene, he may be less likely to call another close play against you. When it comes to dealing with the umps, it’s all about earning small victories.

Listen to the Umpire

On rare occasions, an umpire will miss a really close call, and instantly know that he may have been wrong. In this case, it’s possible that he’ll even tell you as much, or at least he’ll say something to the effect that it was very close and he called it as he saw it. However, most of the time umpires know, or at least believe, that they made the right call. For this reason, the first thing he will do when you approach him is try to explain exactly why the call he made was the correct one. It’s in your best interest to listen; don’t just go out there and wait for your turn to argue.

It’s possible that the umpire will have a perfectly good and convincing explanation. And if his explanation wasn’t convincing and you were listening intently, you can more effectively argue the point by addressing his exact words. Along the same lines, try not to come out screaming. If you’re enraged and out of control, the umpire will immediately get defensive and you may be a few key words away from getting ejected. The more rational and level-headed you appear, the more leeway umpires will give you in arguments.

Know the Rule Book

Umpires are pretty much universally knowledgeable about baseball. However, even people who have been around the game their whole lives occasionally come across a scenario with which they’re unfamiliar. So as a coach, you need to know the rule book as well as possible (and always have one handy!). Baseball is a crazy game, and on any given day you might see something you’ve never seen before.

If there is ever an instance in which an obscure rule comes into play, or an atypical play requires a rule interpretation, you need to know the correct call in case the umpires make a mistake. This is especially relevant in youth baseball, when the umpires may be less experienced. Be able to back up your argument with facts and rules, and most umpires will hear you out.

Talk to Your Own Players

Chirping (in other words, constantly complaining about the other team or the calls within earshot of those on the field) may not get you ejected from a game, but umpires rarely, if ever, appreciate it. In fact, chattering regularly over the course of a game is very likely going to turn the umpires against you, and cause your team to get fewer close calls. Instead, direct your chatter to your own players, and keep it positive. Sometimes you can get your point across without complaining. If your pitcher makes a good pitch at the knees but doesn’t get the call, tell him you like his intent, or congratulate him for keeping the ball down. No one likes to hear coaches chirping all game, so keep your attention on your own players, and you’re more likely to retain the respect of the umpires and opposing team.

Set an Example of Respect

This is a particularly important piece of advice for youth baseball coaches. Major League players and coaches often do a poor job of setting an example with the way many of them complain, argue, and show up umpires. Just as you want your kids to learn to play the game the right way, young players also need to learn to respect umpires. As such, the way you, as a coach, handle yourself with umpires will set an example for your players.

Don’t instigate a yelling match, treat the umpires with patience, and maintain a positive attitude. If players hear you chirping about ball-and-strike calls, they’re likely to do it themselves. If you really have an issue with the strike zone, a discreet conversation with the ump between innings will have a much more productive effect, and set a much better example than shouting snide comments. Act with class, teach your players to play with class – as if no bad call can rattle them – and both umpires and opponents are in turn likely to treat you with class.

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