The Psychology of Umpiring
While a great deal of becoming a successful umpire and a good umpire is related directly to knowledge of rules, positioning, mechanics, and timing, too many umps do not understand the proper psychology they should use on the field.
Psychology is the frame of mind, the attitude, the demeanor one assumes on the field, as well as how one deals with managers, coaches and players on a one-on-one basis, as well as how one interacts with the teams and fans as groups.
One of the toughest things to do for most people is to hold their temper when others are angry. But this is exactly what an umpire must do. Teams, players, and especially fans, are biased. They are caught up in the game and the plays, but the umpire must remain detached and impartial at all times. You will never make a sound judgment or ruling while angry!
The umpire must control the game without appearing bossy.
Making the Call
So how about calls “within the framework of the game”? Well, this refers to such calls as the “phantom” touch of second base on a double play attempt. If you watched closely you may find that as much as 50-60% of those touches of the bag, if the touch is made at all, come a second or two before the middle man catches the ball, yet the out call is made. This is making a call within the framework of how the game is played today.
So why is this out call made? There are probably many reasons, but there are two primary reasons. First, by allowing the middle man in the double play attempt to do this he is less likely to get ripped in half by the runner sliding into second, thus preventing potentially serious injury. And second, such a call simply makes the game go smoother and faster, and it has become such an accepted part of the game that no one complains as long as the middle man is in the vicinity.
This out call simply has to be made, but be careful. Make certain that the middle man was near the bag, and made some obvious attempt to touch it. If you begin to get too lax when making this call it can quickly become a joke, and you will quickly get some serious heat from the manager of the offensive team.
Another example of this approach to calling the game is the “bang-bang” play at first. How many times have you heard the old saying, “a tie goes to the runner”? That alleged “tie” means that runner is out! But while this call on the surface seems to be in this category there is actually scientific support for making the out call. If it appeared to you that the runner’s foot touched the bag at the very same instant you heard the ball hit the glove, and since sound waves (what you heard) travel much slower than light waves (what you saw), the ball obviously hit the glove before the foot hit the bag. Thus, the runner is out!
“When in doubt, call him Out!” … Well maybe…
Likewise, the tag play is a “when in doubt, call him out” play. If the ball beats the runner to the bag and the defensive player makes the catch and is not lazy in putting down the tag, call the runner out! Of course, this is a general rule, but if the runner does something spectacular to avoid the tag and is successful, then by all means give him credit and call him safe.
These are but a few examples of how your approach to the game, personally, mentally, and game-wise can help you umpire a better game.
Asking For Help and Changing Calls
Too many times we see umpires make a call on a close play and the coach comes running out insisting that the umpires get help from their partner. Trying to be a nice guy, or perhaps being a little intimidated, they go to your partner for help.
First off, if you make a call, you are telling everyone that you saw the play, you’ve processed the information from the play and you’ve made your decision. If you weren’t sure about something on the play and you don’t have all the information you need to make your decision, you ask for help before you make your decision. Remember it’s still your call, you’re only asking for help to get more information to make a decision. Don’t throw your responsibilities on your partner.
If you ask for help just because the coach wants you to, you will be asked to go for help on every close play, by both coaches, all game long. If you constantly ask for help, you might as well leave the field, because your partner doesn’t need you if he must do your job too. Don’t let the coach push you around, tell him or her that “I saw the play, I don’t need any help, this is my call and the call stands” Whether your decision was right or wrong, stick with it. If you change one call, the coaches will want you to change every call that they don’t like. Also, when you change a call you have to deal with the other coach who now also has an argument with you.
Remember, you can change your own call in certain situations, but you must do it immediately. For example, if you make an out call, and your timing was too quick after the call you see the ball loose on the ground – change your own call immediately, get the play right. This is never going to look good, but you’ll get the call right. Never, never make a call, think about for a while and then change it, you will lose all your credibility.
Plays that you might need to ask for help, to get more information:
Batter hit by batted ball
Batter hit by pitched ball
Four considerations for giving or asking for help
Four calls that can be legally and properly changed