Strong Beach Suggests: Optics in Umpiring

How an umpire looks performing his duties are often times more important than the duties itself.

Umpiring baseball, just like officiating other sports, is controlled by perception. The visibility of games continues to increase with more technological platforms available to watch games as well as more photos being posted on the internet and/or social media. There is somebody that is making some form of an opinion based on what they see either in live action or on another visible medium. The reality is that we, as baseball umpires, can control the perception of stakeholders such as players, coaches and administrators as well as that of the fans through our own performance. Below are some items that we can control that value into perceptions by others:

⁃ Physical Appearance

⁃ Positioning

⁃ Style of Calls

⁃ Handling Visits and Offensive Conferences

⁃ Awarding of Bases

⁃ Balk Enforcement

⁃ Interactions with Crew Members, Coaches and Authorized Personnel

Baseball is unique in its own form because it does not have the continuous action of basketball or the various methodical intervals that football does. However, there is a lot of focus placed on at least one umpire and sometimes, more than one umpire during a ball game. Umpires need to able to efficiently and accurately perform any administrative duty needed when playing action ceases. The ultimate goal is to refocus the attention of the viewers back to the game as soon as humanly possible. Many of the above items are ways that mitigate reactionary responses from players, coaches and authorized personnel.

Consider this situation: A pitch up and in gets a piece of either the batter’s hand or his bat. The head coach comes out to talk to you and regardless of what was ruled, requests that you “go for help.” These types of plays generally did not necessitate crew conferences in the past, but would it be easier to just get together rather than a potential prolonged argument? Crew conferences are not very long, paint the picture of the crew making efforts to get the call right and refocus the attention back to the game. It is much quicker to do that than to entertain a long-winded argument. Administering this type of situation is a controllable aspect in our performance and how it plays out to the eye takes precedence over the actual call on the field.

The outcome of mitigating reactionary responses is a byproduct of credibility. Will people think an umpire can get into position to make a call if he is overweight? Will stakeholders believe umpires on close plays when they sell every single call like it is a bang-bang play? Will coaches get agitated when game-flow is interrupted because of how long offensive or defensive conferences are? Will a head coach be able to understand a ruling if the umpires do not look sure on where to place runners? There are millions of scenarios, but the answers to these questions contribute to “erosion of credibility”and can easily be controlled by umpires through their performance.

So for those wondering about reaching their own goals, look here first. Umpires have much control over their destiny than they think. These are all aspects that can help umpires improve their approachability, game flow and call accuracy which ultimately play a huge role in getting to the “next level.”