How to deal with umpires

How to deal with umpires

Umpires can decide the outcome of a game in more subtle ways than making a call on a close play to end a game. An inconsistent plate umpire, a bad call early in a game, or an "automatic" strike on a 3-0 pitch that was clearly a ball can potentially get into a team’s collective head and affect how the rest of the game is played. Issues involving balls and strikes can be especially maddening for teams that practice and practice and practice plate discipline, only to discover that the game day umpire’s strike zone shifts all over the place.

Any coach who has been around for awhile knows that there are going to be days where an umpire does not bring his best concentration to the job. Worse, there are poor umpires who never seem to get better, and, worst, there are poor umpires who KNOW that they never miss a call, and, therefore, never have to explain themselves.

It is worth the time at practice to harden your team to the inevitable bad calls that, if you let them, can turn a game and a season around. During an intra-squad scrimmage, physically increase the size of the plate by 20 to 30 percent. Have an oversize plate cutout from wood ready to go for such occasions. You can also use the plate during two-strike hitting drills. A coach or a player calls the balls and strikes based on the oversized plate. Anything close goes to the pitcher.

The reverse is done if you are working to insulate your pitchers’ psyches from an umpire’s small plate. Use a plate that is smaller than regulation, or cover up the corners with dirt. In this drill the practice "umpire" gives anything close to the hitter.

Even if you use the plate as is during a scrimmage or live situations, it is a good idea to make an obviously bad call once in awhile to simulate what might happen in a game. Do this for safe/out calls on the bases also.

Of course, none of these drills mean anything if you do not lay down the law to the players before doing the drill, make them suffer the consequences of breaking the law, and reinforce those consequences frequently. The law is simply this: When an umpire makes a call you disagree with you will not say anything, change facial expression, throw a bat or helmet, flip a bat or helmet, drop the bat in disgust, point to the spot where the ball was, stare at the umpire.

In short, you will not in any way indicate that you disagreed with the umpire. Punishment for breaking the law must be swift and merciless if you are going to get your point across in practice.

That is only half the equation, though. The player must show by his actions, execution, and demeanor in the rest of the at bat and practice unit that the bad call did not get into his head and affect performance. After all, that is what we are striving for. A player must learn to immediately put a bad call behind him and think ahead to the next pitch, play, inning.

How you measure that hinges on how well you know your player. How you punish or educate a player also depends on that individual. Some players will get the point right away and work on mental discipline. Some will need constant reminding.

A well-officiated game is a joy to participate in. The umpires "disappear" and calls are made as everyone expects them to be made. The coaches and the umpires work harmoniously together for the sake of the players, and there are no arguments, only clarifying questions and discussions, if necessary.

But be prepared for those games umpired by men who do not know the game that well, who are just plain incompetent for that level of baseball, or who are simply having a bad day.

Practice for the imperfect.


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