Some Fans Are Better Than Others

Umpiring is more demanding than most people realize. I’ve umpired before, the last time being 2002, yet I don’t remember having to run as much as I have when working the bases in a two-man system, which is what most amateur leagues employ (as well as lower-level pro leagues, too). The plate is an entirely different and demanding experience.

After working back-to-back doubleheaders on Saturday and Sunday, I was back behind the plate last night. My lower back, calves, and hamstrings are tight this morning, and I’ll be out there again tonight, my seventh game in the last five days.

Overall, I’m really enjoying being back on the board as an umpire. School ball went well this spring, and we’re now into the summer baseball schedule of games. I’ve been working mainly Babe Ruth League games, but I’ve had some AAU-level games, also. On Sunday, I had two U-16 teams from Maine and Woburn, Mass. This was great baseball.

It’s a given in sports that fans will at times disagree with the calls made by an official. Baseball is no exception. Surprisingly, I haven’t had much of this all spring and up until last Friday night, none this summer.

I was on the bases and as luck would have it, the very first play I had to make was a ball in the gap, misplayed by the outfielder. The runner came all the way around and was headed to third. The throw was a strong one, but wide of the bag. The third basemen however, bobbled it and the ball was at his feet. He reached down with his bare hand and tagged the base with the ball after the runner had touched the base with his toe.

From my vantage point—near the third base cutout—in proper position to make the call, I had the runner as “safe.” The home team fans along the first base dugout area erupted with “oh come on,” and “that’s a terrible call, blue.” The coach, who was in a better position at least than his fans, also was upset with my call.

Oakland A's manager, Bob Melvin, not happy with umpire, Angel Hernandez, and a call he made.

Oakland A’s manager, Bob Melvin, not happy with umpire, Angel Hernandez, and a call he made.

I had two more “bangers” that night. One involved the first baseman pulling his foot off the base on a high throw, and another very close play at first. Of course, the fans again gave me an earful, including one parent, the guy with the foghorn voice we all know and love—he kept on the entire time with his critique of my umpiring and the ball/strike calls of my partner. The players on the home team were bellyaching all night. They got trounced, so I guess they had to blame someone.

In the parking lot after the game, my partner said, “I thought you had all three right.” He was a veteran umpire, so I appreciated the support.

As I said before, fans don’t always like calls that go against their teams. There’s probably some type of cognitive bias that affects us and makes us see the outcome we desire, rather than what’s actually happening. And since umpires are humans and haven’t been replaced by robots, yet, occasionally, we miss one.

I can live with criticism because it comes with the territory. However, Friday night, it was a bit over the top.

Last night, I was in a different town, umpiring another Babe Ruth game. Both teams were outstanding. Several of the players on the home team had varsity baseball experience from the spring, and the visiting club—a younger team—had some of the better 7th and 8th grade players I’d had while umping during the school season. The final was a close one—six to four.

Not once all game did I hear anything derogatory from the fans and none of the players gave me “the look” while batting or pitching, about strikes called. Both teams were well-coached and it showed.

I had a play where I had to get out from behind the dish and hustle down to third for a call, as my partner was on the other side of the diamond. I made the call, which wasn’t a tough one, and jogged back to my position at the plate. A fan up above said “nice hustle, blue.” I was surprised. It was good hustle and I bring that to the field every night when I work—it was unexpected, but nice to have acknowledged.

We’re all setting examples when we coach, or work with youth. I try to set an example by the way I comport myself as an umpire. It matters how we act.

I found a six tips for coaches and how to treat referees on another website, this one dealing with basketball officiating. The site, Breakthrough Basketball, and the blogger, Joel Haefner, has tips that work across all sports, although some are more specific to basketball.

Treat them with respect. Our players see the way we treat the referees and we should teach them to respect others and learn to communicate without yelling uncontrollably. Referees are humans and they like to be treated with respect. Talk to them. Ask questions in a non-aggressive tone. Not to mention, it’s very important to teach today’s young people how to respect authority. It also teaches players not to blame others and to be held accountable.

Create a dialogue and learn their names. Referees will respect you and like the fact that you’re talking to them like they are a human being. It’s also a good idea to learn their first names, so you can effectively address them during the games. The chances of them responding or listening increase if they hear their name.

Chat with them in the pregame. One thing I always like to do is talk to the referees in the pregame warm-ups. I might even give them a heads up that I like to ask questions on calls, so I can teach my players and I would appreciate it if they took a few seconds to explain the calls to me when I ask them about a call. Morgan Wootten also says this is a great time to get a point across about the rules of the game.

Apply the golden rule. If you treat the referees like you would want to be treated, you’ll develop a quality relationship with them. Most often, this will lead to more calls in your favor.

Question their call in an assertive, but non-aggressive manner. If you question a call in a reasonable tone, the refs will be more likely to listen to criticism. If you’re yelling and screaming the whole time, they’ll probably tune you out.

Create a great environment for them at your home games. When you host a game, you should greet them and make them feel as comfortable as possible. It’s important to make sure beverages and food are provided to the refs as well. This great treatment can go a long ways. It’s also beneficial for you and your administration to make sure that your fans create a great atmosphere, but in a positive manner. No heckling and berating the referees.