Fair Ball Umpire Myth
One myth of baseball that we need to revisit and correct is the notion that unless you were a .300 hitter in high school and college, you cannot be a good umpire. Many men and women have given up hopes to be a successful umpire for this reason. Nothing can be further from the truth.
Let’s first analyze what constitutes a good hitter. A good hitter stands at the plate, picks up the ball coming out of the pitcher's hand, judges where it is going as it approaches him, and makes a decision well before the ball arrives at the plate that this is a pitch he wants to hit.
At some point before the ball gets to the plate, the hitter begins his/her swing at the pitch. The ability to do this will help to make the batter a good hitter. This same ability can be most detrimental for a good umpire.
The good umpire needs to watch the ball come completely through the strike zone, both between the armpits and the knees, and just as important, THROUGH the plate. We've all heard that the umpire should allow the ball to hit the catcher's glove before making the call of ball or strike. This too could be
misleading. If we have already made up our minds as the ball is approaching the plate, and merely wait until the ball hits the catcher's glove, we are misleading ourselves that we are making the correct call on each pitch.
The proper technique is to watch the ball all the way through the zone, decide after the ball has completely passed through the zone and then make the call of ball or strike. Yes, the ball will have hit the catcher's glove, but our call is solely contingent upon where the ball came through the zone and not just a sound that alerts us to make a call.
Theoretically, we could have decided well in advance that we would call the pitch a strike or ball. How many of us, and my hand is raised, have called a pitch a ball only to have the batter swing late and miss the pitch and we must now call the ball a strike. If we had delayed, allowed the pitch to come completely through the zone, and then decided, this error might have been avoided.
One umpire, who I respect and try to emulate, suggested that in order to get this right, we allow the pitch to come completely through the zone, ask ourselves mentally, "where was that pitch," and then make the call. In fact, as a training tool, we have had our umpires in Umpire School, verbally ask themselves where the pitch was. At that point, then follow up with the call of “ball” or “strike.” This training technique allows for a complete view of the pitch, analysis of the ball through the zone, and then, the call. The timing will now be automatically delayed without reference to when the ball hits the catcher's glove.
In conclusion, remember that if any part of the ball passes through the majority of the strike zone, we have a strike. It is not necessary that the whole ball be over the white of the plate. The black of the plate is merely decoration, but if any part of the ball over the black, is touching the white, we have a strike. And, for those of you who were not .300 hitters, you may just be the best umpire on the block if you can follow these few guidelines.
Good luck and don't hesitate to give umpiring a try. The kids need you and the rewards are gratifying.
Mike 'Doc' Lantiere
East Region Assistant UIC