There are times when it is appropriate for one umpire to check with his partner as to whether or not a call was made correctly. The most common occurrence is verifying the call on a checked or half swing.
Rather than dealing with what constitutes a swing (which is pure judgment), let’s look at the mechanics of the request.
When a pitch is delivered and the batter makes some type of motion that might be perceived as a swing, the plate umpire may still call the pitch a ball. If the defense feels that the batter may have swung, it may request that the plate umpire seek assistance from the field umpire.
The decision to seek assistance rests solely with the plate umpire; there is no rule that states that he must seek assistance. If he decides to “go for help,” it should be done with the following mechanics:
- First, step clear of the catcher and the batter with a drop step to the rear of the plate area. If you can, remove your mask as you are stepping back; it will make communication easier.
- Second, step directly toward the field umpire and point to him with your left hand. At the same time as you step, point and loudly ask the field umpire: “Did he go?” The field umpire will respond with either a “Yes, he did!” accompanied by a crisp strike signal; or “No, he didn’t!” while making a safe signal.
Understand that once the plate umpire has executed the request for help he has surrendered this call to the field umpire. From the field umpire’s perspective, you should respond only to your partner’s request no matter how many times an infielder or a coach calls out for your assistance.
The field umpire (whether in A, B, or C position) is to stay in set position until the plate umpire asks for help, or it becomes obvious that no request is going to be made.
The crew must be alert for the possibility of this happening at any time during a game. However there may be certain instances when situational awareness is critical. If you are in a situation where the uncaught third strike [Rule 6.09(b)] may come into play, it is highly-recommended that the plate umpire not wait for the defense to ask for an appeal and seek assistance immediately if there is any doubt regarding the existence of a swing.
Make sure that your actions do not place either team at a disadvantage. Some schools of umpiring teach that the field umpire should immediately make a call if he has a swing on an uncaught third strike, without waiting for his partner’s request. Little League® cautions against this, as it may expose the field umpire to undue criticism later in the game.
If the whole crew stays focused and alert, the check swing situations can be easily handled. One final note, if you are working a 3- or 4-man crew, the request for assistance always goes to the “uncovered” or “open” umpire that is first base for right-handed hitters, and third base for lefties.
Tom Rawlings is Little League International’s Director of Umpire Development