Bruce Weber has been with The New York Times in various editorial positions since 1986.
He took some time off from the newsroom’s daily grind a few years ago to research and write As They See ‘Em, A Fan’s Travels in the Land of Umpires. Weber immersed himself in the highly scrutinized and grossly misunderstood society of baseball umpires. He attended professional umpire school and spent a season umpiring games at various levels.
I am entering my 25th season as a high school baseball umpire – so I had an insider’s interest in Weber’s book – which he nailed.
I found one passage that was particularly descriptive of me and the dozens of different umpires I have worked with over the last 2-1/2 decades:
They’re a remarkable subculture, people who often spend two or three evenings on the ball field during the work week, not to mention a triple header or two on the weekends. They subscribe to Referee magazine, their cars double as parking-lot locker rooms, and they count their number of annual games in the two hundreds or even three hundreds.
Then I began to reflect on the many different things that go into being a good umpire. Among them:
- Ability to communicate effectively – even if the news is not favorable.
- Conduct appropriate research -- know the rules.
- Ability to manage special events – there’s a lot more to a baseball game than just calling balls and strikes or safes and outs, including game time, pace of play, sportsmanship and sometimes scorekeeping decisions.
- Issues management – if you do everything you should (like hustle and be in good position) in advance of a potential crisis (missed call), you can minimize the potential public outcry.
- Knowing deadlines – trying to have a conversation with a coach who’s in the middle of hitting pre-game infield practice is akin to pitching a reporter on deadline. It does more harm than good and sends up an immediate red flag regarding your competence.
- Writing ability – taking good notes during the game, such as counting defensive conferences, keeping line-up changes and tracking courtesy runners – not to mention the infrequent, yet dreaded ejection report -- all trump hearsay.
- Understanding of current events – knowing the history of the two teams and having perspective of the game in progress and its own chain of events can help alleviate any potential conflicts in advance.
- Dressing for success – making sure you look the part, like you are comfortable in your uniform and that you do not appear disheveled, not unlike wearing appropriate attire to a client meeting.
And maybe most important of all: It’s impossible to be perfect on the first day and get better from there – but it is certainly a worthy aspiration.
I’m sure there are more, but I’m out….