As They See ‘Em – A Fan’s Travels in the Land of Umpires
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….