The number one rule of umpiring is “Watch the Ball.”. Other rules or axioms that an umpire can hang their mask on are, in no particular order:
- Keep the ball, the base, the runner and the fielder in front of you.
- Try to get a 90° angle from the tag on a tag play and from the flight of the ball on a force play.
- Move parallel with the runners.
- Stop. Set. See it.
- There is always a job to do.
- Work in priorities first this, then that.
Working in priorities is what I want to key on in this article. There is no arguing that an umpire must make one call before making another. It is understood that an umpire is expected to give their full attention to each play. If he/she hedges on one call in order to be better prepared for the next call then both calls only get half the concentration and neither call can be made with certitude. The dilemma that arises is that many violations or things in need of the umpire’s judgment can and do occur simultaneously or nearly simultaneously. (The following situations are numbered only for ease in referencing as we later talk about how an umpire should prioritize on each.)
- A simple fly ball to the outfield close to the line requires an umpire to prioritize. The umpire must first determine fair or foul and then catch or no catch. If the umpire is so intent on the catch, which is subsequently dropped, that he/she has not seen where it was first touched then there is a problem.
- An umpire is responsible for judging whether a pitched ball enters the strike zone but some times before the pitch arrives at the plate the batter makes some attempt to swing. Then the umpire is supposed to make a judgment on the batter’s action but if no swing is judged then he/she must try to get back on the pitch to pass judgment on it.
- The umpire never knows if the batter will connect with the pitch but if they do the umpire must determine where the batter’s feet were when contact was made.
- If, in their haste to get to third base for a possible play on the lead runner, an umpire abandons the trail position too soon then they are of little help on a pulled foot, may completely miss a lane interference and will have no credibility on a ball possibly thrown out of play.
- The umpire must watch the pitcher’s hands, windup, delivery and see the release of the ball. Then as the ball is hurling towards the plate the umpire is supposed to see what the pitcher does with the foot with which she steps forward.
- With bases loaded which runner should the umpire watch for leaving the base before the ball is released?
- On an extra base hit with multiple runners on base can an umpire really make sure each runner touches each base? What about two outs, runner on first and what should be an out a first.but is not?