Dealing With Umpires?

Over the years a lot of you have asked how to deal with poor umpires. In my coaching career, I tried all angles and still found myself watching a few games from the parking lot. Finally, after sitting far from the field while my team finished a game without me, it became clear.

You just have to adapt to what you get.
A few years ago a local rec league called me. Several umpires were gone that week and they asked if I could help. I quickly realized what an incredibly difficult job they have. You are going to miss calls, regardless of your best intentions. As humans, we are going to have certain tendencies which affect the way we see things and those will affect games. I felt very inadequate. Fortunately, the teams were very understanding. The only other choice was to cancel games, so they kindly put up with me.
I learned a few things. Umpires are a lot like the weather conditions. You can complain about them, but it’s a waste of time. No amount of complaining is going to make a significant change.
Without question, the majority of umpires do a great job. But, they are human. Each will carry subconscious biases into a game. Some like the high strike, others like it low. Some favor one corner of the plate or another. Very seldom is an umpire going to change that preference to please you, so the key is to adapt. Change your pitch location, choose a pitcher who best suits that zone, or just hope the other team’s pitcher can’t adapt as well as you.
Stay focused on the game. Yes, this is terribly hard to do when you feel you are being harmed by poor calls, but it is like poor weather conditions. The key is to keep focused on the task at hand instead letting the heat, the rain, or a few bad calls beat you down.
Do a little scouting so you won’t be ambushed. We like to know what the opponent will bring to the game so we scout them. Why not check out the umpire as well? Coaches talk. In some tournaments there is one umpire who likes confrontation, one who wants to show how much he knows, one who wants to be noticed, one who likes to eject someone, and the majority who just want to do a great job. Before you challenge a call, you should know which one you are approaching or the outcome might not be pleasant for you.
Try to observe very carefully and adjust to the umpire. Different ones obsess over different things. I have seen them get crazy because a coach was too close the dugout door, because the batter took too long to get a signal, a pitcher was too slow to take a sign, the coach was six inches outside the box, and some find a thousand different reasons for declaring an illegal pitch. I even saw one umpire in a national tournament stop the game every time a foul ball left the field until that specific ball was returned. She had plenty of softballs, and we had never seen this before, so it was curious. That game had a lot of delays while parents went searching for the softballs. The interesting thing is that the next umpire could care less about any of those things. Find the things that are critical to this umpire and get them out of the way so you can play the game. You might not like it, but you are not going to win the argument.
Finally, one day I realized that umpires sit in their little dressing rooms and talk. You can gain a reputation pretty quickly and find yourself with a huge target on your back from an umpire who comes into the game expecting the worst from you.
When you play an entire game where you don’t notice the umpires, be sure to thank them. Those are the ones we want to see remain on the job.
Every umpire will miss a call occasionally and most will go out of their way to make sure they get it right. Be sure you know the rules and approach them in a respectful way and you might get a reversal. But, understand that you are not going to win every time, even when you feel are right. And you will not change their tendencies. That’s where you get in trouble. If you believe they are not very good at their job, your badgering will not change that. If they have a tight zone, it will probably stay that way no matter how much it raises your blood pressure.
I have seen a couple of people who were successful at working an umpire on occasion, but generally we just have to take what we get. It’s just like the weather conditions. Adapt to them. Or you may be occupying my old space in the parking lot.

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