We all make mistakes. We might get blocked at the last second on a key play, or miss a pulled foot or a bobbled ball, or maybe we just zone out and miss something. The fact is, there are a hundred ways to err as an umpire. When we do, and if we’re lucky, we can fix the mistake and move on.
Unfortunately, some errors can’t be fixed. If you call “Foul!” and play stops, then you see your partner wince and notice, oops, the ball was on the line or hit the bag, or whatever. Well, when this happens everyone’s just SOL. You’re embarrassed, your partner is looking at the ground, the offended manager is hollering, but there’s nothing you can do. That’s baseball. Play on.
You may be tempted to think that you can fix things later with a “make-up” call – fudge something later to try to even the score – but don’t do it. If you do, then rather than half the people at the game convinced you’re an idiot, you’ll have everyone at the game convinced you don’t know what you’re doing.
The good news is, many of our mistakes can be fixed. And I believe emphatically that when we err we should swallow our pride, uncover the mistake, and, if possible, fix it. Not all umpires agree with this, particularly some of the old-timers, but, from the MLB on down, baseball has moved in the direction of getting the call right, whatever the cost. Super slo-mo replays and the new replay rules are helping drive this, but the upshot is, we’ve come a long ways from the days when an umpire could look a coach in the eye and say “it is what it is because that’s what I said it is!” And that’s a good thing.
Here’s something else that umpires argue about. It is my deeply held belief that the majority of ejections (the vast majority of ejections) result from a chain of events that begin with an umpire error. Now, I’m not saying that umpire errors cause ejections. I’m not saying that at all. I’m saying that the umpire error kicks off a chain of events that can lead a player, a coach, or a manager to cross that invisible line that gets them ejected. When someone is ejected, they’ve gotten themselves ejected.
What do we do when we think we’ve erred?
Error on a judgment call
By rule, no one is allowed to argue judgement calls. That said, there is a small window through which a team manager (not player, not coach, but only the manager) may approach an umpire and ask for “clarification” on a call, or that he “get help” – that is, consult with your partner. You normally wouldn’t agree to this in the case of a close play, for example, in which the manager thinks the call should go the other way. Instead, comes up in cases where there might have been a pulled foot or bobbled catch − situations in which the calling umpire may not have seen something important and decisive.
And if, in a case like this, you think you may have erred, then do it. Go to your partner. Here are some guidelines:
- By rule, no umpire can overrule another umpire [Rule 8.02(c)]. This is a critical first principle, so I’ll say it again: No umpire has the authority or the right to overrule another umpire. When you watch baseball on TV and you see the umpires come together to conference over a call and then change the call, you often hear the TV commentators say that the umpire’s call was “overruled.” But that’s not true. The commentators don’t know what they’re talking about. In the points below you’ll see how this really works.
- If you are challenged on a questionable call (the manager, and only the manager, requests time and respectfully address you), and IF you think there might be merit to the coach’s issue, then you can (and should) conference with your partner and ask if he has information that could lead to changing the call. It’s okay for a manager to ask an umpire to ask for help, but it’s up to the umpire whether or not he will do so.
- If you do go to your partner for help, your partner should simply tell what he saw on the play. That’s all he does − describes what he saw, if anything at all. He should not try to advise you on handling the call. What you do, then, is consider the new information (if any) and then do what’s right. If the new information means reversing your original call, then that’s what you should do. But if the new information does not fully support such a reversal, then let the call stand.
- After you conference with your partner, announce your decision. If you decide to let the original call stand, do not let the manager argue further. You’ve done the manager a courtesy by conferencing on the call, and if he tries to then argue further he is in peril of being ejected. On the other hand, if you decide to reverse your call, the opposing manager is entitled to an explanation. He’s sure to come out, so let him ask, then give him your reasoning on changing the call, but do not engage in a discussion or debate. Just explain, then get the game started again.
- If, on the other hand, you opt not to get help (which is your option), your partner should never (never, under any circumstances) engage with the manager about the call. Any umpire who makes a call owns the call. If you’re the partner in this scenario, never let a manager approach you after he’s gotten his explanation. Put up your hand and stop him dead in his tracks. Be clear and firm: “I’m not going to talk to you about this, coach.”
Error on a the application of a rule
Umpires do make mistakes. This sometimes happens by incorrectly applying a rule. For example, when there is an overthrow out of play, an umpire may award bases incorrectly. Or a batter might be hit by a pitch while he is swinging and the umpire incorrectly awards the batter first base. There are many examples of rules batting out of order that can trip up an umpire.
These are not judgement calls. These are errors in the application of a rule. In such cases, the team manager (and again, only the manager) may, by rule [8.02(b)], appeal the decision and request a remedy.
When this happens and the manager appeals, the umpires must come together and conference to consider the appeal, discuss the rule in question, and then make a determination and ruling. All umpires on the field have a say, but it’s up to the calling umpire to alter or reverse his call, or to let the stand. If the umpire opts not to let the call stand, or if he modifies his ruling in a way that does not fully satisfy the team manager, the manager has the option of playing the remainder of the game under protest. If the manager elects to play under protest, then have it so noted in the official score book and then play on.
This situation is handled differently in tournament play. In tournament play, protests must be addressed on the spot and play cannot continue until they are. If the initial umpire conference doesn’t resolve the appeal, you typically need to call in the tournament director. This can vary from tournament to tournament, but normally you receive printed tournament rules that outline the protest policy and process.