Holy cow, I wrote a book!
When I go to a baseball game, I try to remember to watch the
They move around in a counter-intuitive way:
They don't run toward the ball.
They don't run toward the runner.
Even when the ball is far away,
the umpire runs from what appears to be one irrelevant
position on the field to another equally irrelevant position.
Yet no matter what eventually happens,
there's always an umpire there to make the necessary call.
(As opposed to the players on the field, who sometimes
forget to cover third base.)
That's because the umpires aren't playing the game of baseball
as it happens on the field.
They're playing a different game altogether:
They are continuously positioning themselves to see what needs
to be seen right now (did the runner leave the bag too soon?)
as well as
anticipating what they will need to see
five seconds from now.
One of my colleagues is also a Little League umpire,
so I get to satisfy my curiosity about this
underappreciated profession at the lunch table.
I learned that a large part of the job is actually psychology,
convincing the players that your decisions should be accepted.
And that umpires are watching for things that players and fans
take for granted (like making sure the runner touches all the bases).
One thing that I found interesting is that the umpires don't know
what the score of the game is.
They are worried about strikes, balls, and outs.
The score is entirely irrelevant to the job of an umpire
until the game reaches the final inning,
when it becomes time to decide when the game is over.
And then if you're near the scorer's table, you may hear the
Umpire: "What's the score?"
Scorekeeper: "22 to 2."
Umpire: "And who's winning?"
One of the repeating principles I noticed in the rules of baseball
is that starting the next play implies acceptance of the results
of the previous play.
For example, pitching to the next batter removes your right to
claim that a runner failed to touch a base or left a base too soon,
or that the previous batter
batted out of turn.
Not only does it simplify the process for addressing a rule violation
(you never have to rewind more than one play),
it also reduces the amount of state the umpires needs to carry
in their heads.
Pine Tar Incident
combines many of these little tidbits about baseball rules and umpiring.
When the illegal bat was identified, only Brett's most recent at-bat
The results of earlier at-bats with the illegal bat remained valid.
When the game was resumed a month later,
the umpires were armed with statements from the previous umpires
confirming that Brett had touched all the bases.
They didn't have to include statements about prior events
in the game, because the fact that the game continued put those
decisions beyond appeal.
I was reminded of this topic when I ws alerted to the book
As They See 'Em: A Fan's Travels in the Land of Umpires.
NPR book review
contains an excerpt in which the author Bruce Weber
discusses the amount of detail involved in the
seemingly casual action of removing one's mask.
You can also
listen to an interview with the author
the March 28, 2009 edition of Only a Game
the March 20, 2009 edition of The Leonard Lopate Show.
I attended a little league game which my friend was working as an umpire
with the intent of watching the umpires rather than the game.
It takes some effort to not watch the ball as it sails into