Balls, Strikes, and Judgement Calls​

Some years ago, in an effort to remove unnecessary delays during the game, questioning balls and strikes and challenging calls based solely on judgment were prohibited by the NCAA rules committee.  The rationale supporting this modification was that these calls were not going to change and arguing or discussing the judgment of the calling umpire only delays the progress of the game.  Of course, this did not stop coaches from raising questions about certain pitches or challenging a call.  The issue here is what the umpire crew should do when coaches improperly argue about a given pitch or challenge a call.  Let’s divide the matter into two parts.

QUESTIONING BALLS AND STRIKES

 Calling of balls and strikes is the ultimate judgment call for any umpire.  About 100 of these judgments are made each and every game.  When the call of a non-contacted pitch is questioned by a coach, HP should suspend play.   He/She should then inform the coach that delay of the game to question a play based solely on umpire judgment is not permitted.  HP should then issue a warning to the offending coach, inform the opposing coach that a warning was issued, and make note of the time and circumstances of the warning.  If the same coach then delays the game to question a ball or strike call a second time, that coach should be ejected.

 

QUESTIONING A CALL BASED SOLELY ON UMPIRE JUDGEMENT

We have all been in these situations - a play has been made and the umpire makes a call based on his/her judgment.  After the dust clears, we then hear a coach request time and begin to make his/her way out onto the field toward the calling umpire.  Now we all know that the coach is not coming out to invite the umpire to the team’s post-season banquet.  He/She has seen something that he/she does not agree with and is going to tell the calling umpire about it.  The rules permit coaches to ask a question about a call.  A question.   Once the question is asked and then answered, it is time to return to play.  This is not the time to have a seminar about the rules or engage in a heated discussion about what happened last inning, last game, or last year.   Umpires must seek to get the game re-started as soon as possible.   

Here are some suggestions to achieve that goal:

  • Stand close enough to the coach so that a low volume conversation can be held.  Remain calm. Remove your sunglasses.  Try to stand next to the coach and not facing him/her – it’s less confrontational.

  • Show interest in what the coach has to say by looking the coach in eyes,  listening to him/her and not using negative body language (e.g., crossing your arms).

  • Let the coach talk.  Often they just want to have their say.

  • Make the coach ask you a question about the play that just happened.   As the coach is talking, plan what you will say.  Remember, it takes two to have an argument.

  • One of your partners should hover in the area so he/she can hear the discussion and can determine if the tenor of the talk is becoming elevated. 

  • Explain your call.  Repeat yourself once, if the coach needs it.  After that, the discussion is over.  Tell the coach it’s time to play ball.  Then, get away from the coach by moving to your next position.  If you are a base umpire, move to your starting position for the next play.  If you are behind the plate, do something that will take you away from the coach.   Mark the lineup card to show the warning the coach receives for delaying the game, clean off the plate, retrieve extra game balls from the dugout, it does not matter.  This should be a signal to your partner or partners that he/she should assist the coach to leave if the coach has not done so.

  • You do not have to have the last word.  If the coach is grumbling as you leave, let them grumble. He/she is just trying to save face.  That is OK.  Your goal is to get the game going again.  

  • If the coach does not accept that the conversation has been concluded and chases after you or otherwise continues to argue, then one of your partners must eject the coach.

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