I had a question in a comment and when going to answer it, I started to wander a little bit further than the question desired, so I decided to make a whole post out of it. So bear with me as I ramble through a few different thoughts.
Hey, Mr. Umpire, I had a question related to the dozens of pitching changes today. Does the ump give the pitcher any indication of what the likely calls will be as he warms up, or does he have to rely on his catcher/outgoing pitcher/coach/whomever?
Thanks, I’ll hang up and listen.
The umpire usually tells the pitcher 2 things when a pitcher enters the game:
- “You’ve got 8.” (eight warm up pitches)
- “Play Ball.”
- If its in the middle of the at bat, he may get the count, but only if it’s announced to the whole field.
Officially, all umpires should have the same general zone. If the catcher believes anything different, he usually will chat with the new pitcher after the warm-ups to make sure the pitcher knows the strike zone, outs, and signs.
As an umpire, I know my zone sometimes can be a little tight or a little low, I’m working on that, but I would never admit that in a game. That’s just asking for trouble from coaches. If the coaches think you have even the slightest lack of confidence in your calls, you’ll get hounded all game over the most trivial ball or strike calls, and that’s just not worth it. It makes you think too hard about if you’re getting calls right when you should be just calling the game.
For me, much of the balls and strike portion of umpire is getting into a rhythm of see it, read it, call it. I see the pitch in, I think to myself “that’s a strike” or “that’s a ball,” then make the call. If I get to second guessing the corners, it throws off the whole rhythm.
Umpires will sometimes drop hints to the catcher about things being close, but the general consensus I get from more experienced umpires is don’t say anything unless the catcher asks you. As a catcher in high school, my coaches always told me never to ask the umpire about pitches unless the coach yelled at me from the dugout to ask. That way the umpire wouldn’t blame me for insinuating that I thought his calls were incorrect.
My personal philosophy, again, having been a catcher and now an umpire, is that the umpire and catcher rely on each other too much to piss each other off. A catcher doesn’t want to say the ball was over the plate to a coach when the umpire calls the pitch a ball (whether it is or not) because that makes the umpire mad, potentially losing some of the borderline strike calls. The umpire doesn’t want to hose the catcher as the catcher is the only thing keeping a fastball from crashing into the umpire’s body.
Continuing why I wouldn’t tell the pitcher anything, I, the umpire, don’t care about the pitcher. He doesn’t protect me, if anything, he’s the guy putting me in danger. He gets no help. Plus most pitchers are a bit flaky (see Bull Durham). It may be the old catcher in me, but you can’t tell a pitcher anything without confusing them or pissing them off. Catchers are the smart ones. They manage the pitching staff, so you, the umpire, let them know what’s up and everything will be fine.
The only other time that I really interact with the players outside of the catccher is when the game has gotten out of hand. Our run rules don’t kick in until the 5th inning; if a team goes up by more than 10 runs in a clear blow out, I’ll tell the hitters, “If you’ve got less than 2 strikes on you, and if I can get away with calling it a strike, it is going to be a strike. I won’t ring you up for anything questionable, but with less than 2 strikes, swing the bat.” For most of the high school subvarsity games, these happens often and is generally acceptable just to move things along.