Interview With An Umpire

I’ve been saving this post for about a week and a half for a lull period.  I’ve been too busy to work up too much, so its good as time as any to put this out there. -FA

Eric Sorenson, who I quote here often, does some amazing topics at his site CollegeBaseballToday.com. In his most recent post, he interviewed Dave Yeast, one of the top umpires in college baseball. I found it absolutely fascinating and thought I’d share some thoughts.

This question seemed the strangest to me:

What’s the toughest call to make?

Dave Yeast:
The checked swing. Because it is so fast. It is just so fast. Most of the time you just make the call on gut instinct. It’s almost impossible to tell if the bat crossed the front edge of plate or if it went past the hip of the batter. At that speed, and if you’re standing 120 feet away, if you can honestly tell me if that’s a swing or not, I’ll give you the shirt off my back.

Perhaps its my inexperience, or perhaps its the vagueness of the rule, but I don’t find this too hard.  The rule states it is a swing if the ball made an attempt at contacting the ball.  How far the bat travels should have nothing to do with if he swang.  Yes, those visual cues can help an umpire decide if it was an attempt or not, but they have no meaning in terms of a swing.  Examples of “swings” that are not a true swing would be a batter turning toward the pitcher on an inside pitch.  While the bat may come around, it’s not a strike.  The same thing with a bunt attempt where the batter may not pull the bat back all the way.  If during a bunt, the bat does not make an attempt to contact the ball, it doesn’t count as a swing.

I guess his “gut instinct” description may be part of my inexperience coming through.  I haven’t had that many close check swings.  When I have, I make a clear and decisive call whether I’m sure or not.  I think its the same gut instinct, but the call never even is a question in my head.  Once its made, I think I may just sell myself that I saw it and I’m right.

The next question was about how much “chatter” Yeast will take from a player before he throws him out.  I skipped through some of the less interesting stuff, but a part of it grabbed my attention as it touched on a previous post of mine (Balls and Strikes Question).

I tell the catchers I work with right from the start, “Call me Dave. If you have a question, ask it. No problem. Just don’t yell at me.”

I am trying to build a relationship with them because we are going to be out there for three hours, so it is in my best interest and the game’s best interest to get along with him. But if a catcher puts up too much of an attitude right off the bat or gets belligerent as the game goes along, that’s when I “divorce” him, as I call it. And I can turn into a real jerk if I get THAT kind of attitude.

The guys in my profession know that there’s a real fine line between being assertive and in control and becoming a jerk about things. if you cross that boundary, I can’t lose control of the game. I don’t put up with any bullshit after that.

I’ve been lucky that most catchers I’ve worked with have been pretty good kids.  I’ve had one or two who try to protect their pitchers a little too much, but nothing where he’s mouthing at me.  The worst I’ve had was a catcher I called out on strikes for the third out of the previous inning.  The kid was steamed, but the pitch I called was obviously a strike.  I try to get the kid to at least laugh at a joke or something to see if he’ll crack a smile.  If he doesn’t, it can become a long inning or so before he cools down.

The rest of the article was pretty good, too.  Yeast went over how he got into umpiring, how he became the top umpire coordinator in college, crowds, and coaches.  Really good read.

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