Jim Stros of Woodstock is a former Michigan State relief pitcher who for 20 years has umpired at all levels of amateur baseball. He now runs the National Umpires Association, nuaumpiresusa.org, one of the country’s largest such associations. He advises his umps to remain calm and to defuse crises before they develop — if possible.
An umpire’s goal is allowing the competitiveness of the game to breathe. The No. 1 goal is to walk through the gate and have everyone say to themselves, “Great, he is working our game.” …
The game cannot function without umpires, and we hope to remain invisible. A quality umpire will not intentionally draw attention, but plenty can happen to draw the unwanted spotlight. It almost always involves a judgment call.
A judgment call — like someone is safe at second — is very rarely reversed. A coach will tell me I missed a call to build his case to get the next close call. I like the competitive spirit, but when a manager or player makes it personal, an ejection is appropriate. We work hard to steer the conversation toward a peaceful ending.
For example, a coach might say, “C’mon Jimmy, he clearly beat that. No way he was out. How could you miss that?”
And I might say, “I respect that that’s what you saw from your angle, but from the angle I had, I think you’d see it the way I did.” I’m not telling him that he’s wrong, just that I had a different view.
When I say, “Let’s play ball,” and he won’t leave, I’ll say, “Coach, I heard what you said. You think I blew it. and I think I got it right. Let’s not play verbal pingpong. We’ve got to move forward.”
If he persists, I warn him: “If you don’t go back right now, you are going to be done.”
It’s like when a kid has a tantrum at the grocery store. The parent counts backward, and if you get to zero and the kid is still screaming, that’s when the kid gets spanked. Umpires have the same protocol. You go through the steps, and if he’s not back to the dugout, the coach is going to get thrown out. An ejection is the last thing I want to do, but it’s still on my list. Only about 10 percent of ejections are players.
Nothing in the umpiring manual explicitly says when a player or manager gets thrown out. The decision is based on the ump’s judgment. The beauty of what we do is that people don’t always agree with us. If they did, baseball would be boring. And why should they agree? They’re trying to gain every advantage. We’re there to keep it fair. And we get to do it from the best seat in the house.
As told to Michelle Hiskey, for the AJC