Today you see umpire’s conferences but mostly in cases of a home run. Was it or was it not a
home run? To answer the question, the umpires leave the field and watch a Television Replay
then return and make their ruling. Sounds like football.
A simple and possible solution to the home run problem is for each and every park to construct or
rebuild their outfield fences to clearly denote where the home run line actually is. Any ball hit over
that line or that hits the line and continues out of the park is a home run. A ball hitting that line or
below, which returns to the field of play, is a live ball and not a home run. Most of the home run
disputes, including fan interference, could be solved if the necessary construction was made.
Today, when you watch a game on TV, you are treated (?) to an endless procession of video
replays of the umpire’s mistake, his error. The television people must think that if they play the
rerun over and over and over enough times, the ruling will be changed.  As things are today, not a
chance of that happening.
Why aren't umpires allowed to be human like all the baseball players? Why can’t umpires make
errors? If we continue the current trend of ‘instant replay’ changing rulings then the umpires will
not be making the ruling, someone or something else will be making the ruling. Following the
current trend will result in replacing all sports officials, including baseball umpires, with robots!
Look what it has done to the game of football. Everything stops while the head official looks at
something and makes a ruling based not on what an official saw happen but based on what one of
a dozen cameras saw. The overall time to play the game is lengthened (among television’s pet
peeves are that the game takes too long to play, it doesn’t fit neatly into one of their time slots—
could that be why basketball went from a sixty minute game to a forty-eight minute game?).
Why does a baseball player get transferred or send down to the minor leagues? His numbers
change possibly due to making errors! The same thing possibly happens to an umpire when his
“numbers” change. Somebody is watching, not the players on the field, but watching and
evaluating the umpires. What are they doing, are they positioning themselves correctly for the
game situation, and are they making rulings according to the Rule Book and the local ground rules.
Umpires are probably graded the same as the players. Good numbers, stay where you are or be
promoted. Bad numbers, be send down.
Let’s let umpires be human beings the same as baseball players and allow and accept that they too
make mistakes. Let’s let the Official Scorer enter it into the books as an error on the umpire.
An Error on the Umpire
Name a team sport where, when a player makes a mistake, there is no further penalty
to either the player or his team, other than the results of the play including the mistake.
There is, to my knowledge, only one such team sport: Baseball. In baseball a mistake is
called an “Error.” (Just as an aside, whether a player made an error or not is
determined by someone who is not on the playing field: the “Official Scorer.”)
When a football player makes a mistake, his team is penalized yardage. When a hockey player
makes a mistake, he is sent off the playing surface for a time and his team plays short handed.
When a basketball player makes a mistake, his opponents are given a free and uncontested attempt
to make an additional score.
But, in baseball, when a player makes an error, there is no additional penalty beyond the results of
the play including the error. That baseball player is not made to play five yards further back than
normal. That baseball player is not removed from the field and his team does not play short
handed. That baseball player’s opponents do not receive a free swing at the ball. The results of the
error stand as the only penalty and most, if not all of the time that is enough! Games have been
won and lost due to an error, a mistake! That’s baseball!
Baseball is a game played with three groups of people on the field of play. One group is designated
the “home team.” Another group is designated the “visiting team.” There is a third group designated
as the “Umpires.”
In one of William Bendix’s movies (possibly “Kill the Umpire” in 1950) a
sad and dejected Bendix is watching a sandlot game between two teams of
kids. A dispute breaks out among the players as to whether or not a
particular player was out or safe. They come over to Bendix and ask him
to rule on the play. They then ask him to be the umpire for the game. I
have to paraphrase but the kids say something to the effect, “…you can’t
play baseball without an umpire.” How true! Baseball needs and requires
an impartial person to rule, among other things, was the player safe or out.
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How does someone become a Major League Baseball Umpire? About the same way someone
becomes a Major League Baseball Player. They both need to learn the basic rules of the game:
three strikes and you’re out; four balls and you walk; there are nine players on each team; etc.
However, the umpire needs to know (and players should know) what is on each and every page of
the rule book. They need to keep abreast of all the rule changes, plus the ‘ground rules’ in each and
every baseball field (ground rules vary from field to field), plus they need to know what the
different rule books say (there is a Rule Book for the National League and a different Rule Book for
the American League) plus they need to know….
Then, just like the baseball players, they practice. And they practice. And they practice some more.
Where do they practice? Any place they can find a game that needs an umpire. There are lots and
lots of baseball games played. Baseball needs lots and lots of umpires.
Umpires are like baseball players, they are human. They make mistakes. They make errors. If
baseball players are allowed to make errors, then why aren’t umpires allowed to make errors? Some
will be happy because the umpire’s error works to their advantage but just as many will be upset
because the umpire’s error works to their disadvantage. But it happens, umpires are human and
humans make mistakes: errors.
There are a few changes I would like to see in the game of baseball. Let the umpire change his
ruling. If there is serious doubt that one umpire made an error on a particular play, he be allowed
and encouraged to confer with the fellow umpires on the field. At the end of their conference, the
umpire who made the call would be allowed to change his ruling or let it stand.
An umpire changing or not changing his ruling will undoubtedly upset
someone. Change the rule book to allow the offended team’s manager to
protest the game but only after the umpires have conferred. (Protesting a
game is already in the rule book but only allowed due to the umpire’s
interpretation of a rule and not the rule itself.) The game would continue
and sometime later the protest would be ruled on with all the aid of
modern technology. It would not hold up the game in progress!
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