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Umpire Glossary

This page is intended to help our significant others become more aware and better understand a sport/profession we all truly love:

American Baseball Umpire or Sports Official

In baseball, the umpire is the person charged with officiating the game. His/her duties include: beginning and ending the game, enforcing the rules of the game and the grounds, making judgment calls on plays, and meting out discipline. The term is often informally shortened to ump. They are also addressed as "blue" due to the color of the uniform some umpires wear.

Origin of the word "umpire"

According to the Middle English dictionary entry for noumpere, the predecessor of umpire, which came from the Old French nonper (from non, "not" + per, "equal") meaning "one who is requested to act as arbiter of a dispute between two people"--meaning that the arbiter is not paired with anyone in the dispute.

 

Umpiring Equipment and Gear

Umpire Masks:

Most umpire masks today come with extended frames for good ear and throat protection.  In recent years we have seen more hockey masks being worn. If you want more protection, consider a throat guard/protector that will attach to the bottom of your mask.

Various padding styles
A) Moisture Wickings pads are becoming the norm today.  Leather or Suede pads (sometimes called deerskin) are the most comfortable and absorb perspiration though not as well as moisture wicking technology. 

B) Vinyl/synthetic pads are the least expensive option and best to consider if you are just starting. But expect the mask to slide around and rub at the chin the more you perspire.

C) Leather/vinyl pads (mixed padding) offer the best combination of value, comfort and absorption. They are comprised of a leather interior and vinyl exterior.

Lightweight masks
Most on the market today weigh between 1.4 and 1.7 lbs. Over the last few years featherweight/ultra light mask weighing in at an incredible no neck breaking 16 ounces.

Harnesses and Replacement Padding
All masks come with adjustable harnesses and Velcro straps that allow you to adjust or easily replace the pads. All masks give you the option of replacing or upgrading your padding after you use it for a while.

Umpire Chest Protectors:

Chest protectors should actually be called chest and shoulder protectors, as there is protection available for both the chest and shoulders. They customarily range in size from 13 to 19. Some coming with a Velcro attachable extension thus increasing the length.

When choosing a chest protector, you must first assess the level of protection desired. Chest protectors come in either a hard shell with soft inner padding or with soft padding (no hard shell). You'll get more protection from the hard shell than the soft, but the soft will be lighter, cooler and relatively more comfortable.

The hard shell chest protectors are now made with lighter materials and do contour better to the body than older styles for a more comfortable fit. For those reasons, we recommend a hard shell exterior with a mesh-covered interior (greater moisture wicking ability) for anything other than youth and fast-pitch softball.

Chest protectors will cover from the bottom of your neck down to your belly button. Depending on your position, youll be in a position where anything lower will not be exposed. The chest protector will not protect your throat

All chest protectors come with an adjustable harness that will fit around your back and latch into the other side to keep in place when behind the plate. Our umpire shirts are made to fit over any chest protector style.

Umpire Shin Guards-Leg Guards:

Umpire shin guards today offer greater protection than ever before. The correct name should actually be leg guards instead of shin as some styles provide some thigh, ankle and foot protection.

The styles vary based on the number of "knees" and the amount of ankle and foot protection. They range in size from 13 to 18.5 and come in single, double or triple knee. We recommend single knee protection. They provide ample protection and let you be mobile behind the dish.

How do I measure for shin guards? Measure from center of your kneecap to the bottom of your shin (where the leg meets the top of the foot).

Baseball Umpiring Duties and Positions

In a baseball game officiated by two or more umpires, the plate umpire is the umpire who is positioned behind home plate. This umpire calls balls and strikes, calls fair balls and foul balls short of first/third base, and makes most calls concerning the batter or concerning base runners near home plate. If another umpire leaves the infield to cover a potential play in foul ground or in the outfield, then the plate umpire may move to cover a potential play near second or third base. The plate umpire is also called the umpire-in-chief. Traditionally, an umpiring crew rotates such that each umpire in the crew works each position, including plate umpire, an equal number of games. On the Major League level, an umpiring crew generally rotates positions clockwise each game; for example, the plate umpire in one game would umpire third base in the next.

The other umpires are called base umpires, as they are commonly stationed near the bases. (Field umpire is an incorrect term for any position.) When two umpires are used, the second umpire is simply the base umpire. This umpire will make most calls concerning runners on the bases and nearby plays, as well as in the middle of the outfield. When three umpires are used, the second umpire is called the first base umpire and the third umpire is called the third base umpire, even though the various umpires may move to different positions on the field as the play demands. When four umpires are used, each umpire is named after the base they are stationed near. Sometimes a league will provide six umpires; then, two are stationed in the outfield and then may be called outfield umpires. In Major League Baseball, outfield umpires are only used during the playoffs and the All-Star Game, when they are stationed in foul territory on both sides, and are thus known as the left- and right-field umpires. Rulings on catches of batted balls are usually made by the umpire closest to the play.

Amateur Baseball Umpiring

An amateur umpire is an umpire who officiates amateur baseball. Amateur umpires are paid and thus might be considered professionals but the term "amateur" refers to the level of baseball officiated, not the status of the umpire (according to the Little League Baseball/Softball rule book, umpires should be volunteers and not be paid). Umpires are responsible for ensuring that all players, coaches, and fans conduct themselves in a sportsmanlike manner, and that the game's focus is on playing, rather than on personal matters or "bad blood" between opposing teams. Each umpire has the authority to eject any player, manager, or coach from the premises in order to insure the integrity of the game. In some cases, they have authority over the spectators as well. There are numerous organizations that train/test anyone interested in umpiring for local leagues and can help make connections to the leagues in the area. Little League and Babe Ruth Baseball are two of the most popular organizations when it comes to youth baseball and each have their own application, test, and training process for becoming an umpire.In Canada many municipalities run their own amateur baseball leagues for children and hire umpires. The pinnacle of amateur umpiring is the Little League World Series. Amateur umpires from around the world participate in this event on a completely volunteer basis. However, to get to this point umpires must go participate at various levels of All-Star tournaments ranging from district to regional to state tournaments.

Professional Baseball Umpiring

Becoming a Major League Baseball (North America) umpire is a long and tough road, with very low odds of success. First, a person desiring to become a professional umpire must attend one of two private umpiring schools authorized by Major League Baseball: The Jim Evans Umpire Academy or The Harry Wendelstedt Umpire School. Both schools are run by former Major League umpires and are located in Florida. There are no prerequisites for attending these schools, however, there is an Umpire Camp, run by Major League Baseball, that would be a great tool for the success at either of these schools. They offer two one week sessions in November in Southern California and the top students are eligible to earn scholarships to either of the professional umpire schools in Florida.

After five weeks of training, each school sends its top students to the Professional Baseball Umpires Corp. (PBUC) evaluation course also held in Florida. The actual number of students sent on to the evaluation course is determined by PBUC and not the umpire schools. Generally, the top 10 to 20 percent of each school's graduating class advance. The evaluation course is conducted by PBUC staff, which differs in personnel from the staff at the respective umpire schools. The evaluation course generally lasts around 10 days. Depending on the number of available positions in the various minor leagues, some (but not all) of the evaluation course attendees will be assigned to a low level minor league.

Professional umpires begin their careers in a Class "A" league, which is divided into four levels (rookie, short-season, long-season and advanced "A"). Top umpiring prospects will often begin their careers in a short-season "A" league (for example, the New York-Penn League), but most will begin in a rookie league (for example, the Gulf Coast League).

Throughout the season all minor league umpires in Class A and Class AA are evaluated by members of the PBUC staff. All umpires receive a detailed written evaluation of their performance after every season. In addition, all umpires, except those in the rookie or short "A" leagues, receive written mid-season evaluations.

Generally, an umpire is regarded as making adequate progress "up the ranks" if he advances up one level of Class "A" ball each year (thus earning promotion to Class AA after three to four years) and promotion to Class AAA after two to three years on the Class AA level. However, this is a very rough estimate and other factors not discussed (such as a lack of or overwhelming number of retirements at higher levels) may dramatically affect these estimates. For example, many umpires saw rapid advancement in 1999 due to the mass resignation of many Major League umpires as a collective bargaining ploy.

When promoted to the Class AAA level, an umpire's evaluation will also be conducted by the umpiring supervisory staff of Major League Baseball. In recent years, top AAA prospects, in addition to umpiring and being evaluated during the regular season (in either the International or Pacific Coat League) have been required to umpire in the Arizona Fall League where they receive extensive training and evaluation by Major League Baseball staff.

In addition, top AAA prospects may also be rewarded with umpiring only Major League pre-season games during spring training (in lieu of Class AAA games). Finally, the very top prospects may umpire Major League regular season games on a limited basis as "fill-in" umpires (where the Class AAA umpire replaces a sick, injured or vacationing Major League umpire).

Finally, upon the retirement (or firing) of a Major League umpire, a top Class AAA umpire will be promoted to Major League Baseball's permanent umpire staff. During this entire process, if an umpire is evaluated as no longer being a major-league prospect, he (or she) will be released, ending their professional career.

There are currently (in 2005) 68 umpires on Major League Baseball's permanent staff, and 21 Class AAA umpires eligible to umpire regular season Major League games as a "fill-in" umpire.

MLB umpires earn $100,000 to $300,000 per year depending on their experience. The will work in either the American or National League. Minor league umpires earn a considerably lower salary.

 

Umpiring Plate Mechanics

Choosing a Plate Position

Historically there were two schools of thought: what was called the American League School favored the umpire to stand in a wrestler, box or straddle stance directly behind the middle of the plate. AL umpires used outside chest protectors. The pad proves to be too bulky to work anywhere else but directly down the pipe. The AL stance is therefore slightly high and often the catchers movement will cut off the bottom of the strike zone. This position afforded excellent view of the corners of the plate and top of the strike zone at all times.

The National League School umpire used an inside chest protector. These umpires were free to work the slot, best described as taking a position with your eyes centered down the side of the plate that the batter is standing on. In the slot you are able to work in quite close to the catcher, get lower in the zone, and see every part of the plate and strike zone. This position requires you to learn where the outside corners are in order to call them correctly (a skill that must be practiced regularly.) The NL stance also permits you to work in closer to the plate. Many umpires move so that their mask is actually over the catcher's back or even tighter, their shoulder. Getting too close in an invitation for an interference penalty. Too far back and you will not see the plate.

There is nothing stopping an NL or slot-style umpire from taking a position in the center of the plate like an AL style umpire would. For the umpire using the outside protector attempts to use the slot will lead to many times when clear sight of the plate and strike zone is restricted. An interesting point to not here is that some umpires are very relaxed about your selection of position, some are adamant. For many umpires it is slot, and slot-only; for others it is over the catcher and that position only.

Choosing a Plate Stance

If you use an outside protector you must select a wrestler, box or sometimes called the straddle stance, as you will be standing higher in the zone than might an umpire wearing internal protection. An umpire should be able to move quickly and effortlessly into their chosen stance. The umpire should not drop and lock into the stance until the pitcher has committed to delivery to the plate. Between pitches the umpire must stand and relax leg, back and arm muscles. Fail to do this and your career behind the plate will grow increasingly less comfortable and could be shortened due to back and muscle problems.

Finally you will be facing forward, never turned, particularly your head. Point your nose at the pitcher and leave it there. If your stance places your head at an angle, or if you routinely turn your head to follow a pitch, you will get injured. Your stance must permit your equipment to protect you as much as possible.

The Box Stance

We have all seen Olympic wrestler's preparing for their first standing rounds: one foot slightly forward, knees flexed, back slightly bent, completely balanced. This is the most universal stance for the umpire. To take this stance move to your place (slot or center) behind the plate and catcher. Keep one foot, the foot on the side the batter stands on, slightly forward of the other foot. As the pitcher moves forward drop smoothly in a crouch. Many umpires move their eyes down to a line at the top of the strike zone, some go slightly below that line, some stay quite high. If you are working the center of the plate you will normally remain quite high in the stance. The major problem you see with umpires using this stance relates to their positioning behind the catcher. If you take their eye-level, and relate it to the catcher's helmet, you often discover that they are blind to many pitches in the last 20 or more feet of the pitch. This tends to get worse as the game progresses and the umpire gets more and more tired.

The Kneeling Stance

Umpires working the slot will often kneel down on one knee. The knee behind the catcher in on the ground. You will see this stance often as you watch professional league umpires. It has several advantages, particularly relieving pressure on the back, allowing the umpire to get very low in the strike zone and providing a smaller "target" behind the plate. It has several disadvantages, notably, more pressure on the legs and muscles as you stand. It is often argued that it decreases mobility but it only takes a fraction of a second to move from down to standing. A good plate umpire can be moving down the line as fast as an umpire who elects another stance.

The Scissors Stance

I see this stance often while watching International League (NL affiliate) games. The umpire, instead of kneeling, extends his leg backwards. This stance has all the advantages of the kneeling stance without nearly as much leg strain and without requiring that extra second to come up from the ground. The disadvantages are that it must be carefully developed and implemented. It is the stance with the most leg movement and therefore the most likely to provide a small instability in the umpire. It is best if a stance has a "lock-in" point. This is the most difficult aspect to achieve in the scissors stance. Finally, there have been reports of neck strain related to this stance. The weight of the mask, and the potential for injury should a foul ball strike the mask, are concerns someone using this stance should be aware of.

The Slot Stance

This is the current stance taught by the Jim Evans Academy of Professional Umpiring. It is similar to a wrestler stance except the outside foot is one shoe length in front of the trailing foot, which is behind the catcher. The base of the stance is slightly wider and the stance has a comfortable feel to it, using and not abusing muscle groups. The drop (A to B) is simple, strong and very efficient. Lock-in is positive and consistent. Adjustments can be made quickly.

What position and stance should you choose? Some umpires will argue that only "this stance" and only "over this part of the plate" are your only proven choice. With an inside protector they all work and work well. (Outside protector users must elect the center of the plate and straddle stance.) Choose the stance that makes you feel most confident in your ability to call strikes and balls. If you feel that you are weak on corners try moving to the center of the plate. If you feel your balance is off as you drop into your stance, change to kneeling or to box. All these stances work effectively if practiced and perfected. Elect one stance that works 100% of the time and stick with it. "Use the stance where you miss the fewer number of pitches; comfort is meaningless if you can't properly call the game."

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