Men in Blue

Ball or strike.  Fair or foul.  Safe or out.  Umpires have the arduous task of making a fast game that black and white (yet they wear blue).  There is little room for subjectivity, except for maybe a balk call.  Of course, as players, it does not seem hard at all to make these calls and are the first to become irate when we feel we have been slighted.  “How could you miss that call?”  Granted, we are a little biased, and always feel that we are correct.

As a catcher, the next most important thing to handling a pitching staff is being about to build a positive rapport with umpires that will hopefully benefit us when there is a close call.  One way to do this is by making sure he does not get hit with balls in the dirt.  Blocking balls, even with no one on, can give the umpire more confidence that he is not going to get hit, and may help him track a pitch the split-second longer you need for it to be called a strike.  Another way to go about developing this relationship is through conversation.  Baseball games take a long time to complete, and things can get pretty lonely as an umpire, with two teams battling each other and at the same time, hating the men in blue.  This need for some friendly conversation is what enables a catcher to connect with the home plate umpire for the few hours he is back there.

What exactly is talked about?  Pretty much everything.  A popular topic is usually “where have you come from (with respect to what city you were just in) and where are you going?”  That lends itself to the tangents of stadiums, accommodations, game issues, etc.  Talking about the weather is always good for an inning or two: complaining about how hot or cold it has been is very popular (although last night, I was talking to a base umpire in between innings when I was down in the bullpen and marveling about how pleasant the weather was in San Jose this past weekend).

Whatever the topic of conversation, part of our job description as a catcher is to get the umpire on our side.  This can become difficult when you feel he has just punched you out on strikes on what you thought was a ball, or if he just blew a call at the plate that you cannot believe actually happened.  However, we must try to let it go or diffuse the situation in the attempt to get him back on “our” side.

For example, in San Jose on Sunday, we had a runner called out at the plate on what looked to be a pretty easy safe call to make.  Our manager argued very adamantly about this call and was probably very close to an ejection.  The call ended the inning, so I was faced with the peril of going back there while that blow up was still lingering.  What was my go-to?  “So, where are you guys [umpires] going next?”  That led to a discussion about them staying in San Jose for the next series, that they were staying in the Wyndham downtown, and where they had just come from. 

Did this abate any of the animosity that was stirred up by the questioning of the call in the previous inning?  I will never know for sure.  However, I know that it could not have hurt.  Umpires (and officials in any sport) have the thankless job of interpreting and applying the rules of the game.  Despite their imperfections, some tend to be good guys just trying to chase their dreams and make a living.  Others can be arrogant and make it seem that everyone is there to see them when they go on power trips.

We are not perfect, and neither are they.  Unfortunately for them, they are expected to get every call right and cannot just have an error chalked up on the scoreboard if they mess something up.  The struggle between players and perceived correctness will continue as long as the game is played.  But, the relationships made on the field are enduring.  You get to know some of the umpires pretty well, and these are the ones you look forward to working your games.  For it is these men in blue that can make the painful sight of a bad call a little more bearable.

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One Response to “Men in Blue”

  1. Suzie Says:

    Love it! I would have never really thought about this relationship…interesting. Keep up the good work Chris!

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