The Correct Call!

I am always in pursuit of the perfect game. Not as a pitcher striking out every batter. Not as a batter hitting for a cycle including a grand-slam home run. But as an umpire calling a perfect game, while handling every disputed call with poise and confidence.

Unusual Calls - Get Both Coaches Together

Unusual Calls - Get Both Coaches Together

Michael Leavitt 160One of my great baseball umpiring mentors, Carl Childress, drilled into my head the concept, "Never explain an unusual call to one coach only!" This concept applies to the recent call that we discussed by Cris Durbin on the slow pitch ball field. I think that we can all agree that a line drive hitting a runner standing on second base and knocking him to the ground is an unusual play. The ruling is even more unusual, and best heard by both coaches at the same time. I have found that this approach works quite well.

Carl, known by most as Papa C, shared the following in his 2016 book "How to Think Like an Umpire." Yes, Carl is a baseball umpire, but the concepts of game management translate very well to the softball fields. I took the time to type this section of Papa C's book, because I think that any of my friends who visit this blog entry are worth the investment of my time. Enjoy the read....


Working with coaches as I did during the Valley seasons (10 months of 12), I'm reminded of the quip: "Welcome to the Paranoia hot line. Please hold on while we trace your call."

If you stop to chat at the home team dugout (perhaps that's where you sign in for pay), don't forget to spend an equal amount of time chatting in the visitor's dugout.

On a very, very hot day when you need to hydrate after every half inning, alternate your trips: home team water bucket, visiting team water bucket, home team...

You can live without chatting with the visitors and drinking their Gatorade. You cannot keep from ruining the game if you talk to just one coach at a critical moment.

Carl ChildressI was involved in two strikingly similar plays (in different games) that tested the mettle of everyone involved. I believe we all rose to the occasion.

Play 14 FED Rules. Bases empty, 0 out, 2-2 on the home team DH. He swings and misses, then heads for first when the ball ricochets off the catcher's glove. The DH kicks the ball (accidentally, in my judgment), and makes first safely when F2 cannot gobble up the ball in time to throw him out.

It looks like interference. Everyone, even the offense, will think it's interference. If Smitty is your partner, he will think it's interference.

It ain't.

What made it tougher was the visiting team came from out of the Valley, and the coach did not know me.

Such a play seems made for this mechanic, where you explain your unusual ruling - to both coaches.

I suppose the coaches noted I did not kill the ball when B1 kicked it. That has to be a clue. So here comes the defensive coach. Before he can say anything, I beckon the home coach to come down from the third-base coaching box.

Think Like An Umpire 1000"Guys, what we got is nothing because...."

"Whoa, Blue." That was an unexpected comment from the visiting coach. "That's interference."

Veteran Blue (me): "Let me ask you: Did you think he did it deliberately?"

Out-of-the-Valley coach: "It doesn't matter."

"But did he do it on purpose? What did it look like to you?"

Grudgingly, he admitted the batter had not looked down and had run straight toward the running lane.

"That's what I saw," I agreed. "In FED rules, then, it's nothing Coach, you can look it up. It's FED rule eight four two a."

"You know the rule number? he asked in an astonished voice.

Home coach, who at the time had known me for 20 years, piped up: "I wouldn't bet against him. He probably wrote the damn thing. He's old enough."

So B1 stayed on first. Then he promptly tried to steal second and the catcher gunned him down.

As the Out-of-the-Valley coach passed me at the plate, heading for the coaching box, he stopped and said softly, "You know, Blue, you were wrong. It's eight four ONE a." Then he gave me a slap on the shoulder and trotted down towards third.

The game was stopped after five innings because of the mercy rule. The Out-of-valley- team won.

I want to admit right now I had no idea what the rule citation was, other than 8 (baserunning) and 4 (runner is out). But I have discovered that there is magic in numbers.


Another day, another game:

Play 15: OBR rules. 1 out, R1, 2-2 count. The next pitch is in the dirt, home team batter B1 swings, the ball bounces off the catcher, and B1 sneaks for first. He kicks the ball (accidentally, in my judgment) and makes it safely for first as R1 pulls up at second.

At the moment B1 kicked the ball, I yelled "Time!" and signaled a "touchdown." Then I thought, "Oh, shucks."

Well, perhaps the word wasn't "shucks," but it sure started with "sh."

I began walking towards the third-base coaches box, meanwhile beckoning towards the visitor's dugout. My partner came jogging over, just to be a witness if i needed one.

After both coaches joined me, I began calmly enough; I wanted to gain their trust. "Now, you must promise you will not yell and scream and holler. This is a tough play, but we can survive if we act like gentlemen, and if we pretend that Youth ball is supposed to build character."

"I knew it," the defensive coach said. "You're going to leave the runner on second because the batter was already out so it wasn't interference. I never get a break."

The offensive coach was equally distressed. "It was an accident. It's nothing. I don't think you should return my runner to first."

"I haven't heard a promise yet," I gently reminded them.

Oh, to hell with it Carl. We both know you know the rules. Quit fartin' around." That came from the offensive coach, who had been a PONY umpire a few years earlier.

Said I: "OK. The batter could not run to first on the dropped third strike because first was occupied with fewer than two outs at the time of the pitch. But he interfered with the ball, even if it was accidental. Since it's not legal for him to run it's interference. But he's already out, so..."

I could see a light go on behind the offensive coach's eyes. "You're gonna call out my runner, ain't you?"

"That's the call Chago. The half inning is over."

But the moral of the stories is the same. The unusual call in what looks like a routine situation requires a calm explanation for both coaches simultaneously. One gets, one gives. They both need to know why.

There's an unintended consequence, as is so often the case. I've discovered through the years the the presence of the "other coach" often has a settling effect on the one who's getting it in the neck.

Simply put: Tinker doesn't want Oscar to see him out of control, up close and personal.


I echo Carl's advice. I have had great success calling both coaches together when the unusual play and call are being made. However, your mileage may vary. Game management tips work differently for different umpires, and that is okay. You might think Carl is up in the night.... And that's okay. However, you might come to love the man as an umpire and end up with a wonderfully huge resource library from his keyboard.

Make it a great day! Michael Leavitt - Orem, Utah


NOTE: Carl Childress passed away at age 79 in November 2016. The excerpt was from his 42nd book published earlier that year. I miss speaking on the phone and emailing with my friend, Carl.

Ball Hit Bat - Or - Bat Hit Ball
Struck At Second - How To Rule?


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