Knowing the rules
Before I launch into this let me preface it by saying I have nothing but the utmost respect for the men and women in blue. It’s not easy to do the job they do. I know. I’ve done it. Every single pitch requires a decision by the home plate umpire, and often you have to think quickly and make a decision before you really have all the information you need. Add to that six to eight games in a day in the blistering heat and humidity and you have a tough job on your hands.
That being said, this tirade isn’t about making the calls. I may not always agree with the calls they make but I’m sure they’re making the best calls they can.
No, this post is about umpires not knowing the rules. To me there is no excuse for that. I’m just a coach, but every year before the season I read the rulebook cover to cover. I make sure I know what’s changed and what’s new. Apparently not all umpires do the same.
Here’s a case in point. For the second time this season an umpire declared in a pre-game meeting that a catcher’s mitt couldn’t be used certain positions. Which used to be the rule. Of course, this umpire stated that you can’t use a catcher’s mitt in the outfield, which was never the case. The old rule said a mitt could only be used in the catcher and first base positions.
That rule was changed I believe in 2006. Rule 3, Section 4 of the 2007 ASA rule book states “A Glove/Mitt may be worn by any player. The dimensions of any glove/mitt used by any fielder shall not exceed the specifications set forth below (see drawings and specifications.” In other words, as long as the mitt meets the legal dimensions it can be used in any position on the field. If it can be used in the catcher’s position, it can be used anywhere on the field. The rule is perfectly clear. It’s not highlighted as a change so it’s been on the books for at least a year. Why is it that two different umpires at two different tournaments insisted otherwise? Isn’t it their job to know these things? As my friend Rich says they’re the only people being paid to be on the field. It’s their responsibility to know the rulebook backward and forward.
Now, this is not to say that I like or encourage field position players to wear a mitt, especially in the outfield. They’re designed to accept a hard-thrown ball, not to catch a fly ball or a ground ball. But if a player insists on it, the point is it’s legal.
Ok, so maybe it’s tough to know every rule. Again I can understand that. But that doesn’t mean you should declare something that is patently incorrect. If you don’t know, and you are challenged, perhaps you should have a copy of the rulebook handy so you can look it up. I know I always have one.
This year one extraordinary thing did happen. During a game I declared a courtesy runner for my pitcher and the umpire wasn’t sure he should allow it. I quietly told him that the ASA rules state a courtesy runner can be used for the pitcher or catcher at any time, and that it has to be someone not in the game. I told him I had rulebook in the dugout and he could confirm it there if he wanted. To my surprise he said yes, go ahead and find it. I did, he looked at it between innings, and he actually apologized for not knowing the rule. That was pretty cool of him. And pretty rare.
In a perfect world every official would know every rule. That’s not going to happen. I don’t claim to know them all by heart either. But if you don’t know the rule, as an official you shouldn’t be making declarations about it before the game. That’s just wrong.