Making the call on tag plays

Maybe it’s just coincidence, or maybe I’m just noticing it more. But it sure seems like umpires are judging tag plays more by when the ball arrives than by whether a tag is applied.

I saw it several times over games the last weekend. On a few bang-bang plays going into bases, the ball arrived, the runner slid in, and the umpire called the runner out. The problem is the tag was applied after the runner’s foot was on the base.

My friend and assistant Rich says making the call that way is the easy way out. You don’t have to see what actually happens, or focus on the entire sequence. You just look for the ball to come in around the same time as the runner and call the runner out.

Now, I could be wrong about it. All those runners could’ve been out. But I don’t think so. I’m pretty good at judging these sorts of things with a fairly unbiased eye, and I know what I see.

What do you think? Are umpires depending more on the arrival of the ball than seeing the entire play through? Or is it my imagination?

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About Ken Krause

Ken Krause has been coaching girls fastpitch softball for nearly 20 years. Some may know him as a contributing columnist to Softball Magazine, where he writes Krause's Korner -- a regular column sponsored by Louisville Slugger. Ken is also the Administrator of the Discuss Fastpitch Forum, the most popular fastpitch discussion forum on the Internet. He is currently a Three Star Master Coach with the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA), and is certified by both the Amateur Softball Association (ASA) and American Sports Education Program (ASEP). Ken is a private instructor specializing in pitchers, hitters, and catchers. He teaches at North Shore Baseball Academy in Libertyville, IL and Pro-Player Consultants in McHenry, IL.

Posted on June 18, 2009, in Baserunning, Rules and Umpires. Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. Rick Cartwright

    I only notice it when the call is against us! Seriously, I have seen the same thing. Two things I have noticed on many of these calls are 1) the tags are applied high and the slide is done sitting up pulling focus away from the bag. 2) the umpires are out of position when they make the call which doesn’t give them the best look at the play.

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  2. I’ve seen this happen a lot and the calls always go to the defense. Just happened last week when the throw arrived before our runner got to third, but they slid into the bag before the 3rd baseman could spin around and make the tag. We only had a home plate umpire, who called our runner out, and later admitted he wasn’t sure of the call.

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  3. Agree wholeheartedly – it seems that this is the most common call and not the exception (regardless of which team the call favors). With one field umpire, they have a lot of ground to cover so I agree w/ Rick’s comment that its often a challenge for blue to get into the best position; however, what really drives me crazy is the number of calls that are being made when the umpires are still moving! What do we try to teach our players about hitting, catching – keep the head still to better track the ball. The same holds true for blue – the umpire should pull up and stop short of the optimal location to view the play so that they can make the call from a stationary position rather than get 5 feet closer and try to make the right call while their head is flopping around like a rag doll. I think that this poor technique is responsible for a lot of the calls we are seeing.

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  4. Rick Cartwright

    What I have seen this year is many new umps in training at tournaments and not knowing the mechanics of where to place themselves. However, when they are out of position, I really don’t know if the veteran is discussing these issues with them. Every tournament with the exception of one had this. Funny – the one exception was an ASA event with an NCAA ump. They told him to wear an ASA shirt! He was a good ump though calls were made to a different rule set.

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  5. I also wonder if it’s a matter of training, or perhaps non-training. I haven’t been through umpire certification so I don’t know, but maybe no one has ever focused them on how to make the call. It’s tough under any circumstances, and certainly easier to call the out. But perhaps if there was more focus on it they’d get better at it, just as players get better the more they work on their skills. Interestingly, my team may take part in some umpire training for a local association. One of our dads is an umpire there and asked if we’d be willing to help them out with it. You can bet this is a situation we’ll recommend. I’d suggest to them that we videotape it, have the blue make the call, then see if the call that was made is the correct one. Sort of like we did with our baserunners and getting a good jump. It’s amazing how much different it looks on video.

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  6. Ken,I know a high school umpire who says umpires in his association preach “every out we call gets us one step closer to the end of the game”. Then he also says, “We are here to call strikes and outs”. When in doubt, there is no doubt in my mind he is calling an out. Even when not in doubt he calls an out! When close, it’s an out.

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  7. Rick Cartwright

    That is too bad if that is his thoughts and motto. ASA holds class for training including onfield work. As I train(ed) with a seasoned umps, if I was in the wrong spot, could have improved on something – they have talked to me about it between innings or games. This makes the jobs of the crews easier. Certainly never has one suggested calling anything but honest and correct game and if you blow a call, NEVER make it up on the next.

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  8. Ken; I also have witnessed this more and more and this past weekend it may have cost us the tournament. Losing 8-7 last inning (we are the home team), game #8 nobody out, winner advances to the championship game, my daughter rocks one to the fence and the throw gets to the third baseman who is straddling properly but the throw and tag are high. He actually had his fist in the air even before the tag. He was a young guy and most of the time I see this with the younger umps. Maybe there thinking that if they wait a couple seconds their call could be influenced by the other parents or caoches. Anyway we took third but it still hurts..By the way, one of our students say’s hi…Haley is doing great.

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  9. Rick, you could be right about the early call. If you make your calls loudly and definitively you’re less likely to catch grief. Still, I wish umpires received better training or got more practice on calling the tag plays. I know it can be tough to see, but that little bit of extra effort would certainly encourage more offense in the game since it would help some coaches become more aggressive. Tell Haley hello from me. Glad to hear she’s doing well — as I would expect! Can’t wait to see her again in the fall.

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  10. That’s kind of scary. My name is Rick and my daughter’s name is Haley also!

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  11. I see this alot and believe that umps if unsure should be calling this call based on the effort placed by the players if the base runner made a spectacular slide or the 3rd baseman made a great catch and tag instead of always calling the runner out which is what I see 9 out 10 times

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  12. We just had a game and the umpire called our runner out at third base. The Defender caught the ball in foul territory never moved to tag. But the Um said ” I heard the tag she has to be out”… I asked did you see her make the tag. ” coach I heard the contact shes out” UNBELIEVABLE ! ! and umpires wonder why coachs get so mad, if you can’t see the play don’t make a call or ask for help.. As I walked away the Home plate Um said I thInk he missed that one. These 2 guys did not even suporrt each other in the game. I think it is time for a tougher system for licensing officials.

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  13. I’m surprised the umpire would make that call, or wouldn’t ask his partner for help. Must be ego, or perhaps inexperience. A couple of years ago at Northern Nationals there was a questionable call in the field. I believe it had to do with a runner getting hit by the ball when she was running behind a fielder. The field ump called the runner out, I began to question the call, but before I could say much the home plate umpire came out and said he was going to talk to the field ump. The two conferred and got it right — the runner was not out. That’s the way it should be handled. Umpires need to call what they see, not what they think. Fortunately, I think most do. Hopefully the guy you had a problem with will learn and get better.

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