Coach learns a valuable lesson about the men in blue

Got an email today from the mom of one of my students about something that happened in a tournament. She wanted to know if I would talk to her daughter’s coach Kevin about it. I was a little concerned at first, but no need. She actually likes the coach, and it turns out he’s a fan of this blog. Of course I said “sure” — I would’ve done that even if he wasn’t a reader — and then waited for the call.

When he called he told me what happened. His team was at a tournament, and during a close game he noticed that the opposing pitcher was starting with one foot behind the rubber instead of both feet touching. Being the sort that believes people should play within the rules, he decided to bring it up to the umpiring crew — average age approximately 20. Yep, you guessed it. Big mistake.

The field and plate umps talked with him, and then the field ump declared the pitcher wasn’t doing anything illegal. Or at least he couldn’t see anything illegal about it. (He said the back foot was pretty obviously off, and I trust him on it, so it was more of a choice than an inability to see it.)

The next half-inning when his team took the field it started. The field umpire waited until the other team had a runner on base, then called his pitcher (my student) for crow hopping. Not once but twice, advancing the runner to third. Guess he showed Kevin!

I know this student very well, and she doesn’t crow hop. She may get a little airborne from time to time, which would be a leap, but you’d have to be looking awfully close to see it, and it’s nothing she does all the time. If the field umpire couldn’t see the other pitcher starting with her foot off the rubber, it’s unlikely he saw whether Kevin’s pitcher was leaping or not.

There was one other part to the story. Kevin told me there was a rather large rut coming off the pitching rubber, thanks to a general lack of field maintenance. So it’s possible that Kevin’s pitcher wasn’t even illegal since a pitcher is allowed to have her foot off the ground (level with where the ground would’ve been) if there’s rut.

The conclusion he came to was he probably shouldn’t have said anything about the other pitcher. It’s likely the umpire took exception to him bringing it up and decided to make him pay for it. (There’s also a possibility he got “homered” although he didn’t have any way of knowing for sure.)

Bummer, but such is life. Good umpires know coaches questioning things is part of the game and let it roll off their backs. After 15 years of coaching and never being successful in getting even an obvious illegal pitch called, I’d say it’s not worth it. If you see it, learn to let it go and hope the folks in blue care enough to keep the game fair and the playing field level. Thanks to Kevin for allowing me to share this story. And Kevin, if you’re reading this and have anything to add, be sure to leave a comment. The rest of you too!

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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 May 26, 2010, in Coaching, Rules and Umpires. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Mike Thweatt

    It’s too bad that a few umpires take it personally if you try to point anything out – it’s like they think you’re trying to show them up. In reality there is so much going on and so many rules that it would be impossible for anyone to umpire perfectly.
    Like an umpire/referee I know used to tell anyone who questioned his calls “Well I’ve never seen a perfectly officiated game … or a perfectly played game, or a perfectly coached game”.
    Sometimes it’s all in how its presented. If done quietly and in a “gee I’m not sure” way, sometimes the umpires will be more open to watching something – and they can “pretend” it was their idea – their eagle eyes that caught the infraction.
    The only time I ever won a direct disagreement with an umpire was one who announced in the direction of our dugout that he was going to “throw out the next player who rubs out part of the batters box”. Mind you, this was not by intentionally trying to erase the line – just by digging in to hit.
    I told the umpire – calmly – that if he thought any player was trying to rub the line out intentionally, that was fine with me. But I knew that was not the case with my players. I added that the chalk is field decoration and he was supposed to know where the box was. That my hitters had the right to stand on, and dig their cleats into, any part of the box – including the line. And that if one of my players was thrown out, that I was going to protest the game and that he could explain to the league why he had thrown the player out. I didn’t argue – I made my comments calmly and walked back to the dugout.
    We didn’t have any more chalk issues that night, and my players were not intimidated into moving from where they wanted to stand in the batters box.

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  2. Perfect response Mike. OK, maybe there is no perfect response… Those were my thoughts exactly – how was the issue presented? I too have tried to use the ‘gee I’m not sure’ approach when it is a subjective observation issue and it has usually been well accepted. The umps get to explain the rule and show me their knowledge of the game which usually makes them feel good about themselves. If it different than what I think it should be, then I use the ‘Really? OK. I always thought it was…’ response. This way I’m not trying to tell him the rules as if I’m a lawyer or reading it from the book.

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  3. It’s always been one ear and out the other when dealing with refs but it’s a natural reaction for them to automatically shut you out since they are constantly being yelled at. I played in a small league and there was one ref we knew we’d always deal with a lot of bad calls but what can you do.

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