It’s our last off day here and I thought I’d take some time to discuss some of the principles of game management and ejections. As we all know, ejections are part of the game, and I’m sure for most fans that don’t understand umpiring, they are a part of the entertainment value of a game. Much like crashes at a Nascar event, ejections are part of the allure of the game. One only has to look on YouTube and be able to see hundreds, if not thousands of ejection videos at all levels of baseball. But what most fans don’t understand is the methodology taught behind the ejection process. While most of the instruction here is focused on rules and mechanics, we are taught some game management and ejection tips and techniques. Most of what is taught here is geared at the professional level, but can be applied to other levels as well. They teach the basic ignore, acknowledge, warn, eject guidelines. And of course, these are only guidelines, as every situation is unique. One of the interesting concepts of ejections is the magic word “You.” We’ve all heard and probably been taught at some point that if the player, coach, or manager gets personal and uses the “you” word, then he is gone. I’ve been taught by some that if an umpire ever hears the “you” word, that the manager has made it personal and he must go. But I’ve always contended that it’s the context of the statement, and not all statements are personal attacks because “you” was used in the sentence. There need to be distinctions made when a manager says “you blew the call”, or “you made a terrible call.” The subject of the previous statements are not the umpire, but rather the call itself. It is perfectly acceptable for a manager to not like a call and as long as he doesn’t cross the line, he is within his right to question a call. But when he says things like “you’re horseshit”, or “you’re terrible”, then the complaint is not abut the call, but rather your competence as an umpire. The latter is grounds for an ejection, and I’m not saying the former is not, but most often depending on the tone, it is not always. I think teaching that the “you” word is an auto eject does a disservice to umpires. So I felt somewhat vindicated when we were taught that exact same concept that I had believed in and had many a discussion with fellow umpires about. They said basically the same thing, don’t eject just because the “you” word has been used. Honestly, its hard to not use “you” in a sentence when arguing with someone. Often managers will say things like “you were not in the right spot”, or “how did you not see that tag?” Would you eject for those statements if said in a reasonable calm voice, one without rage or histrionics? You shouldn’t, but yet “you” was used.
While we can debate the use of verbiage in what determines an ejection, I think game management plays a bigger role in ejections that most people realize. In my experience, umpires that stay on top of their game, tend to have not only fewer ejections, but fewer overall problems. Umpires should not only study the rules and mechanics, but continue to strive for excellence. But assertiveness and people management are very important as well. Knowing how to talk to people and recognizing differing personalities you may encounter on the field, and how to deal with those personalities, can play a big part in whether you can diffuse or exacerbate an problem. Umpires must realize that they have the trump card, but that trump card is often misunderstood. The power is not that you can eject at any point if you so desire, but rather the power is in the other person knowing that you have a gun in a knife fight. The umpire is the one in control, he needs to dictate the direction of the argument or discussion, not to stoop to a lower level and engage an irate manager. An umpire should be professional and should not feel like he can do whatever he wants to because he holds the ejection card. Ejections are a very powerful tool and should not be used in place of professionalism, hard work, and integrity. While we all make mistakes, myself included, we can all agree that a mistake does not give someone the right to abuse you on the field. But you can often limit on field problems by using proper game management techniques. Of course, it often takes years to develop the skills necessary to master those techniques. Which begs a larger question,one that I have discussed with my umpire buddies over many a beer. What are some of the qualities that you would look for if you were recruiting someone for umpiring that had no experience? Say you had 20 or 30 people to choose from that had no experience and you wanted to pick 8-10 to train as potential umpires. And you could not evaluate them first on a field, only through a one on one interview. What do you think would be some of the qualities and personality traits that would be important in an umpire? I of course don’t have all the answers, but it is interesting to think of those particular qualities that may be necessary in someone that wants to umpire. Is there a correlation between certain personality traits and the makings of a good umpire? It’s an interesting discussion and a good one to have in a post game breakdown over food and adult beverages.
It’s the first of February and the start a new month here in Vero Beach. At brunch this morning, some of us were in disbelief that we were almost done. While the days felt long, and when I first got here, today seemed a long way away. We all agreed that the time has flown by. Have a safe Super Bowl Sunday and I will post again tomorrow.