Thursday, April 7, 2011

Distance or Angle

Whenever I work with younger umpires, I always ask them this question, what's more important, angle or distance? Never fails, most of them automatically say distance. I then go into about a 10 minute discussion about why you couldn't be more wrong.

When umpiring, angle is the most important thing to making the correct calls. Distance is important also, but only to a point. I have had coaches that have complained that I was not right "on top" of the play. They want me to be about two feet away watching the tag at second. Well, if there is one thing I have learned from umpire school and all the games I have done, it's that being too close can hurt you. Let me give you a few examples.

Example #1:
Bases empty. Play at first. I watch the foot and listen for the catch but I tend to stay far enough back so I can use my peripheral vision to help me see when the ball gets there. If you are right on top of the play, you can't do that. Plus if you have a weird play where the throw pulls the runner off of the bag and you then have to look for a tag, well being too close makes it very hard to see that play.

Example # 2:
Runner on second steals third. You are in the C slot (to the right of the pitcher if you are behind him). If you care about distance you are going to run directly to third. This will put you in a position behind the runner. How can you possibly see the tag? If angle is what you are looking for, you are going to move to the 45 ft line of the third baseline and get the correct angle to see the tag.

Example # 3:
Runner on second, ground ball to second, who throws to first. You sprint over to first to get about 3 feet away to make the call. The runner going to third is really slow (I have seen this happen) and the first baseman fires a throw over the third. Assuming your plate umpire isn't helping you out, how are you going to make that call.

These are just three examples of how being right "on top" of a play can actually put you at a disadvantage.

One thing I truly believe. If you have the right angle and a decent set of eyes, distance should matter at all. Obviously, you want to move towards the play you are calling but if you don't have to get 3 feet away from the play either. Angle is one of the most essential components to being a good field umpire.

One very important thing to understand, most likely, in youth baseball you will never have more than two umpires on a game. Actually, all through high school you will most likely only have two umpires on game. In a two umpire crew, it is impossible to get in perfect position for every call...especially when the kids start throwing the ball all over the place. You need to remember that even though you might not be able to get the desired distance you are comfortable with, it is much easier to get into a position that gives you a decent angle on the call. And even if you get caught out of position, hustle. Do as much as you can to get into position and the coaches that know anything will give you the benefit of the doubt.

1 comment:

  1. You are 100% right. Angle is way more important. BUT, perception is a big part of the game. I umpire differently depending on the level. If I'm doing a varsity game, angle and getting the call right is most important. But if I'm doing a little league game with 11 year olds and coaches who don't fit the "if they know anything they will give you the benefit of the doubt" mold, I find that perception is more important. I find that if I maintain the proper angle but am far from the play I get questioned way more, than if I run to get close and have an absolutely awful angle and no way to know if I'm calling the play correctly or not. But they don't seem to say as much in those situations as they do when I know I made the right call from the right angle, but am "too far to see" in their mind.