There’s No Upside...
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Coaching Intimidation - "C'mon Blue!"
"C'mon Blue. Have the courage to ring him up!", says the coach.
"That's one!" I say quietly to myself. The following is a baseball experience, but the same events transpire on the fast-pitch softball fields as well. This setting is the final pre-tournament game for the Orem Youth Baseball Monday Night Lights accelerated league between the two undefeated teams in the 12U baseball division. The pitch was a curve ball that broke too quickly and never did make it over the plate.
What ensued, in this top half of the first inning was another base runner getting on and a home run over the fence. The assistant coach was exasperated as he was watching his worst nightmare come to fruition, and his team had not even been up to bat yet. The dream of being undefeated was slipping from his grasp and it must be the umpire's fault.
ON THE BUCKET - This was the typical youth baseball setting where the base coaches are in their typical places in the coaching boxes, but the defensive coach or coaches come out along their dugout fence line and sit on a bucket. Why this is allowed is beyond me. It started long before my time as an official and the coaches have come to expect it as a right, when in fact it is a privilege. The coach that orchestrates the pitching will sit on the bucket and flash signs to the catcher, who then flashes those signs to the pitcher. The defensive coaches also get to quickly pass along instruction and praises to their team. Did I mention that sitting on a bucket is a privilege and not a right?
INTIMIDATION - Coaches should be offering uplifting support to their players who play in these youth leagues. Some coaches do not feel that way. Instead, they are molded out of NAZI prison camp guard stereotypes that reign with total fear and terror. Positive comments are rarely heard. Instead, there are directives given and complete adherence to those mandates are required in an attempt to achieve total perfection. Anything short of that goal is not to be tolerated.
The young players are rarely allowed to think for themselves. Instead, they are moved around by the Master Puppeteer and must do exactly as he directs. Fun... Yes, you are allowed to smile and enjoy when the perfect play, catch, or home run for your team is hit. Otherwise, stern comments of disapproval are delivered to each player in an effort to suck all the fun out of the game of baseball.
The catcher was doing a fine job as the pitcher was trying to find his groove. He was busy protecting me from wild pitches, yet when a pitch popped out of his glove, he was scolded. When the pitch bounced off the dirt and he did not fall to the left or right in time to prevent the ball from going to the backstop, he was reprimanded. When the batter fouled off a pitch and he did not glove it for a foul-tip, he was belittled. And all of this was within the first 10 minutes of the game.
When a clear outside pitch was called for a ball, then the coach blamed his catcher for not framing it right. When the pitch was close, but still a ball he would snipe to his catcher, "Where was that?" To which the catcher would look over with that, "Coach, it was close coach but please don't yell at me," look. The coach was totally intimidating and demeaning the youthful spirit of his catcher.
I was busy wondering, was it his son? Or was this the son of a parent who had entrusted their boy to his care? Watching the coach intimidate his catcher was totally distracting for me as an umpire. Yes, the team was undefeated in the rankings, but the majority of these boys will ultimately lose any love they had for the game. Why? The fun just gets sucked out of these 12 year old's game. Why? because this adult coach in busy in his pursuit of excellence.
YET ANOTHER BALL - Another batter came to the plate and the pitches just were not quite in the zone. He drug it out to a 2 ball 2 strike count. In came another early breaking curve and the catcher had to fall forward and to his right to glove the pitch way outside. His need to lunge forward told everybody but this coach that it was a ball. I could hear the exasperation of the coach as he said, "C'mon, you have got to have the courage to call that a strike." Then he demanded a response, "Where was that catcher?"
That's two... "Time!" say I, as I got out of my stance, removed my mask, and walked directly to the coach on the bucket in front of the third base dugout. His head coach was standing right next to him as I came near and leaned over in front of him and said quietly, but sternly, "Coach, that is two times here in this first inning that you have questioned my judgment." To which he quickly popped up off his bucket and defiantly stated, "That's because you have blown it two times. My catcher even said that those were strikes."
"Coach, your catcher is not the umpire of this game. And because you cannot control yourself, then you have lost your privileges to be out here on the bucket."
"What, that's not fair!" he said.
"Get in the dugout!" I said.
The head coach was shocked and complained, "But who is going to coach first base for us."
"Coach, he can come out and be a base coach, but he has just lost his privileges of being out on the bucket and I don't want to hear any more about the pitch calls." And with that, I turned around and went back behind the plate and continued with the game.
I had wanted it to be a quiet but effective request on my part, but the coach became defiant and load where all could hear. That was his choice. My plan was to sternly give him a warning and allow him to stay on the field. It was his choice to jump up and affirm his reason for vocally questioning my calls. I am still smiling as I type this that I had the quickness to assert that his catcher was not umpiring this game... "My catcher even said they were strikes"... Classic!!!
RESULT - The half inning finished with 3 runs being scored. The offended team came to bat and blasted home run after home run. They ended up winning the game 15 to 6 without hearing another peep from the coaches about the pitch calls. I am glad I took the steps to control the situation, but I always look for ways that I could have handled it better. The truth is that as umpires we can control our own emotions and actions, but we are often dealing with irrational coaches, and that is where it all gets tricky when it comes to game management.
FLIPSIDE - As the other team was getting blasted with home run after home run, there were a couple of batters who were at two strikes with a third coming close but being called a ball. The coach called time and came down to me and asked both quietly and politely, "Where are some of those pitches? They look really close, but they aren't being called strikes, and we really need strikes." I then told the coach, "Hey your catcher is setting up with the center of his body on the outside edge of the plate. Then when the pitch comes in and he has to move his glove to the right he is well off the plate, yet they look like a strike because there is only a little movement. And I don't know if you have noticed, but I have been hit three times so far because I am totally exposed back there because of him being so far out to the right. Keep an eye on how exposed I am and then you can better tell where he is setting up." And with that the coach turned and called to his assistant, "Have him set up not so far outside so that we can both protect the umpire and get some of those calls."
WHICH IS BETTER - Of the two coaching styles, which do you think I am going to favor? Which will draw the most positive outcome if there is a 50/50 type of play or call. Which style allows me to return to my zone and do my job, verses having to deal with the inner turmoil of conflict all while pitches are still being hurled my way.
The intimidation style coach does not realize how his actions take away from my ability as an umpire to fully concentrate on the game. His actions are a total distraction that end up hurting him much more than helping. It is not deliberate on my part. It is just what I have noticed happens as the result of their actions. I have a job to do and it make it harder when a coach quites coaching and starts to critique my work as an umpire. It is also a huge sign of poor sportsmanship. It is also against the rules to argue judgment calls. And it is just plain bad for the game.
AND FINALLY - Coaches need to remember that they are playing against the other team and not the umpires. We are not their enemies. Their competition is the other team. We, the umpires, are there to impartially officiate, control, and manage the game. The coaches are there to coach their teams with the hope of bringing out the best in their players and ultimately getting the victory. Nothing good comes from a coach deciding to battle with the umpires.
Make it a great day! Michael Leavitt - Orem, Utah
9.02a Any umpire's decision which involves judgment, such as, but not limited to, whether a batted ball is fair or foul, whether a pitch is a strike or a ball, or whether a runner is safe or out, is final. No player, manager, coach or substitute shall object to any such judgment decisions.
4.8.C Any arguing of the judgment of balls and strikes will result in a team warning. Any repeat offenses will result in the ejection of the team member.