There is a lot of discussion regarding players, coaches, parents, organizations and all things baseball but one thing comes to mind that rarely gets discussed: umpires. Where would we be without these moderators in blue, red, black and whatever others colors they may wear? These men and women may be the most important part of baseball because without them, there would be no baseball. For the most part, it is an avocation that they are doing for their love of the game.
So why do baseball participants and spectators feel the need to abuse them? I can’t figure it out.
I’ve read many stories about coaches, spectators and even players being confrontational with baseball officials. I have witnessed it myself on several occasions. I can tell you this - I don’t like it. While there is nothing that I can do to stop the opposing team from behaving this way, I can certainly manage the behavior of my team and all of our participants. I encourage all coaches to do the same and maybe this problem will start to decline and hopefully, someday, go away altogether.
It all starts with educating everyone involved with your team and organization. Talk to your coaches, players and parents. Stress the importance of sportsmanship. Yes, umpires are part of the sportsmanship process. Explain the conduct that is expected. It is not brain surgery. It is actually very simple. Respect! Teach respect for everyone. I’m not saying that you must agree with everything, however, disagree with class. Umpires will miss calls, have erratic strike zones, misinterpret rules, etc. but remember, we all make mistakes. Shake your head, exhale deeply, talk to the person next to you about the bad call but then move on to the next pitch. Get your head back in the game. Yes, parents too. The next pitch involves one of the players on the team that you are supporting. They need your encouragement much more than the umpire needs your criticism.
We need to turn this situation around. Most officials cite parents of youth and high school players as the group that causes the most problems at sporting events. Please, parents, help us coaches in teaching manners and civility to our players. Mike Matheny, former MLB player, manager of the St. Louis Cardinals and current special adviser for player development for the Kansas City Royals, said it better than I could ever say it in two quotes...
“I believe that the biggest role of the parent is to be a silent source of encouragement. I think if you ask most boys what they would want their parents to do during the game; they would say nothing.”
- “The boys will not be allowed at any time to show any emotion against the umpire. They will not shake their head, or pout, or say anything to the umpire.”
These quotes are priceless and should be firmly expressed to everyone.
Coaches, avoid being confrontational with umpires. Do you really think that the call will be overturned because you screamed at the umpire like a lunatic? What kind of example are you setting for your players? You are also inciting the spectators to react in the same manner. I understand that most will have a reaction to an adverse call but we need to keep our emotions in check. Remember, we are accountable for our actions. Once again, disagree with class. A brief, friendly discussion between innings will let him know where you stand. It all starts with you and the culture that you need to be promoting.
So, you see how this cycle of bad behavior injects itself into the game in a negative way. It is completely understandable that umpires would not want to put themselves in this position to be ridiculed, demeaned and abused. They have feelings too. The ranks of sports officials are diminishing. We need to make a difference and be part of the solution, not the problem.
Umpires – at the youth level and through high school – are usually friends and neighbors from our own and neighboring communities. Little league, middle schools, high schools, travel organizations and tournament directors need to partner up with them to promote sportsmanship among all participants. They are part of the process, not the enemy. So, the next time you run into an umpire, shake their hand and thank them for supporting the game and making it possible for us to enjoy the greatest game on the face of the earth.