More people have come to realize how the best leaders are those who can make a quick decision, under pressure, without partisanship, and in the face of extreme unpopularity. Perhaps no one does all those things more often than an umpire.
Listed below are the responses to a few questions asked of a veteran umpire as advice for those just joining the tournament line-up.
Q. What advice do you have for those who now must make the right call without the luxury of time?
Know the rules, have a vast knowledge of what your job is. You can’t stop learning about your job. Stay on top of it from day to day and be aware of new things coming along.
Q. Sounds like quick decisions are really the result of exhaustive preparation?
Absolutely. You’re putting the percentages in your favor by being knowledgeable ahead of time. Do everything possible to improve. We have an expression: fair play and common sense. When something happens that’s not covered by the rules, when something totally unusual happens, you do what’s right and what’s fair and use common sense.
Q. Fans probably think the toughest calls are the close calls, the bang-bang play at first base or the tag at home. True?
No, the tough calls are the unexpected. During a playoff game when there was an errant throw, I was where I was supposed to be, but I wasn’t expecting to have two fielders stand right in front of me when I was trying to see the play. The runner intentionally knocked the ball out of the fielder’s hand, but I didn’t see it. You can’t have an ego, so I got the entire crew together and we got it right. We corrected another play later in the game. These were not popular decisions, but we did the right thing. When something unusual happens, you must do what is best for the game, want is best for the company.
Q. Should leaders always ask for help?
In some situations. Sometimes you don’t have the help.
Q. Right decisions are not always the most popular. What have you learned about controversial calls?
If you truly know in your heart that it is best, you should be just fine.
Q. What is the best way to deal with an angry manager or player?
You’re not there to get into a yelling match. You should try to keep yourself under control. Listen, but if it gets personal, the argument should be short-lived. Just be professional about it. I’ve learned to let them come out and see what they have to say. They might not always get the answer they want, but there is mutual respect. Listen. See what’s going on and then make your decision.
Q. What personality type is best at making quick, unpopular decisions?
There are all types, but a consistent personality is something that anybody at any job is going to appreciate. You want a boss who is consistent and approachable. You want to ask questions and get professional responses. All of these things are found in a successful umpire. Bosses must also be professional and upfront.
And Common Sense
Q. So, are there times when a leader makes the wrong call, but must stick to it?
Yes. There are correctable errors. Sometimes there are not. You try to use common sense.
Q. In a heated discussion, do you ever try to disarm an upset player or manager with humor?
No. That would come across as trying to be a wise guy. It might just make the situation worse.
Q. How do you help develop the next generation of umpires?
Any drill instructor can yell at somebody. It’s one thing to tell a young umpire where they should have been on a play, it’s another to tell them why. What logic comes into play and why they should do it.