Story of the National League’s first black umpire

This is a “sweet and sour” tale of Art Williams, the National League’s first black umpire.

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Just bad, so bad

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post about parents ruining kids sports, here are two shining examples of parental behavior on the ball field. In the second case, why are these kids even playing kid-pitch? They should be playing coach-pitch or, at worst, machine-pitch. Just awful baseball, awful parenting, awful coaching and awful umpiring.

Great feedback from OnDeck reader

You may remember the article we included in this month’s OnDeck Newsletter, What are We Doing to Our Volunteers? The piece was centered around an email we received from a volunteer umpire who told the story of how he suffers abuse at the hands of coaches and fans, even though he his volunteering his time and spending his own money to officiate youth baseball games. This prompted a terrific response from Brian Kouwenhoven, a Little League President in Florida, who explains how he manages his team’s players and parents before each game to ensure that umpires are treated with respect:

Before games I remind my parents and players that umpires make mistakes(bad calls), just like players make errors and coaches call the wrong pitch, or send a runner that gets thrown out.  Per game, Umpires will make bad calls, players will commit errors and coaches will make bad decisions, unfortunately, umpires get abused the most. Once everyone gets the picture that we are all on a level playing field as far as making mistakes during a game, we are less likely to blow up at the umpires. I ask my players and parents, have you ever seen an umpire yell at a player for making an error or yell at a coach for making a bad decision? The thought gives them a better perspective.

Thanks for your articles – Brian

What a fantastic idea and one we might all want to emulate. We know that in competitive games things can get heated. But lets also remember that the umpires aren’t trying to favor either team and they’re not trying to miss any calls. Let’s take the spirit of this coach to heart and enjoy the game…and feel good about ourselves after.

You Blew the Game Coach and it Wasn’t My Bad Call!

By Larry Cicchiello

I umpired an extremely competitive and closely fought high school baseball game a couple of days ago. My assignment was to be the field umpire and my partner was assigned to home plate. We had our pregame conference with both head coaches and they both seemed like terrific guys. We shake hands and we all wish each other good luck. Boy, things can really change in a hurry and so can personalities.

About the fourth inning, a player on one of the teams is taking a very HUGE lead off second base. After about three pitches, the catcher throws behind him to second base. Everything looked like the runner was going to be picked off. The throw from the catcher arrived at second base and beat the runner there. But the throw was high and the runner had very good speed and got back to second base a split second before being tagged. So I correctly made the “safe” call. This is when I heard the first of two grumblings from, let’s call him Coach Joe. Come on blue…that throw beat him, etc. He whined for about ten seconds so I let it go and didn’t say a word. If he continued longer than that or if he said something inappropriate, I would have not hesitated to have a “chat” with him.

OK, so things settle down and we get back to playing baseball. That is until the seventh and final inning. Coach Joe’s team is at bat in the seventh and final inning and are trailing by a run. They have a runner on second base, in scoring position, representing the tying run. There are two outs and they are a base hit away from tying up the game. Like I said, very close and very competitive ball game!

The pitch to the batter is in the dirt and bounces away from the catcher, but only about three feet away. Coach Joe is coaching third base and yells for his runner to break for third base. The runner sprints for third base. The catcher makes a very quick and good throw that is slightly high. I knew it was quick, not because I was watching the catcher but by how quickly it arrived to third base.

The third baseman makes a very quick tag and tags the runner up high, around the chest area. Yours truly makes the right call…”He’s OUT!” Coach Joe is very upset. Like I said, personalities can change in a hurry on the ball field. I’m walking off the field and Coach Joe hollers to me, “He got him in the head.” I asked Coach Joe what he meant by that. He said that he tagged him up high, the runner was safe. I told Coach Joe I could care less where he tagged him.

I’m now in foul territory and Coach Joe yells to me, “That’s two calls you blew.” (He was referring to the other “banger” I had at second base where I called the runner safe.) I decided to ignore his last “parting shot” and simply walk to my car. I was thinking how every close call an umpire makes is going to please half the people and the other half are going to be let’s say, annoyed.

I have a thirty minute drive home and obviously my thoughts are about my game ending “out call.” I had very mixed feelings and have two thoughts going through my mind. One is that I got the call right and that’s every objective for an umpire so who cares what Coach Joe thinks. The other thought is that I’m slightly bothered because as an umpire, a good game is usually when you are not noticed at all. I want the game to be about the players and not the coaches or umpires. But in this case, I was very much in the limelight.

And then something occurred to me about Coach Joe. He broke a cardinal rule of the game…You NEVER make the third out of an inning at third base. So either he thought the runner was safe or possibly he was trying to get the “heat” off him and his poor decision and trying to blame me for HIS huge mistake.

I’ve had two days to digest this and I’m at peace with this situation. I truly believe that I got both those very close calls (bangers) right. And you know what, I too have growled at a few umpires in my many years of coaching. And Coach Joe did not “step over the line.” Like I said, for the most part I totally ignored him because his griping did not go on for very long or we would have had quite a conversation.

Hey, I might get to umpire Coach Joe’s game again in a couple of weeks. Would I look forward to it? My honest answer is, “No, I would not.” I have no idea if he holds a grudge or how long he holds one for.

I’ll tell you what I am certain of though. I would go into the game with an open mind and make every call to the absolute best of my ability. I could care less what uniform a player is wearing or if Coach Joe is their coach or not.

Hopefully, Coach Joe and I will do just fine when and if we meet again. I have a responsibility to the kids on the field to get the call right. My personal opinion is that the game should be about the players and NOT about coaches or umpires.

Larry Cicchiello is the successful author of several very user friendly eBooks and CD’s covering 320 topics on playing or coaching excellent baseball. ANY player, coach or parent who wants to help their child will be fully equipped! Check out some FREE baseball tips on hitting and FREE baseball pitching tips at LarryBaseball.com.