There’s an area of rule enforcement where umpires may mean well, but they are increasing the potential for in-game drama. In an attempt to be flexible, they are putting decisions in the hands of coaches. It creates a potentially combustible situation.
There are two primary situations when this happens. By putting the decision for whether or not to enforce a rule, the coach ends up looking like the bad guy. And this is completely avoidable.
Situation #1: Playing With Eight
Most tournaments and leagues allow teams to play with eight players. However, the standard protocol is that the ninth batter in the lineup is an automatic out. The reason for this, we can assume, is that playing with eight in your lineup may actually be an advantage — if they are your best eight players.
I’ve been in far too many pre-game meetings with umpires where this situation comes up, and the umpire asks me, “How do you want to handle this? Auto-out or not?”
Umpires, don’t do this. Don’t make me the bad guy. Simply enforce the rules. It’s an auto-out.
Before you assume that I’d think differently if I were playing with eight, it’s happened before. We played much of this past season with nine players. Over the course of the past several years, I’ve played with eight many times. It happens. I never expect the opposing coach to be flexible on the rules. We always take the automatic out.
Even if the auto-out is established at the beginning, don’t force the opposing coach to remind you when that spot in the order is up. It again creates a situation where the coach is the bad guy.
How it Should Be Handled: Once it is established that one team is playing with eight players, the umpire needs to make it clear that the ninth spot in the order will be an automatic out. If he has an official lineup, it is the umpire’s job to keep track of when that spot in the lineup is up. If not, he needs to tell the scorekeeper to notify him when the automatic out is in play.
Situation #2: In-Game Injury
When teams bat their entire lineup without subs, they do so knowing that there is a risk. If a player gets injured and can’t return, his spot in the order will be an automatic out if it comes up again. This is because there isn’t a sub who can replace him. There are sometimes exceptions, but this tends to be standard for most tournaments and leagues.
This happens. As a coach who almost always bats our entire lineup, I understand the risk. But, when I’m the opposing coach, it’s an incredibly uncomfortable spot to be in if the umpire doesn’t take charge.
I’ve been the bad guy, and it’s no fun. The injured player’s spot in the lineup comes up, and nothing happens. I call time. I explain that this is the injured player’s spot and that it’s an automatic out. The opposing coach and parents lose their minds.
Another version of this is when the umpire recognizes the injury and asks the opposing coach if he wants to enforce the automatic out. Publicly. It’s almost always going to end poorly.
It’s not bad sportsmanship. It’s the rule, and it needs to be applied consistently and evenly.
How it Should Be Handled: When the injury occurs and the player leaves the game, the umpire immediately needs to make it clear that, assuming there are no subs, the injured player’s spot in the order will be an automatic out. If the umpire keeps an official lineup, it is his responsibility to track when that spot in the lineup comes up. Otherwise, he needs to work closely with the scorekeepers.
I was forced to become the bad guy in the example above for a couple of reasons. First, the umpire never made an announcement about what would happen when that injured player’s spot in the lineup came up. Second, the umpire didn’t have an official lineup, and he made no effort to keep track of when that player would have been hitting.
There is Always Room for Good Guys
Look, all of this doesn’t mean you should never have a moment when you want to do something nice for the other team. Maybe it’s a completely meaningless game and you have a really good relationship with the other coach. There’s always room for these completely selfless moments.
But it’s not a requirement that this is expected. What’s expected is that the umpires enforce the rules. The umpires can protect the coaches and prevent conflict by simply taking control of the game.
Are there other examples of umpires, meaning well, who have flexible rules that put coaches in a bad position?
Let me know in the comments below!