Changing a Call

This article is a sister article to the article Getting the Call Right (in this same Game Management General section of the Locker Room). It paraphrases an article from (12/28/18).

For many years, an umpire changing a call was considered a sign of weakness. The current thinking at all levels of play is that getting the decision correct must prevail over any consideration of umpire pride. In fact, the NCAA made the subject of getting the call right an emphasis for the 2018 season, and it remains an In Focus item for 2019 (Section 1 of the CCA Manual). The expectation that a decision may be reversed, and the blessing to do so, doesn’t mean umpires have carte blanche to change any and all decisions. Here are some of the guidelines for changing calls. Except where noted, the material applies equally to NFHS, NCAA and pro rules.

Umpires are prohibited from criticizing or interfering with another umpire’s decision, unless asked by the one making. However, if there is a possible misinterpretation of a rule, it should be brought to the attention of the calling umpire and entire crew.

Plays involving the umpire’s “timing” judgment are not subject to reversal. A frequent occurrence is the “bang-bang” play at first. If the only issue is whether the runner beat the ball or vice versa, the call cannot be questioned or changed. The same is true for a steal play if the issue is simply whether the tag or the touching of the base came first. Allowing questioning of those types of plays would be inviting anarchy.

Asking for assistance makes sense in certain plays and situations
There are plays and situations where asking for assistance makes sense. Here are some of them and the procedure that should be used.

Batted ball hits batter in box.
When a batted ball goes straight downward, rolls into fair territory and the plate umpire points fair or makes no call and the base umpire is certain the ball hit the batter (most likely her foot) in the box, the base umpire should immediately call “dead ball.” If the base umpire remains silent and the batter is thrown out at first, the coach may ask the plate umpire to get help. In response, the plate umpire has a choice: explain that if the base umpire had seen the ball hit the batter, the base umpire would have called it foul, or the plate umpire can simply confer with her or her partner and tell the coach the play stands. The latter is likely to be the quicker resolution and apropos.

Foul tip or foul ball?
On a possible third strike when a foul tip is dropped or trapped by the catcher and the plate umpire does not immediately call it foul, most umpires prefer to have the base umpire immediately make the call without request. It’s a definite topic for the pregame discussion.

Checked swing.
Probably the most routine and visible example of an umpire getting help is the checked swing. By rule, if the catcher requests, the umpire must get help from a base umpire as to whether or not the batter swung. In cases where the pitch is a possible third strike and the batter is entitled to run to first, the appeal should be made instantly by the plate umpire without a request.

Pulled foot.
The base umpire should immediately seek assistance if he or she has the ball beating the runner and there is doubt as to whether or not the fielder pulled her foot from the base before receiving the throw. Of course, if the runner beats the throw then foot position is irrelevant. If the base umpire calls the out and is then requested to get help, that is permissible.

Tag plays.
Steal plays were previously mentioned, but there is another dimension to those — the ball is dropped or juggled without the calling umpire’s knowledge, most likely because his/her view was screened. If another umpire sees the ball on the ground or a juggle, he or she should approach her or her partner with that information. In all likelihood, a member of the offensive team will protest before the umpires can confer.

Catch or not.
Umpires can confer and correct a call on plays in which there is a question about a catch or a trap if the ball is foul or if there are no runners on base and the ball is fair. It might also make sense to correct a call if there is a lone runner regardless of the base occupied. However, reversing a call with multiple runners is apt to create a larger problem. This is not a situation in which another umpire should approach unsolicited to alert the calling umpire.

Fences and foul poles.
If the calling umpire has a poor angle or is blinded by the sun, it is permissible to rectify a call if the questions involve whether the ball left the playing field fair or foul or whether it bounced over the field or left in flight.

An umpire should seek help when his/her view is blocked or the umpire’s position is such that her or her view of critical elements of a play may have been blocked. Umpires should also seek help when they have any doubt and they believe a partner may have additional information that could result in getting the play right. Umpires should not seek help on plays in which they are 100% confident of their judgment and view of the play.

As a general rule, an umpire should not offer assistance unsolicited; he or she should wait until asked. If umpires offer unsolicited opinions, it will open a can of worms. Once managers or coaches see that happening, they will start asking for second opinions on everything close. Once asked, however, an umpire should offer her or her best judgment. See the related article (in this same Game Management/General section of the Locker Room), Getting the Call Right, for a list of the specific plays for which another umpire may alert the calling umpire unsolicited.

When an umpire seeks help, he or she should do so shortly after making the original call. He or she should not have a lengthy discussion with the coach or others and then ask for help. If the calling umpire seeks help, he or she should include all umpire on the field – this is crewness. That conversation must take place away from players or coaches. Such meetings should be infrequent and not become a substitute for umpires seeking proper angles, exercising sound judgment and having the conviction to stay with a call that an umpire believes was properly made.

The ultimate decision to change a call always rests with the calling umpire.

A coach may ask the calling umpire to “get help” on a play where there is no possibility another umpire will be able to assist. Rather than trying to explain that to the coach, the umpires should briefly confer and then tell the coach the ruling stands.