Umpires should be endeavoring, at all times, to get the call right. We are expected and mandated to do so. A key factor for getting the call right is to be in the best position possible to see the play. Here are some thoughts on base positioning and getting the call right.
Reading the Play
Reading a play to determine where the fielder will throw the ball is critical as it will allow an umpire to get to the best possible angle and distance to the play. This is especially important when an umpire has multiple bases to cover.
This is especially important when an umpire has two bases to cover.
In a 2-umpire system, the base umpire often has two bases to cover, and sometimes potentially all three bases. Some examples:
• R1 and a double play
• R1 and a bunt with the initial throw to first base, then a back-pick on R1 at second base
• Multiple runners and a ball hit to the infield
• Bases loaded – 3 bases to cover on the initial throw!
In a 3-umpire system
• U1 sometimes must cover both 1b and 2b.
• With multiple runners and U1 must cover 1b and 2b as U3 has an active runner
• When an umpire chases and the remaining 2 umpires have multiple runners and multiple bases to cover.
Read the play early and continue reading it until the defense makes a definitive move as to where the ball will be thrown. Continue to read the play as the play develops. Keep in mind whether the play will have one, two, three or four element plays – and always keep the elements in front.
Arrive ahead of the action and get to a set position. Always try to be completely stopped as the play happens. Give full attention to the play
Elements of a play
We mentioned above that there may be anywhere from one to four elements to a play. Although the CCA Manual discusses the three-element and four-element plays, there can also be one and two element plays.
One element play
• A tag away from a base when the defensive player already has possession of the ball and during which the runner makes no attempt to avoid the tag; the only element is whether the fielder properly applied the tag
• A sinking fly ball or line drive; a catch or trap is the only element.
Two element plays
• A tag away from a base when the defensive player already has possession of the ball and the runner may run out of the base path; the two elements are the application of the tag and the judgment on the runner going out of the base path.
• A force play during which the fielder who already has possession of the ball, and runner are both trying to touch the base; although the base is a factor, it does not move. The umpire can focus on the base and watch the two elements – fielder’s foot and runner’s foot – to see which one contacts the base first.
Three element plays
• Typical tag play at a base; elements are the tag, the base and the runner’s foot.
• Typical force Play; elements are the fielder catching the ball, the runner touching the base, and the fielder touching the base.
• A run-down – the tag, possible leaving the base path, and possible obstruction by the fielder without the ball?
Four element plays
One during which all of these elements are important – ball, defensive player, base and offensive player.
Runner stealing 2nd base – catch of the throw, application of the tag, runner’s foot touching the base, defender’s positioning (obstruction or not).