A tag play at the plate is among the most exciting plays in softball. The decision the umpire renders on a close play at home determines whether the run scores. Sometimes the play even decides the game.
Here are a few things to consider when anticipating this play:
Get the mask off early to locate the ball and the subsequent throw, and observe the catcher and the runner. Put the mask in your left hand so when signaling there is no chance of hitting a player with it. It’s a basic umpiring mechanic, yet many umpires fail to do it.
Too often, umpires incorrectly believe they must have their noses right on the play to make a good call at the plate. Just as umpires should maintain proper distance on the bases for a force or tag play, the same philosophy holds for plays at the plate. Rarely has a call at the plate been missed because the umpire was too far away. Conversely, too many umpires are so close to the action that plays explode in front of them.
Here is a good example. The throw takes the catcher a step up the third-base line and into fair territory as the runner starts her avoidance slide; the play develops close to the plate and involves the tag and the runner touching the plate. The umpire is too close to the play and concentrating on the tag, so he/she does not have a good view of whether the runner touches or misses the plate. This following play actually happened. The plate umpire was so close to the play and so focused on the tag that he did not see the runner touch the plate, thinking the avoidance slide took her too far from the plate to do so. There was dirt on the plate with finger marks scratched through it, showing where the runner’s fingers touched the plate. When the coach came out to argue, these marks were evidence that the umpire missed the call!
Make sure the catcher (or whichever fielder happens to be covering the plate) has held onto the ball before making your ruling. If the ball is hidden from your view, say, “Show me the ball!” Once you’re certain it’s secure, make the out call. But if you ask to see it and it’s shown to you, you can’t call the runner safe.
Don’t forget about the retired runner in case there’s a subsequent play at another base. Although unlikely in this situation, interference is a possibility. Additionally, a play of this nature might be a candidate for malicious contact.
If the coach wants to dispute the ruling at the plate, he/she will have to wait until all playing action has ceased and time has been called.