Umpiring by sound

Home plate umpire watches and listens.

Home plate umpire watches and listens.

If you go to the ballpark for a game, you are almost sure to hear a heckler yell to the umpire, “You’re blind as a bat.”

Having umpired more than 1,000 baseball games from kids to pros, I discovered the ear was as valuable as the eye.

Take a close play at first base.  The umpire has his eye on the runner’s foot to see when it touches the bag.  And at the same moment he listens for the ball to hit the first baseman’s glove. Then he makes the call.  Which got there first, foot or ball?  So it is not so much a bang-bang play as a thud-thud.

It is the same with the home plate umpire.  A manager storms out to question whether a batter was hit by a pitch.  “How can you possibly see a 90 mph fastball clip the loose end of a batter’s jersey?”  The answer is, no, I didn’t see it.  I heard it. And the batter is awarded first base. A pitched ball makes a “tic” sound when it touches the shirt.  You will rarely see a catcher argue those calls.  He hears what the umpires hears.

The same could be said for foul balls.  A runner attempts to steal second base as the batter swings at a high pitch that eludes the catcher’s mitt.  Everyone but the umpire and catcher think the runner will now be safe on second base.  But the umpire has heard the “tic” of the ball grazing the bat, and the runner must return to first base.

Maybe the heckler should yell, “You’re deaf as a rock.”




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