The Right Call

by Ryan Krzykowski

It doesn’t happen very often, but when it does things can get ugly in a hurry.  I was watching my 10-year old son pitch in a ballgame recently.  There was a runner on second base, and Sam lifted his leg, wheeled around toward the runner and faked a pickoff throw.  This is a perfectly legal play.  The plate umpire called a balk and moved the runner to third.  This is the point where I thought to myself, “Uh-oh, the umpire got that one wrong.  What’s going to happen now?”

Over the years, at more baseball games than I care to count, I’ve seen coaches disagree with umpires.  These conversations often spiral into ugly places.  The fact is, sometimes umpires have to make tough calls, and sometimes they make them in ways that coaches don’t agree with.  We would all do well to relax and embrace the very real human element of sports officiating.

Very rarely, though, do we see an umpire just flat out misunderstand a rule and get something wrong as a result.  That’s what happened in this case.  I waited to see how Sam’s coach would respond.  Understandably, Coach asked for time and asked the umpire to explain the balk call.  He then objected to the balk call, on the grounds that the call was made due to an incorrect understanding of a rule.  There was nothing ugly about the conversation, it was just a conversation.

Here comes the part of this story that I absolutely love.

The umpire dug in, insisting that his call was correct and that the coach had the rule wrong.  At that point, Coach did something wise.  He stopped arguing, realizing that there was no point in continuing when the umpire clearly wasn’t going to yield.  In my experience, few coaches who know they are right are humble or composed enough to back down in a situation like this.  But what about the call?  What about justice?  Don’t worry, the story doesn’t end there.

Our coach quietly sent someone to locate the tournament’s umpire supervisor, and when that man came over, Coach explained what had happened.  During the next break between innings, the supervisor spoke with the umpire, and ended up correcting his misunderstanding of the rule in question.  That was it.  That’s all that was needed.

Rather than take someone’s mistake and use it as a weapon, Sam’s coach allowed the situation to be a learning experience for all involved.  The only thing that I personally think should have happened that didn’t, was for the umpire to talk to Sam and explain that his pickoff bluff was legal and that he was sorry for getting the call wrong.  But maybe that’s a lot to ask.  Regardless, this thing could have escalated into an unfortunate situation involving coaches, officials, parents, and of course, children.  But it didn’t.  It was no big deal, mostly because one man had the self-control to handle it well.

Let’s keep Coaching With Purpose.