Umpiring Tips

Umpire like a pro! Read these brief tips to grow your game and knowledge of Little League rules.


Come back during the 2015 Little League season (Feb – June) to learn new monthly tips and tricks of the trade!

Coming in 2015 - obstruction versus intereference - explained in simple terms and in practice!


June Tip: Game End – Leave the Field Promptly

May Tip: Speeding Up the Game by Rotating Balls

April Tip: Handling Manager and Coach Ejections

March Tip:  A Foul Tip is Not a Foul Ball

February Tip:  Myths Demystified – "The hands are considered part of the bat"



Here are my Top 4 umpire tips considering the typical base umpiring sequence

– from getting ready and moving into position, through mentally processing a play and making the call. 




Go to the Umpire Tips Archive to find Umpire Tips from the 2013 season.



Favor angle over distance when making a call on a runner

-  Ideally, try to be about 10 feet from a play being made on a runner and at a 90 degree angle (approximately) between the play on the runner and from where the ball is being thrown.


-  The ideal is not always possible, so favor angle over distance. You want to be firmly set, not moving, when it's time to make your call.

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 Look for just one outcome when deciding your call

-  To simplify your decision process, look for just one outcome when there are two possibilities. Some examples:

  • Did you see an out? If not, runner's safe.
  • Did you see a strike? If not, must be a ball.
  • Did you see a rule violation?  If not, "you got nothin'" - and there's no penalty to apply. 


-  This approach also reduces indecision and second guessing, especially on bang-bang plays and outright misses. And when a coach complains about a blown call, you can fall back on the conversation-ending retort, "I can only call what I see Coach" – (only helpful once per game though).

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Take your time making your call

-  Whether a safe or out call, ball or strike, fair or foul, catch or no-catch, calling time ... don't hurry your call.


-  Take a few extra seconds to allow for the unexpected like a dropped ball by a fielder making a tag or a ball swerving from fair to foul territory. Wait a moment after the pitch reaches the catcher to process the trajectory of the ball through the batter's strike zone. The extra time will help you from calling what you THINK is about to happen instead of the true outcome.


-  Delaying your call also gives others confidence that you're umpiring diligently and thoughtfully, making them less likely to contest your call. It's especially important for dead ball calls like a foul ball, which requires that all play immediately stops. A premature, incorrect foul ball call cannot be undone, and could impact whether runners advance and/or score!

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Make your call with confidence (and demonstratively!)

-  You signal most calls with a hand/arm gesture and by shouting it out. It's important to do both, so everyone (players, coaches and fans), both far and near, understand your call and respond accordingly. For example, runners will stop and return to their bases when they hear your foul ball and time out calls. A distant base coach will read from your arm gesture that a third out was called and thus refrain from sending a runner.


-  The closer the play - strike or ball, out or safe, fair or foul – the more emphatic you need to be! If you don't know what the right call is – be even more emphatic!! A meek, so-so whimper of a call, will usually invite a dispute by a coach. Veteran umpires call this "selling your call". So be outwardly confident in your calls, especially when you're not actually so confident! 

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June Tip: Game End – Leave the Field Promptly

- After the game ends, it's fine to acknowledge any thanks from coaches and players. But be brief.


- The playing field following a game is not the right place or time to rehash calls or answer questions.  Doing so could invite an emotional response from a coach who had issue with a call or prompt suspicions of favoritism.  Outbursts are more likely to occur right after the game. Your conversation on the playing field could also invite public viewing and spectacle.


- If someone wants to speak with you about the game or a call, tell them you'd be happy to do so at another time. You'll both have the benefit of more time to consider a potentially complicated call or ruling. Emotions tend to calm down too with the passage of a little time and perspective.


- After the last out is made, meet with your fellow umpires at the pitcher's mound and leave together.  Some umpire teams like to leave through the winning team's dugout exit, generally a more favorable path. Others may choose to leave through the exit that is closest to the parking lot following a controversial game!


- Regardless of the circumstances, the brief time following the game should be left to the players and coaches to shake hands in good sportsmanship and enjoy applause from their fans. You'll avoid potential issues by making a prompt and professional exit from the playing field and be in a better position to handle questions that are postponed to a later time.

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May Tip: Speeding up the Game by Rotating Balls

- As the plate umpire, you can speed up the game by rotating balls.


- During play

  • Foul balls hit to the backstop area: throw an extra ball (from your ball bag) to the pitcher while the catcher retrieves the foul ball. Only rotate foul balls since they result in a dead ball situation.
  • Foul balls to an outfielder: instruct the fielder to give the ball to a base umpire while you throw a new ball to the pitcher. The base umpire can return the foul ball to you later between innings.
  • Foul balls to an infielder: instruct the fielder to throw the ball to the catcher while you throw a new ball to the pitcher.


- During pitcher warm ups

  • After a passed ball, give the catcher one of your extra balls to continue the warm up.  You'll gather the passed balls from the backstop area (be aware of new pitches from behind!). This makes efficient use of the pitcher's limited warm up time.


- Especially with younger players, rotating balls over the course of a game will prevent wild throws back into the pitcher which burn up a lot of potential playing time.


- After a few innings, the catchers and fielders will develop a rhythm with the umpires. Rotating balls keeps the players engaged and attentive. They'll chase down balls more quickly when they know the umpire and pitcher are waiting on them.


- Rotating balls can have a significant impact on speeding up the game. Fifteen such foul and passed balls per inning could easily save 15 minutes of wasted time per game! But most of all, it keeps the game moving.

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April Tip: Handling Manager and Coach Ejections

-  Deciding when to eject a coach from a game can be difficult. You should be neither too quick to pull the trigger nor too willing to take inappropriate, prolonged behavior that undermines your credibility and authority.


-  Eject a Manager or Coach when it involves any of the "five P's". When it's ...

  • physical (contact in anger or threatening).
  • personal (i.e. "you're a bad umpire"). You should let something like "oh, that was a bad call" go if stated once and then dropped.
  • profane (as in profanity). The louder it is, the more likely to eject.
  • prolonged (won't stop when told to).
  • persistent (continues to bring up call from earlier). Example: ongoing "chirping" from the dugout about a call.


-  Provide a warning to allow the person to compose himself before it reaches the point of above. You might say: "Coach, I'm not going to listen to this all day", or "Coach, I
can't allow you to interrupt the game any longer. Let's play."


-  When you eject someone, do so quietly (not like in ESPN highlights). If not, the offending person will just exchange your drama with more drama of his own. Try to have your back to the stands and him facing the fans. If you're composed and he's not, everyone will take notice. Something like: "Coach, you're done. Please leave the park. We'll start again after you've left."


-  The ejected coach must leave not just the playing field, but also the park grounds. If he refuses, have all the players remain in the dugout with play suspended. Eventually the peer pressure and spotlight will prompt him to leave. Otherwise, wait ten minutes or so and call the game as a forfeit if it comes down to it (it won't). Your league will likely require you to write and submit your account of the incident within 24 hours.


-  Fortunately, poor behavior resulting in ejection does not happen often and when it does, repeat offenders don't stay coaches for very long. 

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March Tip: A Foul Tip is Not a Foul Ball

-  Foul tips and foul balls share similar names. But they're quite different.


-  Most importantly, each determines whether subsequent play continues to be live or not. Inexperienced players (and coaches) may erroneously continue or stop play when they should do otherwise, contributing to on-field mayhem.


-  The differences


A Foul Tip ... A Foul Ball ...
is a batted ball that goes sharp and direct from the bat to the catcher's hands
and is caught.
is a batted ball that lands anywhere in foul territory and is not caught (in the
case of a fly foul ball).
is a strike and if 3rd strike, batter's out. is a strike and if 3rd strike, at-bat continues.
continues to be a live ball. Play can continue, including runners. becomes a dead ball. Play halts and runners are returned to their bases.



-  And to add to the confusion


A Foul Tip ...       A Foul Ball ...   
if dropped, becomes a dead ball (like a foul ball)! if caught (in the air), is a live ball play (like a foul tip!)



-  As a plate umpire, you can keep the game moving smoothly by using the proper techniques to ensure coaches and players know you called a foul tip or a foul ball.


Home Plate Umpire Video – Calling a Foul Tip Home Plate Umpire Video – Calling a Foul Ball 



-  For base umpires, mimic a foul ball call by your partners by signaling foul and loudly yell  "foul!" if you see runners and defenders continuing play.

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February Tip: Myths Demystified – "The hands are considered part of the bat"

-  This is a common misconception. As the thinking goes, if a pitched ball hits the batter's hands, then one could conclude a foul ball or hit could result. Wrong! When you hear a coach or spectator make this argument, your immediate reactions are:


  1. Call "Time"!  A ball that hits a batter's body always results in a dead ball.  Return any runners to their bases.
  2. To anyone making this argument, show him how his hand is permanently connected to their arm, not to the bat!


-  Your decision to call a ball or strike and potentially award a base is made as if any other part of the batter's body was hit by the ball.

  1. If the batter swung at the ball - a strike is called.
  2. If the ball passed through the strike zone - a strike is called.
  3. If the ball did not pass through the strike zone - a "hit batter" is called and the batter is awarded first base, assuming he made a reasonable attempt to avoid the ball.
  4. And in the case of #3, when the batter did not make an attempt to avoid the ball - a ball is called.


-  It's often hard to see whether a ball hit a batter's hands. Sometimes you can tell by the muffled sound versus the "ping noise" of a ball making full contact with the bat. But most often, you'll decide based on the combination of contact location and the batter's immediate, physical and verbal response (aka "@#!ouch!%!).

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