In the Netherlands there is a lot of complaining about the level of the baseball umpires. But what do they do to get better? How much time do they spend to keep their knowledge of the rules at the required level? These and other questions were answered by three Hoofdklasse umpires.
People say that umpires actually are baseball players with failed careers. But is that the truth? The three umpires that were interviewed, all had their own reason to get behind the plate. For two of them it was a genetical thing as their parents already were umpires in softball and baseball. In one case, the team in which an umpired played at ceased to exist, so he decided to go on as an umpire.
Every umpire has his own way to keep his knowledge of the rules up to date. There are various ways to do this. One is to use the internet to follow the changes of rules in the USA. Another one is through Home Plate (the weekly online magazine of the KNBSB = Royal Dutch Baseball and Softball Federation) and a third is by attending BUBS weekends. BUBS is the organization that enforces the interests of the umpires and scorers.
There are also umpires who grab the rule book every week to evaluate a situation that they saw during a Hoofdklasse game or in an MLB game on TV. Another possibility is to do the yearly test, issued by the KNBSB. Many umpires also attend winter training sessions of clubs. In those sessions they call strikes and balls. For them this is a kind of spring training in which they prepare for the upcoming season.
At the question if they know all rules by heart, none of the three umpires answered positive. They know most of the rules,but in some cases that they do not know, they act in a way that they think they should. One of the interviewed umpires said that in fact there are only nine rules and each of those rules is divided in subs, which indicates that he knows what he is talking about.
Besides calling games in the Dutch Hoofdklasse, the three interviewed umpires also call in lower competitions. Thanks to that, there is not much time left to do other things during the season. Many umpires are on the baseball diamond, two out of three games during the weekends. Some of them are even occupied, baseball wise, all weekend. This doesn’t influence the private life of the three interviewed umpires, but no doubt about it that there will be umpires whose private life is influenced by this a lot. One thing is sure: As a baseball umpire in the higher leagues, you must have a partner that is willing to deal with a someone who is away almost every weekend during the summer months.
Some umpires try to improve their colleagues at a lower level by giving clinics. Others visit baseball clubs in an attempt to convince people to become an umpire. In the past, clubs that played at a certain higher level, were obliged to provide one umpire at least. But that is not the case anymore. Nowadays, every club pays a fee for the umpires. The costs of an umpire in certain competitions are carried by the clubs in those competitions. According to some, it would not be a bad idea to re-introduce the rule that clubs have to provide an umpire themselves. In this way more talent could come to the surface and could move on to the higher leagues.
In the past there was a price for the best umpire, but that one has been abolished for a couple of years now. Perhaps it is a good idea to re-introduce an award like that, just to place them a bit more in the limelight. Nowadays umpires are rewarded by being allowed to call in a higher league and eventually by being allowed to call international games.
Among the current umpires, there is a number of persons that defend the interests of their colleagues. One of the best umpires that the Netherlands ever knew, Fred van Groningen Schinkel , used to be umpire commissioner next to the games that he called. Henri van Heijningen is vice-chairman of the BUBS. Once a year the BUBS organizes a weekend in cooperation with the KNBSB to give clinics to umpires of all kinds of levels. Those clinics are given by the umpires that call international games.
The role of the baseball umpires commissioner is very diverse. He is responsible for the appointment of umpires at the highest level, with the Holland Series and with promotion/relegation games. Another important thing is that he tries to keep people interested in the three man umpire system that they use in the Hoofdklasse. He tries to lure people in following an umpire course. The commissioner also looks to the recommendations of the umpires commission. The members of that commission are attending games and look how the umpires are doing. The intention of this is to make the umpires better. At the lower levels, the recommendations are more like an indication for the umpires to improve themselves. But you can say that the commissioner is THE big boss of the umpires.
For every umpire in the Netherlands, calling a game is a hobby. We don’t have professional umpires like they have in MLB or MiLB. The expense allowance that the umpires get is not enough to cover the costs. For a game in the Hoofdklasse an umpire gets an amount of €36,95. For a game called in the Overgangsklasse that is €24,85. The allowance to cover the travel costs is 21 cents per kilometer. With that amount they must pay for the fuel and the maintenance of their car. Next to that they have to buy their clothing and protective equipment by themselves. And if that is not enough, some must take a day off to get to a game, especially on Thursdays. If one has some flexible working hours they can make up the missed hours later. If an umpire has to call a(n international) tournament, they must take days off.
When it comes to calling a game, bachelors’ wives and maidens’ children are well taught here as well. At times people are complaining about the level of the baseball umpires. Luckily many of the umpires have a thick skin, but it is never nice if people are making peronal remarks. People need to remember one thing: We need every umpire to keep the number of umpires that we have right now. Perhaps more people are prepared to get behind the plate if we do not complain that much and if we have more respect for the men in black. Apparently, those who complain do not realize that without the umpires, we cannot play our beloved game.
In general we can say that umpires do a lot, but also have to give up a lot to be able to call a game and to keep their knowledge of the rules at the required level. It is impossible that an umpire can call a game without making an error; everybody will know this. But it is remarkable that most of the time, only the wrong calls are remembered. Perhaps it would be a good thing if the persons that keep complaining would get behind the plate themselves. I bet that only then they will realize how hard it is to call a game. Perhaps if we show more respect and do not emphasize the bad calls, more people will be prepared to start a “career” as an umpire. That is something we will all benefit from.