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Umpires

Ask the Umpire

Major League crew chief Tim McClelland recently took time to answer umpiring questions sent in by MLB.com users. A resident of West Des Moines, Iowa, McClelland received a B.A. in Recreation and Youth Leadership ('74) and a M.A. in Intramural Administration ('75) from Michigan State. The veteran of more than 20 years umpiring experience was behind the plate for David Wells' perfect game in 1998.

Are pitchers allowed to wear eye black while they are pitching?
-- P. Boardman

McClelland: It really doesn't matter, as long as it doesn't interfere with the hitter. There's no rule against it. So if he wants to wear it he can, but I don't know why he would want to. Actually very few players wear it now since they wear sunglasses, it's kind of a thing of the past, but there is no rule against it for pitchers.

In a recent Little League game, the bases were loaded with no one out. The batter walked and the runner at third didn't touch home plate. No one appealed, but as soon as the runner entered the dugout, the umpire called him out. The ensuing debate is -- doesn't the other team need to make the appeal?
-- Larry C.

McClelland: In Little League, I think the rules state that once he misses a base he is out. Those are different rules than we have in Major League Baseball. But I think in Little League and in high school - you would have to check - that once he misses a base an umpire can call him out immediately.

I am an umpire for Little League. The coach told me that ties go to the runner. I said the batter has to beat the throw to first because there are no such thing as ties. Who is right?
-- L.M.F.

McClelland: That is exactly right. There are no ties and there is no rule that says the tie goes to the runner. But the rule book does say that the runner must beat the ball to first base, and so if he doesn't beat the ball, then he is out. So you have to make the decision. That's why umpires are paid the money they are, to make the decision on if he did or if he didn't. The only thing you can do is go by whether or not he beat the ball. If he did, then he is safe.

My husband and I were disagreeing on a play: You have less than two outs with a runner on second. The pitcher is in possession of the ball and the runner has started to steal third. The pitcher then throws to the batter, who pops out in the outfield. The question is, does the runner have to go back to second and tag up, or can he stay on third since he started running before the ball left the pitcher's hand? Thank you in advance.
-- Disagreeing husband and wife

McClelland: He has to go back to second and re-touch the bag. The team in the field can appeal it if he did not tag up. If he's stealing and is standing at third by the time the guy hits it, he still has to tag up. It really doesn't matter where he is at the time of the pitch.

I am a female and would like to be a professional umpire. I have a good eye, but I feel because I am a woman there will be opposition to my entry. What should I do? Has there ever been a female umpire?
-- Beth

McClelland: Actually I think there have been five. One made it all the way to Triple-A and got some Major League tryouts during Spring Training but just wasn't good enough to make that next step to the Major Leagues, just like a lot of the guys weren't. There is a young lady now working in the Florida State League in A-ball working her way up. I believe this is her third year in the minor leagues. Obviously her intent is to get to the big leagues, like every minor league umpire is.

The thing to do is go to umpire school, try your best, finish in the top ten percent and get put in the minor leagues. It's a long road to haul - I wouldn't want to wish it on a female, because not only do they have the complaints or problems you go through as an umpire, but then they have to deal with working in a male-dominated sport. But it can be done. There's no rule against it.

I'm an old catcher (78 years of age). Many years ago I was called for committing a "Catcher's Balk." I happened to move to the right of the plate just before the delivery of the pitch. Is this still in the rule book?
-- Al Arellano

McClelland: It is a balk if the catcher doesn't stay in the catcher's box until the pitcher delivers the ball. If he were to step out of the catcher's box - the little box behind home plate - before the pitcher delivers the ball it would be called a catcher's balk. The runners would advance.

As a matter of fact, I have never seen it called, it's one of those things you just kind of let slide. But it is in the rule book, we haven't updated the rule book in a long time. If it was called recently, it would be by an umpire taking the rule book to the letter of the law and sometimes we have to kind of overlook some things to make the game run smoother.

I have noticed throughout the years that several of you guys like to rest your hand on the catcher's back. Do you ask the catcher if this is OK or is this something he is expected to tolerate so the umpire is more comfortable and has a better view behind the plate?
-- Cindie from Cullman, Alabama

McClelland: When I first started doing it, I asked the catcher if it was bothering him and he said no, he really didn't feel it. When I do it, I put my hand on him very, very lightly, I am not sure now he even notices it's back there. But it kind of gives me an idea on if he's moving outside or inside so I know which direction he is going to go. I know a lot of guys do it but I have never heard of a catcher saying it bothers him. Their attention is on the pitcher and the pitch, calling it and catching it. If there was a time that an umpire pushed on him or was dragging him, then yes, [the catcher might have a complaint]. But in my 20 years I have never heard of a problem with it.

What is the best way to find out when and where an umpire crew will be? Do you stay in the same crew all year or change crews? Is there a way to get a message to you? (Nothing bad I promise). I like most of you!
-- Denise

McClelland: Once we are assigned to a crew, we are with them the whole year. There are rare circumstances where a guy would switch crews - maybe if a guy got injured and will be out all year, like if a crew chief was hurt, they could bring in someone, but that would mostly be the only time a crew would change. As far as getting a hold of us, the best way to do that is through the Major League office (c/o Major League Baseball, 245 Park Ave., New York, NY 10167) or by calling the ballpark so they can get a message to us.

As an umpire, what's the funniest thing anyone has ever said to you during an argument?
-- Mark Powers

McClelland: Oh boy. A long time ago at a game in Triple-A, Jack McKeon was the manager in Omaha. He came out and said "I know you got that call right, but I have a big, full house here and my team isn't playing very well. Can we just stand out here and argue a little bit? I am just going to stand here and bob my head and raise my hands a little bit, but I am not mad at you. I just want to put on a little bit of a show. When I'm done you run me and I'll go to the dugout."

I said, "That's fine, whatever you need to do, go ahead and do it." So I told him I had a good dinner last night at [restaurant] and asked if he's ever been there. He said no, and started kicking the dirt and raising his hands and said "but maybe I should try it out sometime! Well, I think this was enough, why don't you run me now." So I did and he walked away.

I am a 15-year-old umpire just starting out, how do I know what equipment is the best (chest protectors, face masks, plate shoes, etc.)?
-- K.M.

McClelland: There's a lot of umpire equipment supply places. If you look in the back of "Referee" magazine there's a lot of advertisements in there for places to get equipment. Gerry Davis, who was a Major League umpire, owns Gerry Davis Equipment out of Wisconsin, and I am sure they have a website. He has top-of-the-line umpiring stuff.

Most sporting goods stores will have umpiring equipment or at least have a way to get it. Plus POS is a place where I get a lot of my equipment. You just have to do a little bit of investigating. Now in the computer age, I think if you did a search on umpire equipment you should be able to find some sites with information.