Umpires: Is your game in "DEFENSIVE FLOW"?

How the umpire calls the first close pitch or that first "banger" on the bases, has a profound effect on how a game is going to flow.
Very often at umpire association meetings the subject of "getting to the next level" inevitably becomes the topic of discussion. Many of our young, "up and coming" members, hungry to "move up", will listen intently to senior more experienced umpires talking about what are often referred to as the "intangibles". They hear phrases like: "game philosophy", "running a game", "game situation", and "coming up big". They listen attentively, yet many are left puzzled, and at times, even frustrated. This is because many of these concepts and skills can only be acquired after working hundreds, and sometimes, thousands of games. Nonetheless, these are the concepts that once learned, and adapted to one's game, pave the way to that "next level".

The fact is, a great deal of competent and experienced umpires never quite grasp, or at the very least, sense the importance of grasping this aspect of umpiring. This is especially true of many very experienced umpires who, despite being very strong mechanically, and possessing good knowledge of technique, reach an adequate level of competency, but never seem to progress past that point.

Understanding the importance of the "intangibles", and how they pertain to your umpiring, begins with acknowledging a particular philosophy of how the game of baseball should be played. Namely, that baseball is a game dominated by defense, and as such, a good game is one that is in that type of "flow". This principle of defensive flow should govern all aspects of your game, including game management, and even judgment.

But can an umpire influence how a game flows? We have heard umpires all too often blaming this on caliber of play, dismissing the affect of their own performance on how a game is playing out. A baseball game should be viewed as an ongoing series of situations, constantly changing with each pitch in the count. A single pitch can affect the outcome of a whole game. While this is rarely the case, it cannot be disputed that each and every pitch does change the game situation to some degree. This is evident in the considerable difference between a 1-1 count and an 0-2 count, or 3-0 and 2-1, or for that matter, 1-0 and 0-1. As the plate umpire, you have a significant influence on the "defensive or offensive flow of every game you work.

Recognizing defensive flow is the first step in successfully incorporating this concept into your umpiring. But how can an umpire tell if a game is in a defensive flow? When working the plate, assess whether pitchers are working predominantly "ahead" of batters. If so, you can be confident that you are calling a "good zone", or at the very least, you are on the right track. Consequently, astute hitters take on a defensive mindset; "hacking away", "protecting the plate". These are all good indications that a game is flowing defensively. In most cases we will find ourselves calling very few, if any, close pitches. While we're on the subject of close pitches, we should be aware that most of the "chatter", if there is any, should be coming from the offensive end. If we are taking heat on "strikes and outs", instead of" balls and safes" we can feel confident that the game is in defensive flow.

As for the base umpire, this type of game spawns a heightened atmosphere of anticipation on the part of the entire defense, and for the most part, good defensive plays seem to predominate. Your calls on the bases should reflect this spirit by rewarding this good play, and in turn, contribute toward keeping the game in "defensive flow".

Nevertheless, not all games are in defensive flow. While this may be due in large part to the caliber of play, often times an umpire can be"lulled "into an offensive mode. This often occurs when a pitcher is having trouble finding the plate. Not long after, the hitters start "sitting back". If we're not "bearing down" in this situation, we could have a tendency to call that first close pitch to come along a "ball". The game begins to take on a sluggish tempo, and with that comes the possibility of errors, pitching changes, and time outs. Conversely, an umpire who is "thinking defense", has an excellent opportunity to effect the flow of this game by "grabbing a strike", on that very same pitch.

"Setting a theme" early on will often help to prevent this situation from developing. Herein lies the importance of being focused from the first pitch. How you call the first close pitch or that first "banger" on the bases, has a profound effect on how a game is going to flow. Establishing a defensive flow, and maintaining it, is a far easier task than having to alter its course. Mastery of this skill is what is more commonly referred to as, consistency.

The above is not intended to be a "cure-all" for every game you work, although it is a factor in far more games than many umpires might think. It should also be stressed that this is in no way meant to suggest that umpires should "make up"calls. To do that would indeed be of no benefit, and would more than likely have an adverse effect on your credibility, as well as your entire game. Umpires should at all times "call em as they see em". Rather than attempting to change how you judge calls, it is far more important to begin to nurture your judgment, by adapting the philosophy of defensive flow.

Can an umpire influence how a game flows?

Baseball is a game dominated by defense, and as such, a good game is one that is in that type of "flow".

If umpires are taking heat on "strikes and outs", instead of" balls and safes" we can feel confident that the game is in defensive flow.

Copyright © 1998 by Joe Di Pietro

JOE DI PIETRO has been umpiring amateur and college level baseball games for twenty years. He writes that recently he has begun to blend his "passion for the written word with my love of baseball umpiring." When he is not umpiring or writing about umpiring Joe spends his time protecting the citizens of New York where he is a 21 year veteran of the New York City Fire Department. Joe can be reached via internet email at .

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Defensive Flow Umpiring
Published: June 1, 1998
Updated: April 29, 2007
Copyright © 1998 by the Cosmic Baseball Association