"I'm an umpire; I try hard, but I can't do a perfect job." - By Bill Conlin
Donald Jensen was struck on the head by a thrown bat while umpiring a youth baseball game in Indiana. He shook off the blow and finished umpiring the game, but that night went to the hospital with head pain. While being kept overnight for observation, the umpire wrote the following letter to parents of youth baseball players everywhere:
- - -
"I'm an umpire. I don't do it for a living, but only for fun and because it provides a little extra spending money for my family. I've played baseball, coached it, and watched it. But somehow, nothing takes the place of umpiring. Maybe I feel deep down that I am providing a fair chance for all kids to play the game without disagreements or arguments. There is one thing that bothers me about youth baseball umpiring. Some of the parents don't understand why I am there.
Some of you feel that I'm on a power trip to exert authority over your son. For that reason, you often yell at me or encourage your son to yell at me when I make a mistake. Do you understand that I try to be perfect? I try not to make a mistake. I don't want your son to feel that he got a raw deal from the umpire. Yet, no matter how hard I try, I can't be perfect.
I counted the number of calls I made in a six inning game today. The total number of decisions was 146. I tried to get them all right, but I'm sure I missed a few. I could have missed eight calls today and still gotten 95% of them right. In most occupations, that percentage would be excellent.
Let me tell you more about the game today. There was a close call that ended the game. A runner for the home team was trying to come home on a passed ball. The catcher chased the ball down and threw to the pitcher who was covering the plate. The pitcher made the tag and I called the runner out!
As I was getting my equipment to leave, I overheard one of the parents say, "It's too bad the kids have to lose because we have rotten umpires. I have never seen a call that bad." Later, at the concession stand, a couple of kids were telling their friends, "We would have won today if we didn't have such a lousy umpire." When I heard that, I felt terrible. Those kids made a lot of mistakes that cost them the game. I may have missed the call at home plate. I truly don't know, but it was an honest effort, and I think I got it right.
A parent or a coach who allows a child to blame his failures on an umpire is doing the worst kind of injustice to that youngster. That kind of irresponsibility is bound to carry over into future years. As I sit here writing this letter, I am no longer upset.
At one point, I wanted to quit umpiring behind the plate for a pitcher who pantomimed his displeasure at any close call. One could sense that he wanted the crowd to realize that he was a talented player that was being victimized by this black hearted villain of an umpire. This kid continued for two innings while, at the same time, yelling at his own teammates who made mistakes. For two innings, the manager watched this. When the kid returned to the dugout in the top of the third inning, the manager called him aside. In a voice I was able to overhear, he said, "Listen son, it is time you make a decision. You can be an umpire or a pitcher, but you can only be one at the time. Right now it is your job to pitch, and you're not doing a very good job of it. Leave the umpiring to the guy behind the plate, or you won't do any more pitching for me." Needless to say, the kid chose the pitching route and went on to win the game. When the game was over, the kid followed me to my car. Fighting back tears, he apologized for his actions. His dad thanked me for umpiring and said he didn't understand how I could continue to take the kind of abuse that parents and kids seem to dish out. The kid learned a lesson that he would not forget.
I can't help but wonder how many more young men are missing the chance to develop into outstanding ball players because their parents encourage them to spend time blaming the umpire rather than working harder to improve their own game. I love the game of baseball and enjoy the kids.
I could have a variety of part time jobs to allow my family a few extras in life. I chose to umpire, and I try very hard. I wish parents would understand that the majority of youth umpires are simply doing it for the love of the game, and we don't try to cheat anyone. I wish they could see how foolish they look to others when they verbally attack us. If they could be an example and get onto their child instead of the umpire, we would develop better players and people.