Softball umpires run the show, and the best officials orchestrate a smooth-running game free from confusion and controversy. It's not easy being an ump -- softball rules can be complex and tough calls must be made quickly and decisively. As retired major league umpire Ken Kaiser once wrote, " If you like having every close decision you make criticized... then maybe you would like being an umpire."
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Umpires are expected to enforce the rules. This wide-ranging authority gives every umpire the right to eject a player or coach -- or even a spectator or media representative -- for unsportsmanlike behavior. The judgment of a softball umpire is final, which requires a good one to know both the rules and the proper interpretation of the rules. Top umpires are sufficiently patient to wait until a play is over to make the call and also decisive when signaling the verdict.
Behind the Plate
The home plate umpire is the head honcho with the most responsibility. In addition to the fundamental duties of a home plate ump -- calling balls and strikes, deciding plays at the plate, keeping track of lineups and substitutions -- the home plate ump decides when to order a rain delay and whether to resume or call off the game. Softball umps also handle pregame coaches conferences, take care of the game balls, and break out the brush to keep home plate clean.
On the Basepaths
An ump in the field makes sure the bases are properly placed and secure before and during the game. Besides making calls at the bases, he'll help the home plate ump call checked swings, keep their own record of balls, strikes and number of outs. That ump has the same authority as the home plate ump to call balks and illegal pitches. The best umps race to get in the proper position to make the call, staying low to the ground with an angle that enables them to see both the ball and the foot of the baserunner.
The duties of a skilled softball ump go beyond the rule book itself. The International Softball Federation says good umps possess superior "game management skills." These include such attributes as a positive attitude, field presence, professionalism, fitness, credibility and common sense. Umps must be able to shrug off harsh criticism from coaches, players and fans. As the softball umpire manual of the National Federal of High School Associations states, "To remain calm in the face of adversity is an essential part of an umpire's makeup."