You Gotta Be Bleeping Me!

By Robert Hitchman

If you’ve been umpiring any length of time, I’m sure you’ve heard your share of angry, profane, idiotic, and yes, even funny comments directed towards you. These comments can come from coaches, fans, parents, and, depending on the age, even players. Some may have a semblance of respect, others, much disrespect. What I’d like to deal with is how we respond to it. Or more to the point, how we shouldn’t. Specifically, I want to deal with sarcasm. While sarcasm may be funny in a sit-com or movie, it really doesn’t have any place on the diamond. I bring this up because I know how tempting it can be. And a lot of times sarcasm can make your point without being over the top.


Be that as it may, let me remind you of something. Just like in real estate in which location, location, location is of the utmost importance. In our field, respect, respect, respect is extremely important in game management. You know the old adage, “To get respect, you have to give it.” Well, when a coach comes out and totally disrespects you, how do you respond? No matter how coaches, fans, parents or players treat us, we have to take the high road. And sarcasm, no matter how funny or to the point, is the low road.

We’ve all been trained that how you walk up to the field can determine how much respect you’ll get initially. Shoes shined, pants pressed, shirt tucked in, hat on your head facing forward (unless you use a hockey mask like me) will go a long way in gaining people’s respect. Then a good pre-game meeting and knowledge of the rules will bump you up a few more notches. Then when the coach comes out to dispute the first close call, how do you respond. If you respond with sarcasm, you could lose a great deal, if not all, of the respect you’ve built up.


As tempting as it can be there are some lines you don’t want to use. Such as:


You’re kidding, right?

Please tell me you’re joking!

Definitely do not imitate your favorite broadcaster’s line. No “YOU GOTTA BE BLEEPING ME! I know it’s a great line, but you’re not Ken “Hawk” Harrelson. And under no circumstances should you be firing a pre-emptive first shot. You know exactly what I’m talking about. The coach has been giving you a “soft” needle all game. At the first close play he comes out with his hair on fire. So you decide to head him off at the pass with some clever sarcastic remark to shut him up before he gets started. Bad idea.


This can really be tempting if you know the coach or coaches well. Like someone you’re on the league board with, or even worse, you played school ball with. You think it’ll work on the field because it may have worked at a board meeting. Or you’ve known him for years and the two of you always joke around like that. For one thing, that’s not good because you may be taking advantage of a friendship. Secondly, umpiring has this in common with life in general. It can take years to build up a good reputation and only seconds to tear it down.     

Now getting back to respect; you’re not respecting him. And even though you’re not talking to the parents, they hear it. Worse than that, the kids hear it. We need to be setting a good example for them. We’re the adults on the field. I know what some of you are thinking, some of these coaches don’t act like adults. Be that as it may, we as umpires must take the high road.

Here’s another thing. Let’s say you and the home coach played HS ball together, you’ve been buddies for decades. The two of you are going back and forth with sarcastic remarks all game. You two always do that and you’re both fine with it. But what if the other coach doesn’t know either one of you from Adam? He may think your buddy is going to get all the close calls, so he has to start chirping. Not a good situation to be in, especially since it’s avoidable.


A final thought. How far do you want to move up? Is it HS or college games? Even if you’re content to stay with LL, you may want to do playoffs, regionals, etc. Remember, you’re always being evaluated. (Either the coaches or school AD, league official, or umpire association board member in the stands.) If you want to do the big games with the best teams, the assignors always try to assign the best umpires and sarcasm can knock you down a few rungs.

Bob The Umpire

Robert (Bob) Hitchman has only been umpiring for about seven years in Rockland and Westchester counties, NY and Northern New Jersey, but has played high levels of baseball including college ball in California and pro ball in Mexico. He does primarily travel ball, adult leagues, HS and soon to be NCAA certified. He also does some freelance writing for Referee Magazine.