Chaos on the Diamond

April 25, 2005 at 2:59pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in 625 Elm Street

I spent seven hours yesterday on the ball diamond, and I have the sunburn to prove it. (Three year-old sunscreen just isn’t as effective as you might hope.) What a beautiful day to be outside.

The first two games were great. I was behind the plate for both games, and I had nary a problem the entire time. A good time was had by all. The third game didn’t go quite as well.

At the plate meeting before every game I remind coaches that safety comes first, and nowhere is that more important than during close plays near a base or home plate. Runners are required to “slide or avoid”—that is, to slide into the base, or to avod (as opposed to plowing over, MLB-style) the fielders. The response is almost always something along the lines of “Yeah yeah, our kids know to get down.”

Yesterday, one kid forgot.

I was the base umpire and “Mike” was the plate umpire. I don’t recall the exact situation, but there was a runner on third base (R3). R3 was chugging toward home plate, intent on scoring. The catcher was ready, though, blocking the plate with ball in glove. R3 screwed up—he put his forearms out and KAPOW! plowed right through the catcher. Instantly the catcher’s coaches (three of ‘em) poured out of the dugout and charged home plate, even before Mike had time to eject the runner (which he did). Thinking that’s all the coaches were after (silly me!), I didn’t do too much. I figured the ejection would pretty much resolve their gripes.

It was then that I was able to finally understand exactly what they were saying. They were accusing R3’s coach(es) of actually encouraging the rough play. Uh oh. Sure ‘nuff, here comes one of R3’s coaches running onto the field.

He got right into the head defensive coach’s face—I’m talking nose-to-nose—and the two started going at it.

At that point I stepped in. (Mike appeared to be a bit shell-shocked by the whole fiasco.) I moved toward the two opposing coaches yelling “No! No!” (It’s good to keep your words simple and clear in these situations.) I forced myself between the two coaches even though there wasn’t room, and I got right into R3’s coach’s face. I yelled something to the effect of “You didn’t start this, coach, but you’re not making things any easier. Now get out of here! Get back to your dugout!” (Imagine that being yelled by a very angry, and very loud, Mr. Wilson.) Amazingly enough, it worked. The coach stopped yelling, paused, and said “Okay.” And he turned and I walked him back to his dugout.

Shortly thereafter we got things going again.

In retrospect, a lot of things could have been done differently. I could have tossed at least three coaches (two defensive coaches, one offensive coach—a new record for me), and instead I tossed none. Had the offensive coach not left the field so easily, he would have been ejected. If I had ejected him, I would have had to have ejected at least two, and probably three, defensive coaches (they started it, after all). That would have left the defense with only one coach, and I don’t think he was a “real” coach, but rather was just a helper. In other words, the defense would have had to forfeit, robbing the kids of a chance to play baseball on a beautiful spring day out of no fault of their own. No, that would have not been an ideal resolution. It may sound cheesy, but we are out there for the kids. Why should they be punished for their coaches’ idiocy?

Even in retrospect I think we handled things as properly as we could. We kept the coaches on a very tight leash following the outburst, and we had no further problems. There is one thing I wish I had done, though. I wish I had gotten both coaching staffs together and reamed them for their stupidity. I wish I had shamed them in front of their players and spectators. Then I should have required the defensive coaches to apologize for their accusations and shake the offensive coaches’ hands. (For good measure, R3 probably should have apologized to the catcher as well.) Is that method a little hokey? Sure it is. But it is a somewhat humilitating act of contrition and restitution that is very memorable.

Here’s the kicker to the whole thing: my mom happened to stop by the diamond and she witnessed the whole thing. There’s a side of her son she has never seen before!

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The Comments

Mr. T April 26, 2005 at 2:34am

Damn. So do you think this might have turned into a Ron Artest-like sports rage incident or was it just typical macho posturing by the coaches? How badly was the kid hurt?

Can you curse at people or is that not acceptable for an umpire?

This is interesting because I believe in Canada, and possible some European countries, legal liability is actually assignable to overzealous coaches who encourage their players to be over agressive. I think this would fit a context more where the adult coaches are influencing minor players.

Mr. Wilson April 26, 2005 at 3:09pm

I don’t know that it was headed toward Ron Artest status, but I think chest-bumping and maybe a little shoving was in the cards. Nothing too physical, though.

The catcher wasn’t hurt at all, as far as I could tell. Fortunately the runner thumped him on the chest rather than under the chin.

Cursing? Nothing in the rules says I can’t. It would take a pretty extreme situation, though, especially at a youth game. It would be hard to eject anybody for swearing if I had taught them their four-letter vocabulary. A well-timed “get the hell out of here” or “sit your ass down” might have its place in a few rare situations. The only time I can really imagine saying that, though, is if somebody had actually been violent (i.e. started a fight). As far as I can recall, I have never sworn at a coach, player, or spectator. Talk about a good way to lose face if you don’t choose your words very carefully.

I’m not sure what the status of legal liability of coaches is here in the U.S. I imagine that coaches carry the weight of some liability, but I am not aware of any laws that make that liability explicit.

I probably should emphasize something that I didn’t emphasize in my original post. First, these situations are very rare. In thousands of hours on the baseball diamond, this is the only time I have seen a situation like this. (A similar situation happened once during a soccer game, but in that case there was never the threat of a physical altercation.) In fact, I would say that, in general, Lincoln and most of Nebraska except for Omaha have fewer of these situations per year than average. That’s just an anecdotal observation, though.

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