The umpire in both baseball and softball helps enforce the rules, make calls on plays, and keep the flow of the game moving. A little league baseball game might only have a home plate umpire who has to watch everything. In contrast, a Major League Baseball game might have a handful of referees watching specific areas during matches.
So, what is the role of each umpire during a game? Do umpires need to go to an umpire school to get up to the MLB level? How does technology factor into umpiring for today and in the future?
Here is the complete breakdown of what a professional umpire does during baseball and softball games.
What is the Role of Each Umpire During a Baseball/Softball Game?
A regular-season baseball/softball game tends to have four umpires around the diamond. For the MLB All-Star game, playoffs/ postseason, and World Series, two more referees are added to the mix. Here is the breakdown of the umpiring crew that you will see during baseball and softball games.
Home Plate Umpire
The home plate umpire is the head of all umpires on the field. Their role is to call balls and strikes, grant timeouts for pitchers and hitters, make calls at the plate, enforce the rulebook, and eject players or fans from the game. In addition to that, the home plate umpire is the one that works on lineup card changes with the managers. Finally, the home plate umpire wears a chest protector and facemask to protect themselves since they are standing directly behind the catcher.
First Base Umpire
The first base umpire calls safe or out when the baserunner is running to first base. In addition to that, they need to call fair and foul balls that land close to the foul lines quickly during plays. Finally, the first base umpire needs to be able to watch home runs down the right-field line to help assist the home plate umpire if they need assistance on a call.
Second Base Umpire
The second base umpire focuses on plays at the second base. They need to be ready to make a safe or out call during steal attempts and more at second base.
Third Base Umpire
The third base umpire must make accurate calls at third base on plays. Along with making calls at the base, they need to call fair and foul balls that are hit to the left-field side of the field. Finally, they should watch home runs hit to make sure they left the ballpark and did not have any fan interference or could be foul.
Left Field Umpire / Right Field Umpire
During the MLB All-Star Game and playoffs, the left field and right field umpire join the umpire crew for the game. Their role is to watch close plays in the outfield, like if a ball lands fair or foul and if the outfielder was able to make a catch on a slide. In addition, they have the best angle on home runs hit to left field, so they assist on close calls and fan interference that can occur on controversial home runs.
How Do Umpires Get Selected to Work Playoff Professional Baseball Games?
Major League Baseball takes the best of the best umpires each season to put them on during postseason games. Since there is plenty of tracking on an umpire’s performance, MLB can determine who is best to be the umpire-in-chief / crew chief during matches based on their track record. Since the postseason games have more TV audience attention and media coverage, MLB chooses the umpires who can perform their job and role the best to help call those games.
Is there an Umpire School?
The Harry Wendelstedt Umpire School is an independently run training program that Minor League and Major League pull talent from each season. Out in Ormond Beach, Florida, the school has umps go through weeks of training to simulate baseball scenarios. Some of the training includes learning about the official rulebook in baseball, tracking pitches in the batting cage to call balls and strikes, and calling close plays at bases. The school is open to men and women looking to become Major League umpires.
The school’s program goes from January through February. During that period, students receive scores based on their performance, and the top students can work in the lower levels of baseball, practicing their umpire skills. Most low levels include Rookie Ball, Class A, Double-A, and Triple-A levels, where umpires move up each level based on their skills and performance.
Check out how to become an MLB Umpire guide to learn more about this process.
How To Get into Umpiring Games?
If you don’t make it to the Minor League level to call games after the umpire school, students should still practice their craft in little league games. Umpires can then move their way up to High School and College games if there are open umpiring spots. Practicing calling fair balls on plays, understanding the strike zone, and working at different ballparks is a great way to take your skillset from the umpire school and keep perfecting it if you plan on enrolling again at the school.
Is there an Umpire Baseball Hall of Fame?
The Major League Baseball Hall of Fame recognizes umpires for their work and achievement in the game. Check out what umpires are in the hall of fame from mlb.com.
What Happens if You Argue with an Umpire During a Game?
One of the roles of being an umpire is to keep the flow of the game moving. Players will disagree with calls during the game, but it is up to the umpire to determine how they will handle that confrontation. Some referees allow players to voice their frustration quickly on a call and then move on, but others might argue for longer. The umpire tends to warn a player or coach to stop arguing before they eject them from a game.
Ejecting a player, coach, or fan requires a report from the umpire explaining why they did this, so umpires tend to give some warning before removing someone for arguing. Once someone is ejected from a game, they can’t come back to play, so umpires don’t want to do this. However, an ejection can occur if someone continues to argue with an umpire and it interferes with them calling the game after a warning.
Most of the time, after an ejection, a player or coach will start yelling at the umpire more forcefully for a bit. These players and coaches will do this to get their point across since they have to leave the game. Most umpires let the coach or player vent for a bit and then ask them to leave the game so they can resume action.
How Does Technology Either Help or Hurt Baseball Umpires?
With the advancement in television over the years, we’ve gotten to the point that fans at home watching the game will know if a player is out on the basepaths, if the pitch was a strike, and if the home run was fair or foul. Before 2008, Major League Baseball did not have any video replay reviews, so whatever the call was on the field would stand.
During the 2008 MLB season, video replay began on August 28th, 2008. During that year, an umpire could request a video repla on fan interference, home run calls, fair or foul balls, etc.
In 2014, the replay review expanded to managers to request specific calls to go to the video room for review. The rules would grow and change after that, but the premise of the ideas was that if the manager thought that a player was safe at first, or if a player was safe on a stolen base, they could request a second look via the video replay. At the same time, the video replay might slow down the action, but fans and players like it because you want the call to be correct.
What Does the Future Hold for MLB Umpires?
Video replay has been great for umpires, fans, and players to ensure that the call is correct. However, there is still one area in the game that causes fans and players to react negatively: incorrect ball and strike calls. With pitch tracking on things like Gameday, fans can see instantly if a home plate umpire mistook a call.
According to Sports Techie, MLB is implementing an AI ball-strike system in Low A games as a test trial. The concept works to track pitches and allows teams to challenge close calls via the AI system. This AI system is new, so it is something that might eventually make its way to the MLB level. However, MLB always tests new changes and technology at the lower levels first.
Conclusion: What is the Umpire’s Role in Baseball and Softball Games?
In summary, an umpire in baseball and softball helps enforce the rules and keep the flow of the game moving. There are multiple umpires on the field that each has a specific role in making accurate calls. Even with technology in baseball and softball games, umpires still have a critical role to play. They need to make calls and use technology to get the calls right during games.