The Freedom to Choose Your Official’s Apparel Supplier

As a sports official, you always have a lot on your mind.  Rules and recent changes, scheduled game – you know the deal.  On top of that it seems every year there is a state or association mandated change to your uniform.  Whether it’s a color change, logo change or something entirely new to add, it can be maddening to stay on track, to say the least.

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To make matters worse in some cases, there is only one supplier you are allowed to go to for these changes or additions to your wardrobe.  Some of these sources are outlets that you are familiar with and like, others you never have done business with, and may not be sure of what to expect.   We at Smitteez know it’s a competitive landscape out there, and all of us suppliers would like to do as much business with associations as possible.   With that said, it sometimes makes things difficult if you are forced to do business with a supplier that charges over-the-top prices, or has less than dependable service and turn-arounds.   What’s an official to do?  What are your thoughts?  Please let us know what you think of assigned vendors for your association. We’d love to hear from you!

Update on New MLB Rules

Last month we told you about proposed changes that were expected to be implemented for the 2016 Major League Baseball Season.  Now we hear there are three they will emphatically enforce come the first pitch this weekend.  We will have to wait and see how often these rules will be enforced, and in the case of the “neighborhood play”, how controversial these calls (or no-calls) may be…

1. Timed meetings on the mound

The time-honored tradition of managers or pitching coaches gathering on the mound to discuss matters will be set to a timer beginning in 2016. No longer will the umpire decide when enough is enough before breaking up the party. According to the rule change, these powwows now have a maximum duration of 30 seconds.

2. Breaks between innings shortened again

Last year, MLB installed clocks to limit the breaks between innings to two minutes and 30 seconds. According to officials, this change knocked a healthy six minutes off the average game time in 2015. Buoyed by that success, MLB and the player’s union agreed to knock another 20 seconds off the break between innings, shaving it to 2:10. Now players, broadcasters, and grounds crew members will have to hustle back to their places in a flash — almost a minute faster than they did in 2014.

Although this will inevitably speed up the game (in theory), it will have a few unintended side-effects.  For example, what about all of those sing-along traditions during the seventh inning stretch?  Will they be grandfathered in, or pardoned while the other inning breaks are sped up?  We shall see…

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3. Questionable slides and “neighborhood play”

And the biggest, and most closely watched for sure, given what took place in last year’s NLCS between the Mets and Dodgers, will be the takeout slides at second base.”Rolling block” slides resembling tackles are banned, as are kicks or swipes above the knee.

According to the revised rule, the player has to begin sliding before touching the base; has to be able to touch the bag with his hand or foot; must be able to hold the base upon completion; and cannot change directions to make it nastier on the infielder. Runners going from home to first would be called out on interference if the rule is broken.

While these measures serve to protect, a separate rule change on the neighborhood play will actually put more infielders in harm’s way. Instead of being able to mock the tag at second in order to avoid a runner barreling into the base, infielders must now definitively touch second to record the out. Infielders now have to touch or the runner will be safe, and runners have fewer weapons to deploy in the takeout slide.

The Life of a Major League Umpire

Since we are now well into MLB spring training, we thought we’d share an excellent article written a few years ago by Steve Gilbert at MLB.com about a typical life of an MLB umpire.  We all know it’s far from an easy gig, and can cause quite a bit of unnecessary stress.  Steve’s article from a few years ago tells the story of what it’s like umping in the big show, from MLB ump Jeff Kellogg’s point of view.  We hope you enjoy the read!

PHOENIX — It’s early Friday morning and Jeff Kellogg’s day is off to a bad start.Kellogg, a veteran of more than 14 seasons as a Major League umpire, didn’t get much sleep thanks to a severe storm that knocked out the power in his Michigan home. Kellogg’s first phone call of the morning was to find out if his flight from Kalamazoo, Mich., to Minneapolis and then to Phoenix would be on time.

Not only was it not on time, it was canceled. There was a later flight through Chicago that would have gotten him to Phoenix at 6:37 p.m., but with a 6:40 game between the Cubs and D-backs to work, Kellogg had to go to Plan C: He drove two hours to Detroit to catch a flight.

While Kellogg worked to find his way to Phoenix, the rest of his crew was already there. Crew chief Mike Reilly, Eric Cooper and Andy Fletcher had worked an afternoon game in Denver the day before and hustled to the airport to catch a 5:55 p.m. flight. Had they missed that flight, they would have had to check back into their hotel and take the first flight out the next morning.

Kellogg wasn’t with them because he was with another crew, filling in for an umpire that was injured.

Reilly, Cooper and Fletcher had breakfast together at the Hyatt Regency in nearby Scottsdale, Ariz. Normally Kellogg would join them, which makes this crew different from most.

“That’s unusual,” said Reilly, a 30-year veteran. “You don’t usually find four breakfast guys on the same crew. Now Fletch every now and then is a no-show, but generally, we eat together.”

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After that, the four usually go through some form of a workout. Their dedication to doing so shows, as they are a very fit crew. On some days, it’s a matter of running, other days it’s more about weights.

Each have their own programs, but the goal is the same — to stay strong over the course of a 162-game season that is taxing physically.

“This is a real important time of year — a time when the players wear down and so do umpires,” Reilly said, “so you really have to make sure you take care of yourself right now.”

The crew, minus Kellogg and Fletcher, who has a friend in town, reconvened for a late lunch around 1:30 p.m., and afterward, they typically watch a little TV in their rooms or take a nap.

Their days are free, but you won’t find them out sightseeing. With a full night ahead of them, their focus is on getting ready for the game. Sometimes they’ll walk around a nearby mall, maybe take in a movie — nothing too strenuous.

Fletcher, the junior man on the crew with seven-plus big league seasons under his belt, is the one most likely to try and see a city’s landmark or tourist attraction if it’s convenient.

As his career goes on, it’s likely that he will do less and less.

“How many times can you see the Space Needle?” Reilly said.

Reilly used to play golf, but with the new airport security regulations put in place following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, carrying his clubs on the road is no longer practical.

Kellogg finally landed in Phoenix around 1:45 p.m. and waited for his luggage at baggage claim. Because they’re on the road for a month or more at a time, umpires can’t pack light. And with the weight restrictions, they generally each check two large bags, which means they spend a lot of time waiting, and lost luggage happens more than they care to think about.

By the time Kellogg arrived at the hotel, he had barely enough time to unpack and grab a quick nap before he had to meet the group in the lobby at 4:30 p.m. for the 30-minute ride to Chase Field.

Being punctual is not a sometimes thing for umpires, it’s a way of life. From the time they begin umpire school, being early, rather than on time, is stressed.

When they arrive at the umpires’ locker room at Chase Field, they change out of their street clothes and immediately begin to play cards. Reilly and Cooper are both huge Notre Dame fans, and they wear replica Fighting Irish jerseys before the game.

Whether it’s cards or some other form of relaxation, the group keeps things relatively loose for the first hour that they’re at the park. But with 30 minutes to go before game time, they turn their attention to the contest.

Just like the players, with every day being so routine, umpires have their own set of superstitions. Reilly, for instance, wore the same Notre Dame T-shirt under his umpire’s top every time he worked the plate for close to 30 years.

“He came in after a game and it was around his waist, because it had literally fallen apart,” Kellogg said.

Reilly has cut the shirt in pieces and places one in his pocket before each game.

The umpires also use the time before the game to treat various injuries. Fletcher will ice his surgically repaired knee, while Cooper gets the same treatment on his troublesome heel where he has plantar fasciitis.

Cooper is the plate umpire for the game, and that means his mind-set during the day is a little different than the other umpires. Reilly said that if he didn’t know which of his partners was scheduled to work the plate on a given day, he could still tell by how they act during the day. A lot of times they’re quieter, maybe do a little less intense of a workout.

“Some guys will tell you they don’t do anything different on the day that they have the plate, but that’s not true,” Reilly said. “I don’t care who you are or how long you’ve been doing it, you know the morning you wake up that you’ve got the plate. Actually, you know the night before when you go to sleep that you’ve got the plate next day.”

Kellogg is working third base, typically a less strenuous assignment, but no less important.

“Sometimes friends and family say you’ve got an off-day because you’re working third,” Cooper said. “But the one or two plays you’ll have at third are usually very important plays. Obviously, the plate guy has the most decisions to make, and you’ve got to bring your ‘A’ game when you’ve got the plate.”

Three hours and 40 minutes after taking the field, the crew returns to their locker room. It’s been a taxing day for Cooper, who has squatted behind the plate for 285 pitches. He had a confrontation with Arizona manager Bob Melvin that resulted in Melvin’s ejection in the seventh inning.

Postgame, the umpires will discuss any plays that happen that they feel they need to go over, take treatments when needed, grab a bite to eat, shower and head back to their hotel where the adrenaline from the game will keep them up for the next couple of hours before they finally head to bed.

After all, they’ve got to get up and do it all over again tomorrow.

 

Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. This story appeared on MLB.com on August 28th, 2007, and was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Will the New Take-out Rule Cause Confusion for MLB Umps?

This week Major League Baseball put into place a new rule prohibiting runners going out of their way to take out fielders at or near the bases they are running to.  Call it the new “Chase Utley” rule (or Rueben Tejada rule, depending on if you are a Met fan), but the MLB brass is serious about preventing unnecessary injuries during the games.  While many baseball purists feel this is an integral part of “old-fashion” baseball, players like Tejada probably feel these changes are long overdue. (For those who weren’t following last year’s NLCS, or somehow forgot what happened, Utley, the Dodgers infielder sent Tejada of the Mets out of the playoffs last October with a broken leg while attempting to break up a double play).

This past Thursday, Major League Baseball announced its attempt to hopefully reduce injuries and promote player safety. Runners must make a “bona fide attempt” when sliding into second base.  Rule 6.01 now states the runner needs to begin a slide on the ground before attempting to hit the base with a hand or foot. Then he must remain on the base and not change his path to try and make contact with the fielder.  The new rule also precludes roll blocks or any intentional contact with the fielder. If that happens, an automatic double play will be called.

While some instances will be a cut and dry call for umpires to make, others may not be so easy.  It will be another judgement call on their part – how close was the runner to the bag when contact with the fielder was made?  how high up is too high for the runner’s feet to leave the field?  Adding to this confusion will be the virtual elimination of the old-fashioned “neighborhood rule.”

 

This change, in other words, will mean that infielders trying to turn a double play have to tag second base, even if a runner is bearing down on them. Before, if they just got close but needed to avoid the runner, umpires often gave them the out at second even though they hadn’t technically touched the base with their foot.  So the umpires will have to pay that much closer attention to the fielders foot in determining whether a runner is safe or out. They will have to be in a better position to make sure they see all elements of the play unfolding.  This was never an easy task, and now it will be even harder in some cases to make the correct call.

According to one official familiar with the discussions, the decision to change the neighborhood play came after a video review of numerous plays in which infielders were injured on plays at second base. That study revealed that virtually every injury came as the result of a late slide, a “roll-block” type slide or a slide in which runners made little attempt to reach the bag.

But now, things will be different. All runners will be required to slide — and make contact with the ground — before they reach second base. And they need to “remain on the base” when they finish that slide. So officials concluded that eliminating the neighborhood play was not going to leave infielders as vulnerable as some folks may think.

Rule changes are inevitable with MLB every year. so the umps are accustomed to make adjustments.  Given the high profile of the play which caused this rule change, we think the umps will be under closer scrutiny than other rule changes to make sure no more runners legs are broken.

Can Major League Baseball Games Be Shortened Even More This Year?

It’s that time of the year again.  MLB teams are reporting to Florida and Arizona  for spring training, and the powers-that-be are trying to figure out how to speed up the game even more so than last year.   MLB implemented some rule changes last season to speed things up, with mixed results. Batters had to keep one foot in the batter’s box after taking a pitch, and clocks were installed at each ballpark to ensure the inning started right after the commercial break ended.

Yes, that was a commendable first attempt to relieve the boredom that creeps in to some drawn out games.  So now according to Joel Sherman of the New York Post, even more pace-of-play rule changes may be coming in 2016. MLB and the MLBPA have not finalized any plans but they are working towards an agreement. It’s being reported that the two sides are focusing on two items in particular:

1. In an attempt to remove the slow walk to the mound or the stalling tactics once there, managers will be requested to make in-game pitching changes more quickly, with the possibility of having a time limit for making the decision to call for a reliever.

2. Twenty seconds would be sliced off the between-inning clock, first used last year, in non-nationally televised games. The commercial breaks in such games are 2:05. Last year, the clock was set at 2:25 at the end of a half-inning, with the idea the hitter would get in the box with 20 seconds remaining on the clock and the pitcher would deliver by zero.

Cutting down on stall tactics during pitching changes is a great idea, assuming clubs don’t figure out a way to game the system. Last season managers were told to signal for a replay challenge from the dugout in an effort to save time, though that only led to players standing around as the manager waiting for the thumbs up from the video folks in the clubhouse.

The average time of game dropped from 3:02 in 2014 to 2:56 in 2015 thanks to the pace-of-play measures. Again, MLB’s intent is not to shorten games. They want to cut down on the downtime within games. Less standing around, basically. I don’t think pace-of-play is a critical issue, but it can be improved. I’m on board.

A 20-second pitch clock was used at the Double-A and Triple-A levels last season, and the average game time was reduced 12 minutes from 2014. Pitchers have 20 seconds from the time they have possession of the ball to begin their delivery, and batters have to be ready in the box. Pitchers who violate the pitch clock are charged with a ball, batters a strike.

Many players have spoken out against pitch clocks and it doesn’t seem like we’ll see them in MLB anytime soon. They’re being tested in the minors right now — that also allows future big leaguers to get used to the rules — and will remain in place for the foreseeable future. For now, MLB will try to eliminate downtime in other ways.

So here’s to reducing the average time of a game even further , and raising the fans interest even that much more.

NFL set to adjust ref procedures for playoffs. Too little, too late?

The NFL is going out of its way to maker sure it isn’t hit with any high-profile officiating mistakes in the playoffs. Already mired in a slew of questionable game outcomes that have coaches, players and fans seething nearly very Sunday, the league announced this past Wednesday that beginning this postseason, there will be a slight adjustment to officiating procedures.

Under the new policy, which was recommended by the Competition Committee and approved by Roger Goodell, officials will be permitted to have more contact with NFL Vice President of Officiating Dean Blandino, who’s located in New York, during games.

Previously, Blandino only communicated with game officials while they reviewed instant replay challenges, but starting next month, that will change.

Once the postseason kicks off, officials will be able to consult with Blandino on several things, including: the appropriate assessment of penalty yardage, the proper administration of the game clock and the correct down.

Officials will also be able to consult with Blandino on a few other administrative matters that aren’t currently reviewable.  The minor change in procedure won’t give Blandino full officiating power in any game though.

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Blandino’s new role “will not include the ability to call or change a foul, or otherwise become involved in on-field judgment calls that are not subject to the current instant replay system,” the league’s statement said.

The NFL’s thinking here is that the change will make its officials more efficient.   As reported to CBS Sports Online,

“The committee feels strongly that giving the referee and Dean the ability to consult with each other in certain situations beyond instant replay will further support officiating in the playoffs,” Competition Committee chairman Rich McKay said. “The officials do a very difficult job exceedingly well, and we think this adjustment in the playoffs will make them even better.”

It seems to us that this more of a PR spin than anything else.  Including Blandino in certain aspects of the game, but not giving him authority to overrule calls that may be in question seems like a very useless exercise in bringing him in when he may be needed most.  Just consulting with him on non-reviewable plays seems like something the crew chief should be doing regularly before the game anyway.  We’ll see how this goes over real soon.

 

How Bad of a Year are the NFL Referees Having?

We have said this many times before, that sports officials are imperfect humans like everyone else, and will make their fair share of mistakes, again like everyone else.  The problem we are seeing is that when a questionable call is made, and the ENTIRE crew (including replay officials) after conferring as a team STILL can’t make the correct call, then we all have a serious issue.

Questionable calls INITIALLY made will never go away, and I think most players, coaches and fans can live with that.  It’s the final call made after reviewing said play and conferring with one another that STILL isn’t right that gets everyone up in arms.

Here are the five most controversial calls/non-calls we have seen in the NFL so far this season:

Here are the top five eye-raising calls/non-calls this season, so far:

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1. In Week 1’s Giants-Cowboys game, the NFL admitted to two missed calls, both in the end zone: a pass interference call against Rodgers-Cromartie and a missed defensive hold on tight end Daniel Fells on third down prior to the Giants giving the ball back to set up Dallas’s game-winning drive. Final Score: Cowboys 27 – Giants 20

2. Week 4’s Monday Night Football game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Detriot Lions came down to a final call, now known as Batgate. Dean Blandino, the NFL’s head of officiating, admitted that the referees botched the call at the end of the

Seahawks’ win over the Lions, when Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright intentionally, and very visibly batted the ball out of the end zone. But there is nothing to be done about it now. The final score? Seahawks 13 – Lions 10

3. On Oct. 12, during the game, referees failed to notice 18 seconds leaking off the clock on a Steelers possession, leading to the suspension of side judge Rob Vernatchi for a single game. They say the outcome of the game was not directly affected by this call, but a second consecutive officiating gaffe on Monday Night Football was pretty concerning.

4. The Cardinals were driving late in the first half against the Seattle Seahawks when Carson Palmer connected with tight end Darren Fells. Seattle picked it up thinking the catch was completed and the

tight end fumbled, but officials ruled the play an incompletion. So the call in question is, ‘What is a catch?’ Well, before the Cardinals could continue their drive, the referees stopped the game to finally review the play. Arizona luckily kept possession and the kicker was able to tack on a field goal to close out the first half with a 22-7 Cardinals lead. Final score: Cardinals 39 – Seahawks 32

5. In one of the Baltimore Ravens’ most excruciating losses, there were of course plenty of penalities that effected the game, but none like Jacksonville’s last-minute win over the Ravens that never should have been. In the final seconds, and literally the clock was at 00:00, the refs missed a huge call on the offensive line that cost the Ravens the game. NFL spokesperson Michael Signora confirmed to media on Monday that the game officials in Sunday’s 22-20 win over the Ravens failed to flag the Jaguars for a false start penalty that would have wiped out the eventual, 53-yard field goal by the Jaguars.

Hindsight is always 20/20, and we’ll never live in a perfect world.  But these officials are supposedly the best in class, working games played by the most talented athletes on the planet in their respective sport.  Here’s hoping these questionable calls are reduced as a result of proper communication with one another in order to allow for a fair conclusion of a game.