Are you Ready for Robot Umpires in the World Series?

Today we thought we’d turn over our blog to SweetSpot blogger David Shoenfield of ESPN, who’s recent blog post included an interesting analysis of the umpires’ strike zone thus far in the MLB playoffs.  Like almost every year, much has been made about the umpires ability, or inability to keep a consistent strike zone throughout a game. David’s take on the pitching numbers, as well as his analysis of PITCHf/x technology makes for an interesting read.  Enjoy!

The biggest decision of the postseason might not be when Ned Yost decides to go to his bullpen in a big moment or who Terry Collins elects to start in his outfield or what pitch Noah Syndergaard throws to Eric Hosmer with two runners on base. The biggest decision might already have happened.

With the Kansas City Royals clinging to a 4-3 lead in the top of the ninth inning of Game 6 of the American League Championship Series, Ben Revere of the Toronto Blue Jays was batting with runners on first and third and one out. Closer extraordinaire Wade Davis was on the mound trying to send the Royals back to the World Series. The count was two balls, one strike. Davis threw a 97 mph fastball, high and away, in a similar location to where he had just gotten a strike called on the previous batter,

The biggest decision of the postseason might not be when Ned Yost decides to go to his bullpen in a big moment or who Terry Collins elects to start in his outfield or what pitch Noah Syndergaard throws to Eric Hosmer with two runners on base. The biggest decision might already have happened.

With the Kansas City Royals clinging to a 4-3 lead in the top of the ninth inning of Game 6 of the American League Championship Series, Ben Revere of the Toronto Blue Jays was batting with runners on first and third and one out. Closer extraordinaire Wade Davis was on the mound trying to send the Royals back to the World Series. The count was two balls, one strike. Davis threw a 97 mph fastball, high and away, in a similar location to where he had just gotten a strike called on the previous batter, Dioner Navarro, who ended up striking out.

Revere took the pitch. Plate umpire Jeff Nelson had a decision to make: ball or strike?

As Joe Sheehan wrote about Nelson in particular after that game and umpiring in general, “They’re guessing whether this small object moving at ridiculous speed went through an imaginary box. Much of the time, they guess right. Some of the time, they guess wrong.”

 who ended up striking out.

Revere took the pitch. Plate umpire Jeff Nelson had a decision to make: ball or strike?

As Joe Sheehan wrote about Nelson in particular after that game and umpiring in general, “They’re guessing whether this small object moving at ridiculous speed went through an imaginary box. Much of the time, they guess right. Some of the time, they guess wrong.”

As with the earlier call to Navarro, Nelson decided it was a strike. The replay, the strike-zone graphic on the TV broadcast and the PITCHf/x tracking data suggested Nelson decided wrong.

When I asked Davis on Monday about the pitch, he didn’t break, remaining stone-faced. “I thought it was a strike,” he said.

With the count then 2-2, Davis threw a curveball that Revere swung at and missed. After the game, which ended with Josh Donaldson grounding out, Revere was livid about the call.

“It was terrible,” Revere said. “It changes the whole game. That should’ve put me in a 3-1 count. Now he has to throw me a strike. But instead it’s 2-2 and that puts me in the hole, and now I’m battling. It was a terrible call. You can’t call that. I was so ticked off.

“It was like six inches off the plate. If I swing, I can’t hit it.”

The first two games of the World Series have been mercifully free of umpiring controversies. The griping about the balls-and-strikes calls hasn’t reached the fervor of the earlier rounds of the postseason, at least not yet. New York Mets starter Jacob deGrom might have been squeezed on a couple of pitches when he walked Alex Gordon to kick off the Royals’ four-run fifth inning in Game 2, and Johnny Cueto might have been squeezed a few times early in the same game and Daniel Murphy barked at some strikes, but Twitter didn’t escalate into a “kill the ump” campaign.

Mets right fielder Curtis Granderson explained earlier this week how the game revolves around getting these calls right.

“You go from a 0-0 count to start to 1-0 or 0-1 and the at-bat changes,” he said. “A strike or a ball changes it drastically, and that’s what’s often overlooked. It’s not just whether it was a ball or strike, but now you’ve changed my approach, you’ve changed the pitcher’s approach. Maybe I have a chance to do something now, or maybe I don’t. The aggression levels changes on both sides. The expansion of the zone changes on both sides.”

The numbers Granderson referred to might be even bigger than you realize. Here’s the example he presented:

Batters after 1-0: .268/.374/.441

Batters after 0-1: .225/.265/.344

The questionable strike called on Navarro came on a 1-1 pitch. That call creates an even larger split:

Batters after 2-1: .250/.382/.405

Batters after 1-2: .177/.226/.272

And the Revere at-bat? How the pitch is called can mean the batter is nearly twice as likely, or half as likely, to get on base:

Batters after 3-1: .278/.574/.476

Batters after 2-2: .189/.286/.299

That’s why everyone gets so worked up over this, why we obsess over the pitch-tracking box, which is now ubiquitous on just about every televised game. “That’s a huge part of the formula,” Mets veteran Michael Cuddyer said. “The strike zone — good or bad — plays an enormous effect into the psychology of a player. In the end, you hope it’s a well-officiated game and that the calls don’t affect the outcome.”

And yes, players can be as focused on that graphic as we are. “It’s become more of mental thing; you’re sitting there and it’s all you’re thinking about,” Royals reliever Kris Medlen said. “I saw some pitches in some of the other games where I was like, ‘Whoa.’ As a pitcher, I’ll notice pitches that are balls that I may think are strikes, like a curveball where a catcher drops down but maybe it crossed the plate at the knees. But it works both ways. And most of the umpires are really good at their jobs.”

As a fan, I’ve wondered if we’d be better off without the graphic. It can take away from our enjoyment of the game as we grow more and more agitated with every call that we think goes against our team. Plus, the pitch location graphic might not be exactly accurate. As Dave Cameron of FanGraphs wrote earlier this postseason, the strike zone on the TBS broadcast didn’t exactly correlate with the PITCHf/x data presented on Brooks Baseball and other sites.

All this, of course, has led to calls for robot umpires. In fact, one independent league used the PITCHf/x technology in a robot-umpire experiment this summer. Former MLB player and current MLB Network analyst Eric Byrnes was on hand and said it will change everything. “So if we have a chance to get it right, if we have a chance to get a pitch every time, why would we not?” he asked.

“You have to realize you have a human behind the plate who’s trying to eyeball something that’s moving very fast,” Granderson said. “You have a glove, you have a catcher, you have equipment, we possibly have a bat in that area, and I have to find a white ball and see where it’s at and make a call in a short time. Not only that, there are 40,000 or 50,000 fans cheering loud and screaming.”

Indeed, it’s possible Nelson might simply have been unconsciously influenced by the Kansas City fans. Research has shown that the biggest influence on home-field advantage in baseball is the size and shape of the park, but the home team also gets more favorable ball-and-strike calls.

So Granderson could envision a future with robot umps. “I think you definitely need to consider your options as technology continues to improve. Maybe it’s something where the robot umpire is telling the umpire, something like that.”

Cuddyer agreed.

“As technology continues to improve, we’ll be able to find ways to improve the game, while not costing people their jobs,” he said. “The game will continue to evolve as the technology evolves.”

But the technology might not be there yet. Sportvision, creator of the PITCHf/x system that utilizes three cameras to track the speed, location and trajectory of every pitch, notes on its website: “The PITCHf/x service tracks and digitally records the full trajectory of live baseball pitches to within an inch of accuracy, enabling new forms of baseball entertainment and analysis for leagues, teams, broadcasters, and fans. The data-rich technology is the result of more than seven years and millions of dollars of research and development.”

Within an inch of accuracy.

OK, that sounds superaccurate, but tell Greg Maddux or Zack Greinke what an extra inch means for a pitcher. So when we — myself included — utilize all this terrific data in analysis, understand that there is actually a small margin of error involved. That pitch right off the edge of the plate that you think victimized your team? Maybe it was right on the edge. Plus, when we see the strike zone, either on TV or even in the graphics used on ESPN or other sites, they’re always the same size. Umm … Jose Altuve doesn’t have the same size strike zone as Kris Bryant.

 

Given all that, robot umps might not be any better than the living and breathing ones, at least not right now. They would, however, get the call on Ben Revere correct. (No, don’t even suggest instant replay on balls and strikes.)

So we’ll be left with batters complaining and pitchers complaining and fans whining at home. Medlen is quick to point out that hitters definitely complain more. “But I don’t blame them, I guess,” he laughed. “It’s hard enough to hit with a consistent strike zone.”

Cuddyer joked that it “depends on who’s behind the plate” and on who is doing the complaining.

Then there’s rookie outfielder Michael Conforto of the Mets, who was called up from the minors in late July. Speaking like the smart rookie he is, he said, “The umpires up here are pretty good.”

The MLB Umpires are Taking a Lot of Heat This Postseason. Is it Justified?

In our previous blog post, we discussed how a couple of obscure MLB rules came into play that caught each respective game’s umpires off guard.  And Game 6 of the most recent Royals-Blue Jays game not withstanding (was it a home run, or not?) the umps have had a pretty rough time overall in the series played to date.   However, it’s been the various size strike zones that have received the most criticism this post season. By far, an umpire’s strike-zone judgment constantly preoccupies players, managers and fans during the postseason like . While there’s plenty of outcry over balls and strikes in the regular season too, the stakes are much higher — and the complaints correspondingly louder — when an entire championship can hang on one errant call.

But when you really think about, has the overall strike-zone accuracy this postseason been that significantly lower than what it was in the regular season? It probably hasn’t been much worse than you’d expect if you picked a handful of MLB games at random.

Take, for instance, the Chicago Cubs’ NL Division Series Game 1 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals, in which fans and players found fault with an inconsistent strike zone. During that game, home plate umpire Phil Cuzzi missed 15 ball-strike calls, for a total accuracy rate of 88.4 percent. That’s bad — it ranks among the worst 10 percent of all MLB games this season — but consider as well that 10 postseason games have been played so far. In a sample of that size, the probability that we wouldn’t see a game called as poorly as the Cubs-Cardinals series opener was only about 34.9 percent, so the odds were good that some team was going to be on the receiving end of a bunch of bad calls. The Cubs simply had the misfortune of being that team.

SS_1umpimages

Despite that bad game, there’s nothing statistically unusual about this postseason’s umpiring performance. In the playoffs as of Oct. 10, the umps have an accuracy rate of 91.4 percent. Depending on how you feel about robot umps, that kind of accuracy may seem unacceptable, but it’s right in line with the season-long MLB average of 91.6 percent. And if you randomly chose a set of 10 games from the regular season, you’d find that the umpires were less accurate than they’ve been this postseason about 36 percent of the time.

Because MLB bases its postseason crew assignments on merit, we might expect the playoff umpires to have a better accuracy rate than the overall regular-season average. But as Grantland reporter Ben Lindbergh wrote about last year, since 2009 there’s been essentially no difference in strike-zone accuracy between regular-season and postseason games. So although it would be nice if the strike zone were being called more precisely in the playoffs, the umpires’ execution so far is almost exactly what we’d expect based on their performance during the regular season.

Lessons From the Recent MLB Playoffs: Know thy Rulebook

There has been no doubt that the the MLB 2015 playoff series have been nothing short of dramatic.  Three of the four series went the full five games, and right up until the final game, either team in its respective series had an equal chance to come away as the victor.

And as usual, the umpire crews were kept on their toes in each series, especially the Dodgers-Mets and Blue Jays-Rangers series.  Under unusual (or perhaps bizarre) circumstances, the umpires in each of those two series were left to deliberate, consult and figure out just what the right call should be made, given the plays they encountered. Although umps are regularly reminded to be prepared for any scenario in a regular season game or playoff series, not one, but two unique ANYTHINGS certainly did occur under their watch.

Game 2 of the Dodger-Met series looked like a carbon-copy of game 1 – the Mets seemingly in control behind terrific pitching of Noah Syndegard.  Then all hell broke loose in the third inning with Chase Utley’s slide/tackle/take-out of Ruben Tejada at second base.  Was it legal? Was he safe? Should he be ejected?  These and other questions were swirling around Chevez Ravine as to the proper call of the play. Depending on which team you were pulling for, Utley was either a hard-nosed play doing what needed to be done for his team, or a dirty outlaw whose past reputation for such plays hardly surprised anyone.  While putting Utley back on second base after the replay reversal, even though he failed to touch second base, was the correct call, should the “neighborhood play” been applied since Tejada was so close to the bag?  Or should Utley been called out for obstruction, or for ejected for intent to injure Tejada (the League is supposed to be making player safety a priority, right?).  At the end of the series, the Mets came away with the victory, but with one less shortstop.

Umpire jackets

With the Rangers-Blue Jays series, an even more bizarre event took place that your average ump doesn’t see every day.  The Rangers’ Shin-Soo Choo, was at bat during the seventh inning in Game 5 of this past Wednesday, when Blue Jays’ catcher Russell Martin got a little lazy returning a ball back to the pitcher.  Instead of the usual clean throw back, the ball hit Choo’s bat and went into foul territory.  The Rangers’ Rougned Odor was on third base, and headed for home once he saw where the ball landed. After much deliberation, the umps ruled that since Choo was still in the box, and did not make an attempt to interfere with throw back to the pitcher, the ball was in effect “live”, and the run was allowed to score. Like the Mets in their series, the Blue Jays went on to win their series, so the play did not factor into the final outcome.

Moral of these stories?  Be prepared for ANYTHING, because ANYTHING can occur at ANYTIME!

Baseball Umpires Factor Into Game Wagering, and Not For the Reasons You are Thinking

When putting up money to bet on a sports event, bettors want to know as much information as possible about what they are betting on in order to make the best decision. What many many bettors don’t consider – and the minority of hard-core gamblers do  – is that  baseball umpires can make an impact on the game, which is why more and more bettors want to know exactly who is assigned where on each crew daily prior to putting down their money.

As most of you know, a four-man umpire crew will usually work the same baseball series throughout and simply rotates clockwise from 3B (third base) to HP (home plate). For example, today’s first base umpire will work behind home plate tomorrow with today’s home plate umpire moving to third base tomorrow. Some umpires call a baseball game much differently than others in terms of balls and strikes, favoring certain starting pitchers more than others and often affecting how many runs are scored and whether a total goes over or under the number set by a sportsbook.

SS_3-14_calloutump

Those with a smaller strike zone also tend to favor hitters, leading to more totals going OVER than UNDER. For this reason, many baseball handicappers who wager on totals track umpire assignments and keep a record of statistics and betting trends associated with them based on when umpires are behind home plate.  With the sophistication of so many database software options these days, tracking this performance can be easily done, and analyzed instantaneously.

With the post-season quickly approaching, the activity in baseball wagering will be taken to the next level, as will the scrutinizing of the umpires’ past performance.  While their performance will we widely accessible due to the increased interest found at this time every year, it’s almost eerie to sense that many eyes who are monitoring and tracking your almost-every movement on the field, all for the sake of one’s potential windfall.

Are Football Referees in Greater Danger?

By now, nearly every sports official in the world has read, heard or seen the unprovoked attack of a Texas football referee by two high school players. These two players, who have gained national attention for blindsiding the official, have publicly apologized for the incident.  But they now say they were doing what an assistant coach told them to do. While it’s noble of them to publicly apologize for their poor choice of action, many football refs may be wondering if they, too, may one day be the target of an overzealous malcontent, masquerading as a football player.

Michael Moreno and Victor Rojas, from John Jay High in San Antonio, also both say they heard umpire Robert Watts used the ‘n-word” in reference to an African-American teammate and Rojas said Watts made a derogatory remark to a Latino player. Watts, through his attorney, has denied using any racial slurs. The National Association of Sports Officials have told USA TODAY Sports this week that it found “no evidence at all” of racial slurs.

The two players have been suspended from school and could be facing criminal charges. The school district and UIL are investigated the incident. The UIL and the school district are scheduled to meet again Sept. 24. The Marble Falls Police also are investigating and the prosecutor in Burnet County has not made a decision. The game happened in Marble Falls.

ref-flag

In their first public comments, Moreno said on Good Morning America that defensive backs coach Mack Breed “pulled me and another player over and he told us, and I quote, ‘you need to hit the ref … he needs to pay the price.’ … for everything going on in the game. Racial slurs being thrown at players from this referee. Unjustified calls. His emotions got mixed into it. He told us to do what we did.

“You put your trust into a grown-up, your coach who’s been there since my freshman year. I trusted him that he wants the best for me and did what was I as told.”

Added Rojas: “I wasn’t thinking. I was doing what I was told.”

Breed has been placed on paid leave by the district, which Northside Independent School District officials say is standard protocol.

Rojas had the first hit on the official as he approached him from behind on the second to last play of the game. Moreno then dove on top of him.

“I wasn’t thinking. I was doing what I was told,” Rojas said.

“It was hard for me to actually do what I did,” said Moreno, who said he let up as he made the hit. “To this day, I regret it.”

Rojas said Watt told a Latino player, “This is America, speak English.” Both player say they specifically heard him use the “n-word.”

“It’s the honest truth. I wouldn’t lie about this situation,” Moreno said, adding, “the truth needs to be told. You can’t just do that because of something you were told. I’m ready to face the consequences. I am greatly sorry and regret.”

Regardless of how sorry they were, and if they were really even sincere, the punishment should be swift and harsh.  They may only be teens, at which age mistakes are expected, but now is the time to do everything possible from preventing this type of behavior to take place in the future.

 

An NFL Game Could Now Have a Final Score of 1-0

This time of the year we always list, discuss and debate all of the new rules the NFL hierarchy implements with the onset of the new season.  The one that got the most attention is that the extra point kicks will be attempted from the 15 yard line to make them a little more difficult.  While there are always some that are more questionable and/or controversial than others, there is one rule alteration that just looks plain weird.  And this is really only because NFL teams have never been awarded this point on this specific play.

We’re talking about the change to the safety rules on extra points and 2-point conversions. A safety is now possible for either team and will be worth 1 point. Rule 11-3-2-c states, “If the try results in what would ordinarily be a safety against either team, one point is awarded to the opponent.”

NFL ref

In the past in the N.F.L., the only way to earn one point was to attempt an extra point after scoring a touchdown.  But since you had to score the touchdown before attempting the extra point, it was impossible to score a single point.  Also, if an extra point was blocked, the ball was declared dead if a defender got hold of it. Under the new rules, he can try to return it, possibly all the way for a touchdown, which would be worth 2 points.

Perhaps a defensive player recovers the ball in the field of play, and while returning it he retreats into the end zone and is pulled down there. That will be a 1-point safety for the kicking team.

This has happened, though rarely, in the college game, notably in the 2013 Fiesta Bowl, when an Oregon extra point was blocked and a Kansas State player was tackled with the ball in the end zone. Oregon was awarded a point.

It is also possible for the defending team on the extra point to get a 1-point safety. Under this scenario, an extra point is blocked. The ball caroms back 15 yards, and the kicking team gets it but immediately fumbles. The ball bounces farther down the field the wrong way.  Another offensive player grabs the ball and drops it. More bounces and bumbling, and the ball eventually travels 85 yards into the far end zone. One final player on the kicking team grabs the ball and is brought down. The result will be a 1-point safety for the defending team.

If that team has not yet scored a point in the game, and it also fails to score a point the rest of the way, we will finally see our first 6-1 or 26-1 or 44-1 final score.

It will be certainly interesting if any one of the possible scenarios plays out to where we could see something like baseball-type final score.  However, with the revved-up offenses that most NFL teams possess these days, that outcome is highly unlikely.

Most NBA Refs Get Passing Grade

Criticizing sports officials is as old as the sports they officiate.  We all know there will be one or two calls at the least that the other team (and their fans) will certainly disagree with.

The NBA was quite concerned with the grief many of its referees were enduring.  So it decided to take an especially close look at how its refs performed during the final two minutes of the games they worked.  What resulted from its two-month analysis was quite complimentary of most of their performances.

With two months worth of data behind it, the refs’ union decided that it was time enough to declare victory in the work the referees have done with the added influence of the on-record daily postings for anyone to view.

The following summation was taken from the nbra.net site…

he National Basketball Referees Association (NBRA), which represents the 63 active NBA referees, believes the subjective nature of what is considered a foul and necessitates a whistle undermines the validity of the non-calls assessed to be incorrect. Flow of game, how the possible contact influenced the play, speed of play and having just six eyes watching the greatest athletes in the world – all of these factors influence the referees’ decision to blow the whistle. Additionally, NBA referees don’t have the luxury of watching play from multiple camera angles, in high definition, slow motion replay or the many other helpful viewing tools utilized by game assessors. That the assessors, with all of this technology and removed from live action, still determine the vast majority of officiating decisions correct, reinforces the persistent skill of all NBA referees.

“Officiating evaluators and even fans have many advantages over a referee,” says Seham. “Refereeing fast-moving live action with just their eyes, knowledge and instinct – it’s easy to judge their profession, but a very select few of qualified individuals can actually do it, much less do it correctly 97% of the time.”

It’s worth noting the “97 percent”-figure only applies to “correct calls,” as the referees hit for a less stellar 78 percent mark on “correct no-calls,” leading to an 86 percent success rate overall.

So how does the league determine what is the “correct” call in these cases that the referees (for better and for worse) are calling correctly nearly 100 percent of the time in the last few minutes? Hand-checking seems to be an on-going debatable call in most cases, but determining that every bit of contact on the interior is worth a call may be a bit much for some folks.

Basketball Referee

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We should be more concerned with the “correct no-call”-side of things, and not because of the relatively poorer 78 percent success rate. The NBA has stripped quite a bit of leeway away from referees as they decide to purposely overlook what is too often a bogus block or charge call. You don’t always have to call a block or charge. You can just let the refs let it go sometimes.

It’s true that uncalled block or charge calls aren’t making up the whole of that 22 percent of misses, and that the NBA does allow for some flops to go uncalled, but it’s still a telling stat as referees (again, relatively) struggle to keep up with the NBA’s modern insistence that running up underneath a player who is about to leap into midair is considered “defense.”

The referees should be lauded, in the call department, for nearly offering a perfect game (in the last two minutes at least) on what the NBA deems foul-worthy. We won’t always agree with what the NBA deems foul-worthy, and the refs (despite the NBA insistence on dropping heavy fines) are the ones caught in the crossfire after doing exactly what they’re told to do.

Eight Ways a Sports Official Can Ruin Their Reputation

Today we thought we’d feature an article written by Tom Schreck for Referee Magazine that discusses how umpires and referees can alienate their fellow officials.  Hopefully these traits don’t apply to any of our readers.  But if you know someone for whom one of these descriptions applies, feel free to share this with them…

1. Be high maintenance. The men and women who assign you to games and evaluate your performance have jobs to do, deadlines to meet and their own series of constituents to answer to. Do you realize that every time you make their lives harder, their days more frustrating and their hours filled with tedium, they’re remembering the source of their anguish?

“Supervisors and assigners are looking for people who are low maintenance. Everyone wants someone they can trust, someone who will be on time and someone who will get the job done,” Randy Wetzel, an NCAA Division I college umpire, says.

Making your supervisors’ lives easier fortifies your reputation while doing things that they find annoying works against it. Get your reports in on time, be punctual, return phone calls and do what needs to be done even when you find it a pain in the neck.

2. Talk too much. Opinions are a lot like backsides — we all have one. Do your best to keep yours to yourself, especially when you’re out in public. Criticizing someone else’s work is tacky and it reveals more about you than it does the subject of your conversation. Officials, athletic directors (ADs) and coaches all travel in the same tight circles so when you let a “Between me and you …” go, know that it is the furthest thing from being just among friends. Follow what your mom said and don’t say anything — especially about another official — if you can’t say something nice.

3. Create problems off-the-field. Remember you’ve chosen to be an official, so don’t pretend you’re not in a visible profession. Yes, your free time is your own but don’t be so naïve as to believe that what you do away from your assignments won’t impact your reputation.

“Like it or not we have great visibility,” Wetzel says. “People know who you are and when you’re out and about how you act will get back to the coaches, ADs and supervisors.”

Those keg stand photos on Facebook, the tweets about making it rain at the dance club and that arrest for public lewdness will affect how people see you between the lines.

4. Fraternize. Hey, we’re all human and we all crave interaction. Our assignments involve a lot of alone time on the road and the conversation with the Marriott clerk just doesn’t always cut it. It is natural to want to chat up folks that you see on a semi-regular basis but remember your responsibility is to oversee a contest in an unbiased fashion.

“We teach that when you enter a gym, survey the area,” says Steve Smith, a high school basketball and soccer referee from Colonie, N.Y. “Note where the coaches are sitting and find another spot. Be careful not to give the appearance of fraternizing.”

High fives and fist bumps with coaches and ADs get noticed and as innocent as they can be, they get interpreted.

5. Look terrible. Certainly by now you know to keep your uniform in such a way as to communicate your professionalism. It extends off the field and court too, you know. Showing up to your assignment with your ripped concert T shirt and flip flops may make you feel hip, but don’t expect folks not to gossip about your sartorial statement.

“We tell our guys when they walk into a venue to look professional and once you put stripes on you are in charge so it is important to not look like an unmade bed,” Smith says.

Everything you do communicates something. Make sure it’s communicating professionalism.

6. Don’t treat people right. Whether it’s the ballboy showing you to the broom closest that will double as your dressing room, the waitress at the restaurant where you’re getting your pregame meal or the new official working his or her first assignment, no one appreciates mistreatment. Using “Please,” “Thank you” and “Excuse me” goes a long way and their absence goes even further in people’s memories.

“If you’re a jerk to people onsite, that’ll get back to people. You know sometimes at the D-III level, you’re changing in a bathroom and it’s not the ideal environment, but that doesn’t mean it’s OK to be rude to people,” Rick Mansur, a Division I basketball referee from Marlboro, Mass., says.

The golden rule is accepted universally and not using it will get you remembered for all the wrong reasons.

7. Be all about the money. Every official somewhere along their career got short-changed on mileage, a hotel room or a fair night’s pay because of the unlucky dealing of some cards. We all have to write the checks for clinics and associations every year and we all know the realities of today’s economy. We’re all in the same boat and very few of us are getting rich officiating. Cherry picking assignments or complaining about paying dues is classless and it will cost you more than the amount you write on your check.

8. Be arrogant and unapproachable. The games aren’t about us; they’re about the players, coaches and institutions involved. Emotions run hot and high and sometimes people need to vent about what’s going on. Let them.

“When I came up, it used to be the less you talked the better. Today they want officials who are approachable and coach friendly,” Mansur says. “More and more communication has become crucial and being standoffish is unacceptable.”

Doing the Mount Rushmore act when someone wants to talk something over is just arrogant. Hear them out, be flesh and blood and be about building relationships, not about being the one who was right.

Tom Schreck is a writer and a professional boxing judge with the World Boxing Association and the New York State Athletic Commission from Albany, N.Y.

Are the New MLB Pace-of-Play Rules Truly Effective?

We’re close to one month of Major League Baseball games in the books, so how are the new pace-of-play rules going over so far?

As a quick refresher, the recently implemented pace-of-play rules include a countdown clock and fines for hitters who leave the batter’s box. These were all created in the name of speeding the game up, and keeping more fans attention on a regular basis.

Some people feel the rules were put in simply to adapt to the times.  Which in some cases are necessary to stay relevant.  But not every player feels that’s the best way to adapt.

“I’d like baseball to stay baseball,” Cubs pitcher Jason Hannel recently tolda reporter. “I understand they want to bring the fans in and make sure they have a good time, but I’m pretty sure they were doing that before.”

Commissioner Rob Manfred said the pace-of-play initiative is being “responsive to our fans.” Some hitters, notably Boston DH David Ortiz, said the enforcement of the batter’s box rule gives pitchers an advantage.

“We are always concerned that changes we make on the field do not affect the competition,” Manfred said. “Remember, most all these players played under the batter’s box rule in the minor leagues, and I’m sure they’re going to be able to adjust.”

It’s very early in the season, but the rules appear to be working, with game times averaging 2 hours, 54 minutes during 79 nine-inning games in the first week, some eight minutes under last year’s average of 3:02.

Manfred’s mandate when taking over for former commissioner Bud Selig was to bring in a younger audience. He believes more offense and a quicker pace are the solutions and also suggested banning defensive shifts, which caused such an outcry he was forced to back off.

“Frankly, given the feedback I’ve gotten since I made that comment, I don’t think I’d even consider it anymore,” he said with a laugh.

Even some pitchers think MLB is going too far in forcing hitters to stay in the box. Tigers pitcher David Price pointed out the pitcher-batter matchup is a chess game in which they’re trying to outguess each other.

“You try your entire life, your entire career in sports, to slow the game down,” Price said. “That’s what the good hitters do. That’s what Miguel Cabrera and what Victor (Martinez) do — they take their time in those big spots when they’re down 0-2 and are able to slow the game down.

“Guys take pride in mastering that. To try to take that away from them, it stinks for them.”

So far, we haven’t noticed too many instances where hitters were deliberately trying to buy extra time at the plate.  We’ll be curious to hear what the average total playing time per game is at the All Star break.  If we see that average time per game has continued its decrease, then we guess the rules have made a difference.  But only until then will we know for sure.

Do Umps Always Know When an Intentional Beaning Takes Place?

Another Major League Baseball game.  Another hitter gets beaned by a pitch. Another controversy arises as to whether the beaning was international and/or retaliatory.

There are some obvious situations when everyone and the hot dog vendor’s mother knows an intentional beaning when they see it.  Other times, not so much.

A case of the latter  took place during this past week’s Baltimore – Boston series, when umpire Jordan Baker, only a couple of weeks into his second year as a full-time major league ump, was put on the spot to make that critical call – was Pablo Sandoval intentionally hit by Ubaldo Jimenez.  Baker felt the pitch was in retaliation for Sandoval sliding a bit too hard into Jonathan Schoop earlier in the game. He felt there was enough evidence there to throw him out of the game (at that point, Jimenez was flirting with a no-hitter).

Not only did Jimenez, who is known for his faulty mechanics and control, get ejected from the game, but he got thrown out so early in the game that the Orioles had to burn four relievers in the first game of a four-game series and an uninterrupted seven-game road trip. So you can see how the consequences of a questionable call can affect the latter part, or even outcome, of a game.

According to Orioles manager Buck Showalter, Baker confirmed with him that he decided the pitch was intentional because Sandoval slid hard into Schoop earlier in the game. Showalter none-the-less wasn’t too pleased with Baker’s rationale.

It’s a tough call to determine whether Baker was right with his decision.  The overwhelming majority of beanings take place after an opposing player hits a home run, or one of the pitcher’s teammates got nailed in the inning before.  A hard take-out slide is rarely the cause of an intentional beaning.  Maybe Baker didn’t want the game to get out of hand.  But if that was the first hit batsman of the game, shouldn’t that have drew a warning instead?  A judgement call, indeed.