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Ideas for Accountability in Umpiring

Matthew Rigsby has had his share of run-ins with umpires in 15 years of coaching high school baseball. He feels he’s respectful in dealing with umpires, but one thing Rigsby can’t respect is an umpire who doesn’t want to improve at the job.
High school baseball coaches in Kentucky every year have to review a 3 1/2-hour video online and also go through a safety course. Rigsby, who is the associate head baseball coach at Madison Southern High School in Berea, Kentucky, doesn’t mind the refresher information, which can be very helpful. But on the other hand, Rigsby said that umpires in Kentucky don’t have to take any more courses or stay up to date every year once they receive their certification to work games. Rigsby finds that frustrating.

“It’s not the umpires’ fault,” Rigsby said. “I’m sure there are some out there — every now and again you’ll find one that wants to get better. I know when I was coaching in Indiana, for fun I had our team take the test and our entire team got certified to umpire in one day. It was kind of like, what are we doing here?”

Rigsby has traveled around the United States for years with his baseball teams and abroad to places like Italy, and he’s always tried to pay attention to see if other places have governing associations in place for umpires.

“I’ve never seen anybody that’s had an actual association for umpires,” Rigsby said. “We have a coaches association that gives awards every year and things like that. Umpires don’t have anyone governing them. If they have a bad game, they have a bad game. If I have a bad day coaching, my athletic director, my principal’s going to tell me about it. If I do something wrong, I’m going to get called out for it — these guys are not.”

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High school baseball coaches have a number of associations nationwide they can belong to and each state has its own athletic association — in Rigsby’s case it’s the Kentucky High School Athletic Association — but umpires are left in the dark. Rigsby would like to get that changed.

“My solution for years has been all they would have to do as in an athletic association is to have kind of a bipartisan thing with having umpires a part of that association and bring on a committee that can govern what happens,” Rigsby said.

“The way it would have to be is if a coach has a grievance against something that happened during a game, he needs to have a place where he can go to express that grievance. There has to be an accountability for that umpire. If there’s accountability, there’s a reason for that umpire to get better. He’s going to want to stay an umpire, so he’s going to have to get better.”

Rigsby would ideally have retired coaches and umpires be part of the athletic association, and have a 50/50 split with coaches and umpires when it came to making a ruling about a grievance.

“I think a committee like that would have to be former umpires and coaches, because there’s no other way to do it,” Rigsby said.

Rigsby believes if umpires have a governing committee overseeing them, umpires will try harder to make calls. During a game over the summer in which Rigsby was coaching, an opposing pitcher balked six straight times and it wasn’t called by the umpiring crew. When Rigsby mentioned it to the umpire between innings, he was told, “Oh, I’m sure it was. But I was behind the plate the first game for three hours and this is a JV game.”

Just like every coach, Rigsby wants accurate calls on the diamond.

“We have kids that are trying to get into college and whenever I have an umpire tell me before a game, ‘We’re not going to argue balls and strikes today.’ I think to myself, ‘Well, you’re not going to argue balls and strikes, I’m probably going to,’” Rigsby said. “If you miss a pitch and the next guy hits a grand slam and I’ve got a scout in the audience, that’s a problem for me. That’s a problem for the kid I’ve got out on the mound that you just missed a call and cost him. It’s just ridiculous that there’s not accountability for what goes on there.”

From GameChanger and Greg Bates.

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