Bet Your Life Calls

For Use When In Doubt


By: Bob Henning – Level V Umpire


There are so many gray areas when it comes to making critical decisions on the diamond that umpires need to base their decisions on more concrete evidence. Have you ever had to guess one of your calls and make a decision based on conjecture? Yes, conjecture, otherwise known as a guess based on skimpy evidence. It is not a pleasant situation to find yourself in when deciding important calls that require your immediate response.


I like to think of theses types of calls as ‘Bet Your Life’ calls for use ‘When in Doubt’. Are you 100% positive that what you think happened actually took place?  Often times umpires are not ‘positive’ of just what took place yet are obliged by the rules to render a decision.


One important way to stay out of trouble is to utilize a series of responses when you are in doubt of exactly what happened or what you think happened. Nothing upsets the participants, spectators and our own partners more than when umpires miss these types of calls. 


A perfect example is calling a leadoff. This is a critical call because the result is the runner is being out.  If you are 60%, 70% or 80% certain the runner led off, then they didn’t. Are you 90% sure? Not good enough! If you are not positive you have a violation, then the runner did not leadoff.


You guessed it, you had better be 100% certain or willing to ‘Bet Your Life’ you are correct. Now you should make the call, “Dead Ball! – Dead Ball! - No pitch! The runner is OUT for leadoff”.


Some other situations would be batters leaving the batter’s box and contacting the ball, double-batted balls, and batters hit by the pitch or a ball off a batter's bat and hitting their foot. It might be the runners touching bases or being tagged, runners tagging and leaving early or runners causing interference. It could be an infielder pulling their foot early to attempt to get another out somewhere on the diamond.


There are other calls where the same mindset should prevail. All pitches are strikes until you decide they are balls. All balls are fair until you decide they are foul.


Nothing upsets the players, coaches, spectators and your partners more than calling something that didn’t happen. If you are not 100% sure a pitch is illegal, then it must be legal. If you are not sure, ignore calling it. Never guess a batter or runner out. Make sure you are 100% correct before rendering them out.


Below are some pointers I have read somewhere that can assist your decision-making process. Using these guidelines will assist you in making critical calls and help maintain your reputation as an intelligent and fair official.


¨     When in doubt, the pitch is a strike.

¨     When in doubt, it was not a leadoff.

¨     When in doubt, the runner touched the base.

¨     When in doubt, the runner did not leave the base too soon.

¨     When in doubt, the ball was not caught.

¨     When in doubt, the fielder did not pull his foot.

¨     When in doubt, it was not an illegal pitch.

¨     When in doubt, it is a fair ball.

¨     When in doubt, the runner was not tagged.

¨     When in doubt, the batter was not out of the batter's box.

¨     When in doubt, the pitch did not hit the batter.

¨     When in doubt, ask for help!