Ah yes, it’s time for the Little League World Series! The one thing commentators on ESPN will bring up so frequently is how replay is used during the LLWS. In this article, as Sports Talk All Day’s self-proclaimed umpiring and rules expert, I will break down the mechanics, and nuances of umpiring at Williamsport and why it’s not as quality umpiring as it sounds.
The first point I’ll bring up is not an obvious one. The one flaw for umpiring is the over-usage of outfield umpires in early round games. The main responsibilities of the left field and right field umpires are to cover traps, home runs, and catch-no-catch only down their respective lines. A perfect example occurred in front of the largest crowd at a Little League World Series game, between PA and Kentucky. A ball was hit down the line, the third base umpire signaled the ball fair, and once it passed the bag, the left field umpire signaled it foul. Proper mechanics state that in a 6 man crew, the home plate umpire has fair/foul calls up to the front of the bag. If the ball skips over the bag, then the base umpire will have the call. Although this is nothing more than a simple error in crew protocol, if the left field umpire wasn’t there, this probably would have never happened. Although these are all individually important games, having too many umpires on the field can cause miscommunication.
Point number two is probably the most ambiguous topic in umpiring: instant replay. In all reality, umpires have no issues with instant replay on most occasions. Most umpires just like using it for home run reviews. In Williamsport, a manager gets challenges. There is an actual replay official in the press box, as compared to the MLB’s control center in New York City. There are few issues with how replay is ran in little league aside from a manager challenge anything. Although there is no penalty for not following protocol if it isn’t followed at times, it can cause travesty on the field. The crew chief always has the final word on instant replay decisions when the umpires want to look. Instead, the plate umpire, which isn’t always the crew chief, can do this. A manager can protest that the crew did not make a joint decision on the play.
The next point I have could be dumb, but if you’re an actual trained umpire you will understand. Positioning of umpires and proper mechanics in terms of positioning are horrendous in Williamsport. This is commonly seen with a second base umpire. With no runners on, a second base umpire stands behind second. With a runner on, the second base umpire is supposed to move into the infield, off to the side of the bag. Little League decided to modify the mechanic in the 90’s and put the second base umpire behind the bag permanently. While the second base umpire still makes a fair amount of calls, on close stolen base plays, the coaches always ask the second base ump to make an appeal to the plate umpire. This isn’t only proper mechanics, but takes away a lot of the second base umpire.
The final point has to do with the educating and care of umpires in Williamsport. When I say care, I’m not talking about arguments; I’m talking about doing rain checks on local leagues and making sure their umpire unions are organized. Too many little leagues have weak umpire unions, and the education of umpires is poor. The official Little League umpire school is held in Bristol, New Jersey in October. What about the guys in the south and the west coast? Obviously they can fly in, but continuous umpire education holds umpires accountable. So in conclusion, knowledge of the rules isn’t a problem in Williamsport, but the skeletal feel of umpiring itself must be improved.
– Dom Amoroso