Baseball umpires are responsible for officiating the game and safeguarding the well-being of participants. Responsibilities of an umpire include enforcing rules, making judgment calls on plays, evaluating field conditions, equipment use, and potential weather hazards.
This article explores the standard of care for baseball and softball officials by focusing on matters our seasoned umpire experts are most frequently asked to investigate.
Standard of Care for Baseball & Softball Umpires - Expert Article
Causes of injury most frequently disputed in baseball or softball games involve defects in the field or facility, the use of unapproved or defective equipment, or changing field conditions related to weather. In the context of a legal dispute, a forensic investigation performed by an experienced umpire may be helpful in determining if a game, practice, or related event was conducted properly, in compliance with the applicable standard of care.
ADVERSE FIELD CONDITIONS
Umpires are trained to make the decision to end or suspend a game when adverse field conditions exist. The National Federation of State High School Associations (NSHS) and other leagues establish specific requirements for umpires to apply while assessing if a field is playable.
The umpire in charge (UIC) is responsible for identifying hazards that require remedy during the progress of any game. Field conditions can change rapidly during the course of the game. A once safe field may become unsafe as a result of changes in lighting or weather conditions. Only the UIC can end the game once it has started, unless other rules specific to that league exist.
The umpire has a role in enforcing equipment rules and a responsibility to stop play if player safety is in jeopardy. Protective equipment is required to be in good condition, suitable to the age and level of competition, and properly fitted to each player. Other equipment, such as bats and balls, must be in accordance with league rules in order to protect players against potentially dangerous impact injuries.
Specific rules for how umpires carry out this responsibility vary by league. For instance, Federation High School rules require umpires to obtain confirmation from the coaches, during the pre-game conference, that all players are properly equipped.
Bats are the subject of equipment violations more often than almost any other piece of equipment. Many leagues have strict baseball bat policies, to ensure that the bats used are safe, appropriate, and offer no unfair advantage. Certain bats attenuate force impact and result in less exit velocity, which generally provides for safer play. A “hot bat” not sanctioned by that sport level can result in serious injury. If equipment meets requirements at the beginning of the game, but is damaged at some point during play, an umpire must assess this situation in a different manner.
The focus on equipment is first and foremost for the safety of the players and includes: gloves, batting helmets, bats, catcher’s equipment, batting masks (usually for softball), and balls. The field also has equipment such as the fences protecting dugouts, bases, and the pitcher’s plate, all of which must meet safety requirements.
In baseball and softball, weather conditions are a large factor in the decision to play or not play a contest. Changing weather conditions can immediately alter field conditions, and there can be serious consequences if an umpire doesn’t take quick and decisive action. Injuries due to slips and falls, loss of balance, slipping over a base, getting hit by an errantly thrown ball due to wetness, and/or crashing into another athlete in an over-slide are all possible in adverse weather.
Lightning, regardless of precipitation, represents another dangerous condition that umpires must consider. When thunder is heard or lighting is seen, the official must take immediate action and remove all players from the field to seek safe shelter. The coach is responsible for his/her athletes once the umpire gives this directive. State associations have different requirements on the policy to return athletes back to playing. It’s imperative that an expert knows applicable protocol when analyzing a case.
BASEBALL & SOFTBALL FORENSIC INVESTIGATIONS
The relationships and responsibilities between coaches, athletic directors, organizations, and officials must be evaluated. All parties have a role in player safety, but the responsibility and standard of care for each group changes at different times in the contest and under different game situations.
Contact Robson Forensic to discuss your case with an on-point expert. In addition to umpires, Robson Forensic has expert coaches and school administrators.
Anthony Volonnino is a certified NFHS, NJSIAA High School baseball and softball umpire with more than a decade of hands-on experience. He has officiated baseball games up to college level, and has umpired in tournament baseball, university showcases, state high school / middle schools games, multiple amateur leagues, and men’s league games.