Have you ever stood embarrassed in a grocery line, shamefully looking on as a customer berated a cashier for making an honest mistake or doing what he’s employed to do? While covering a few Little League games this past season, I’ve experienced this feeling for some umpires.
Last week, at a crucial moment in a game with two outs, a player hit a ground ball and made a run for first base. One of the defenders attempted to tag him on the baseline, but the runner made a maneuver out of the baseline that appeared to be an automatic out, avoided the defender and made it to first base. The umpire called him safe. Like Steve Bartman’s infamous Chicago Cubs catch, the offensive team scored more runs, and the umpire became the scapegoat.
The defending team’s parents made known their displeasure of that call innings afterward. The kids even followed suit. I remember asking myself, “Do they think he cheated for the other team? Do they assume he was paid to make that call?” If these were not the case, then why does a Little League volunteer deserve such harsh anger?
Spencer Barber, a member of the Flagler Umpire Association, has worked as a Little League umpire since 2004, and although it is sad to say, he’s gotten use to the unwarranted denigration.
“I can recall an assistant coach that seemed to question every strike against his son this year, and a father that argued almost every call during a certain game,” Barber said. “While the coaches are pretty cool, some of the parents seem to think they can see the game better than the guys on the field.” Barber did say that troublesome parents are in the minority.
Little League umpire abuse is nothing new. In a 1987 Sun Sentinel article, George Tagg, a 30-year veteran umpire, was interviewed about the “language beating” he suffered over his career. When asked about the lack of volunteer umpires, he said, “It’s hard to find Little League umpires because nobody wants to take the abuse you get.”
While there should be programs geared toward promoting baseball, there should also be guidelines in every league that prohibit any criticism toward a volunteer who sacrifices his time for the sake of children and the community. There will always be players, but the same can’t be said about volunteers who get language beatings — for free.