Umpire Roles (two-man)


Let’s be honest. You cannot (and will not) learn base mechanics from these articles – nor from PowerPoint presentations, books, blog posts, YouTube videos, or anything else. You learn proper base mechanics on the field, by way of proper instruction and repetition.

Why, then, should you bother with these articles? Well, for the same reason we have text books and other media for instruction – for reference and referral. For comparing notes with partners. For reviewing our mechanics each February. For confirming understanding that we have, and for correcting details that we’ve misunderstood.

Mechanics in the two-man system are pretty straightforward. There are just three main elements to understand: (a) the division of roles and responsibilities between the plate and the base umpires (and how they change with base-runner configurations), (b) the proper start position for each base-runner configuration, and (c) the basic rotations from each of the start positions.

Part 1 begins with summaries of the basic responsibilities of the plate and base umpires. On every pitch, it should be clear in the minds of both umpires not only what they will do, but also what their partner will be doing, given any outcome of the pitch – infield grounder, line drive to the gap, fly ball down the foul line, bunt, passed ball or wild pitch, strike three, ball four, batter hit by pitch … any and every outcome! And this situational awareness begins with a thorough understanding of your basic roles and responsibilities.

Responsibilities of the Plate Umpire (PU)

Responsibilities of the plate umpire (PU) are much less variable than for the base umpire; the other side of the coin, of course, is that the PU has a greater number of highly visible and important tasks.

In ALL situations

  • Rule on balls and strikes. This includes ruling on foul tips, checked swings, and batter hit by pitch. You may consult with your partner; further, the defense can request an appeal on checked swings that are not called a strike.
  • Fair/foul rulings on both base lines to the bag. You own all fair/foul calls on the first and third base lines and on the foul lines extended. The only exception is when U1 is in the A position; in that case, PU has fair/foul on the first base line up to (but not including) the first base bag while U1 has the call from the bag and beyond.
  • Game management. The PU is crew chief and is primarily responsible for game management. You run the pregame meeting with your partner, as well as the plate meeting with the team managers.
  • Maintain the official lineup. You carry and manage the official lineup for the game.
  • Manage substitutions. All substitutions go through you, and through you to the scorekeeper. For more information, see Substitutions.
  • Manage batting order infractions. If the defense appeals a batting order infraction (batting out of order), you own arbitrating, ruling, and remedying the situation.
  • Balks and illegal pitches. Your partner is also watching for pitching infractions. Some are best seen by the PU, others by the U1.
  • Interference/obstruction and malicious contact at home. Watch for the catcher blocking the plate without the ball (obstruction), defensive interference (“catcher’s interference”), as well as for intentional malicious contact by a runner attempting to score.
  • Running lane violation. You must watch for the running lane violation on all batted balls fielded in the vicinity of the plate.
  • Overthrows out of play. While your partner has the runners, you have the call on a ball overthrown out of play. This most commonly happens on the throw to first on an infield batted ball (often into the dugout or beyond the out-of-play lines) and you must call an immediate dead ball. We cover this and other scenarios in the article Awarding Bases.
  • Batted ball hits batter. With the batter still in the batter’s box and a batted ball touching the batter (either directly, or indirectly bouncing off the plate), you have a foul ball/dead ball.
  • Infield fly. The infield fly is technically the PU‘s call, but convention has it that any umpire can call the infield fly.
  • All plays at home plate. You own home plate.
  • Putting the ball in play. Either umpire can call Time. But only the PU puts the ball back in play.

With no runners on

  • Fair/Foul. With no runners on, your partner is in A, so you have the fair/foul call all the way on the 3rd base side, and you have it up to (but not including) the bag on the 1st base side.
  • Catch/no-catch. You have all catch/no-catch responsibility unless your partner goes out from AIf your partner goes out, you have the batter-runner all the way. Except for that case, you have all catch/no-catch. Move quickly into the infield to get a good position to see the catch.
  • Swipe tag/pulled foot. On a batted ball to the infield, trail the batter-runner up the 1st base line. Stop before the BR reaches 1st and watch for a pulled foot or swipe tag.
  • Plays at the plate. You have the play at the plate should one develop.

With runners on first or first and third

With R1 or R1R3 you’re in a first-to-third situation, which means that you have plays on R1 at 3rd base if he advances that far. Exception: with a fly ball down the right field line you will have the fair/foul and catch/no-catch on that ball, so you call to your partner “I’m on the line,” which tells him you will not be covering R1 into 3rd base.

  • Fair/foul and Catch/no-catch on the lines. Any batted ball to the outfield that brings the right or left fielders toward their respective lines belongs to you. Move out from behind the plate and quickly get position on the appropriate foul line so you can rule on the fair/foul, then the catch/no-catch if necessary.
  • Take R1 into third base. On any batted ball to the outfield, following the fair/foul or catch/no-catch rulings (if any), move up the third base line to get any play on R1 at third base. The exception, of course, is if you have a fair/foul call in right field. For more on that, see first-to-third situation.
  • All plays at the plate. You own all plays at the plate, of course. This means that on a batted ball to the outfield with runners on both 1st and 3rd, you must see R3’s base touch at home before moving all the way to third base to get R1, if he comes. The proper technique is to take a few steps toward third base, then stop to see R3 touch home, then turn and hustle up to third.
  • Batted ball to the infield. On a batted ball to the infield you have three main responsibilities:
    • Illegal slide at second base. Clear the catcher and find a position for a clear view of second base and back up you partner by watching R1’s slide into second. If an illegal slide, call it.
    • Pulled foot and swipe tag at first base. If no illegal slide, turn and step immediately to watch the batter-runner into first base, looking for pulled foot or swipe tag.
    • R1 at third if all hell breaks loose. In the unlikely event of errors or overthrows that lead R1 to advance beyond second, hustle up to third to cover any play on R1 at third base.
  • Touches and tags at third base. With multiple runners you tag-ups and base touches by all runners at third base.

With runners in scoring position

Runners in scoring position means (a) a runner on second, (b) runners on second and third, (c) runners on first and second, or (d) bases loaded. Additionally, in configurations (c) and (d) (and fewer than two outs) you’re also in an infield fly situation. On all batted balls you are “staying home,” meaning that U1 has all runners at all bases and you have everything at home.

  • Infield fly. Technically, the PU owns calling the infield fly, but in practice either umpire can call it.
  • All plays at home. You have all plays on all runners at home plate.
  • Fair/foul on both lines. Your partner is in C, so you have fair/foul on both lines all the way to the foul pole.
  • Touches and tags at third base. With multiple runners you have all tag-ups and base touches at third base.