6 Taking Umpiring
Help Umpires Make
the Right Calls
When I'm right no one remembers. When I'm wrong no
—Umpire DOUG HARVEY
There's an old baseball joke that tells a lot about why umpires find themselves in this unhappy position. The Devil challenges God to a baseball game between the residents of heaven and hell. Puzzled, God asks the Devil: “Why would you want to play me at baseball? I have all the greatest players at my disposal.” “I know,” responds the Devil, “But I have all the umpires.” Jokes like this one, and remarks like umpire Harvey's, readily attest that baseball umpires lay sad claim to being the most underappreciated and disrespected participants in sport. Indeed, anyone who has ever spent time in the stands watching ballgames has seen the contempt that is freely heaped on umpires: the boos and catcalls, the kicked up dirt, close up views of oral hygiene, and even at times common assaults.
All this merely recaps what everyone already knows: umpires deserve better. But there is another less obvious, though just as compelling, reason for treating umpires with more serious respect. What umpires do is philosophically fascinating. This is a novel concept for the sporting public or, indeed, for umpires themselves, since they are not usually trained philosophers. But as we shall see, a philosophical treatment of umpiring is no mere academic exercise. It can have important practical impli-