or the past 35 years, I’ve been a baseball official. I went to professional umpire school for it in the early 1990’s, and it was a trade skill that has allowed me to pick up extra income nearly nine months of the year almost any time I needed it.
It has also taught me a wealth of other life skills that have come in handy at my “real” jobs and in interpersonal relationships throughout my life. You learn to talk to grown ups very quickly when you’re a 14 year old and some 350 pound man is screaming at you that his daughter was safe at home and you’re worthless and weak. Not surprisingly, this has helped in recent months with arguments in parking lots over mask wearing and stolen parking spots.
One mantra that I’ve been able to craft over the years is that you should be able to navigate just about any conversation or question without having to go to the rulebook. I’ve often said that the baseball rulebook is the second most misquoted book in recorded history – second only to the Holy Scripture. And as an umpire, you should never pull a rulebook out on the field. Chaos will absolutely ensue. So you should have phrases and passages memorized as well as have an abundance of conversational dance moves ready for when you are challenged. Was it an Infield Fly? Well, you can mention that the ball was not arching and could not have been caught with “ordinary effort.” And, most of the time, as long as you sound like you know what you’re talking about, you’ll be fine.
This has gotten me out of real-life problems as well. As I mentioned in my column a couple of weeks ago, people really just want leadership and someone driving the bus. They want a direction and they want to make sure that driver is relatively competent. Oh, Dave from accounting wants that report on his desk by 2 p.m. because of the big board meeting tomorrow? No problem. I’ll move it to the top of the list. Your Cub Scout pack leader thinks we should do Hershey bars for a fundraiser instead of Twix? Sounds good to me. When there’s dissension, people want to look to the original rules, and that’s when confusion tends to set in.
This philosophy needs to be adopted more in this country. We’ve spent too much time wasted – especially in the Covid years – arguing about the “rules.” There are lawsuits now about whether it’s legal to require masking. No matter what you think about the issue, you’ve got to agree that we have better things to do with our time and resources – like focusing on reducing the spread of Covid-19. Yet, politicians and activist parents want to check the rulebook which gums up the works and stops any forward momentum. Any progress is defeated once you pull out the rulebooks and activate the lawyers.
I think lawyers serve an important purpose in this country, but there’s too many of them and they’re all too good at their jobs. The time spent parsing out just the First and Second Amendments to the constitution prove that any good lawyer can talk their way around anything.
Face to face is generally where common sense live. Someone digging through a law or rule book is going to cherry pick whatever they want to make their case. A solid dialogue and a combined effort to make a consensus is what will get us through this. Maybe that time has passed us, and all we have is to look to our convoluted rulebooks and laws and constitution. This is worrisome because everyone seems to believe whatever they want to believe and can point to chapter, verse, scripture passage, or definition to help their cause.
There is, however, one get out of jail free card in baseball that doesn’t exist in the Bible or in Federal law. It’s Rule 9.01(c) and it says “Each umpire has authority to rule on any point not specifically covered in these rules.” Put simply, if nobody knows what to do, you go with what the umpire says. Over the past 35 years, I’ve used that rule early and often – not only on the baseball diamond – but all over the place. Put simply, if ya don’t know, go with what you got. Happy dancing.
(Dance with Chris Kamler on Twitter, where you’ll find him as @TheFakeNed. You’ll also find him on TikTok as @TheFakeNed)