21 July, 2005

Cape League umpiring has settled in after a rocky start

The Cape Cod Baseball League season started on an odd note.

With Harwich playing at Falmouth's Guv Fuller Field, League Commissioner Paul Galop was umpiring at third base while Deputy Commissioner Sol Yas was behind the plate.

The regularly-scheduled umpires had walked out because Commodores' field manager Jeff Trundy was in uniform to lead his Falmouth team. According to the rules, that was a no-no because Trundy had been ejected from the final game of the 2004 playoffs and should have been suspended for the next game, which turned out to be the first game of the 2005 season.

"It was quickly resolved, and we've had a very, very good season so far," says Galop. "There have been only three ejections and we had 20 last season."

Yas adds that the ejections comparison "might not tell the whole story about the umpires' performance, but it's better than the alternative. We've had unusual cooperation among the umpires, players and managers this year."

Yas says the managers are not starting unnecessary confrontations with he umpires and that he's received several complimentary calls praising their work. "We also get criticism that the quality wasn't there," says Yas, "but on balance we're way ahead of the game."

Still, Cotuit Kettleers manager Mike Roberts was ejected early in the season "and that was because I asked to wear one of our team jackets when I was cold. Amazing."

The Cotuit incident followed closely on the heels of the tense situation at Falmouth. The rule states that coaches on the line can't wear a jacket over the uniform shirt, that it must be worn under the shirt. "Some of us weren't aware of the new NCAA rule that the person ejected must immediately leave the site and the game or there's a one-game suspension," says Galop.

In Harwich, field manager Steve Englert was ejected two weeks ago for arguing balls and strikes calls and again Saturday, that time by Perry Barber, the only woman umpire in the league.

In a phone call at her New York City home, Barber said "He [Englert] got right in my face on a play I made a great call on and said I wasn't paying attention. The second baseman had to reach to the left as he was crossing bag, looked like he wasn't in contact with bag, but he was. I told him [Englert] I was going to walk away and he wouldn't let go." Since it was Englert's second ejection, he earned an automatic one-game suspension.

The Eastern College Athletic Conference, based in Centerville, provides the umpires, who come from all over the Northeast - all of New England plus New York, New Jersey and Maryland.

Yas, who lives in Easton, was general manager of the Brewster Whitecaps for seven years before leaving in 2000 to become deputy commissioner and two years ago was asked to become umpire in chief.

Notwithstanding his opening day umpiring assignment umpiring at Falmouth, his role is to serve as an intermediary to resolve issues and ensure umpires are doing their job.

He observes games four or five days a week, sometimes two games in a day.

"We evaluate [umpires] based on criticism from coaches and are obligated to pass on to the ECAC, which has an evaluation system online, by phone and in writing. And the ECAC is not bashful if they have a problem with player or coach," Yas says.

This year, the league decided to meet with the managers prior to the playoffs to get input on who would be the best umpires for the playoffs. And they agreed there will be four umpires at all playoffs this year, instead of three as in the past. "We wanted to acknowledge their [umpires] importance to the league and players and have two more eyes on the field," says Yas.

Looking back on the opening day experience, Galop says "You're dealing with competitive people and anything can happen."

Galop had just one appeal call to make in the 14-inning game. "But Sol took a foul tip on his right instep that he won't soon forget."

By Don Sherlock