The Best Seat in the House:   An Umpire's Supreme Sacrifice

During a Little League Game, fans and umpires got into a shouting match over some questionable calls during a game between two teams of 9 to 12 year olds.

 

“It was pretty ugly,” one witness said. “The kids heard some pretty foul language."

 

What happened to Donald Janson some 20 years ago still serves as a reminder of what can happen when winning becomes more important than anything else.

 

Jansen was struck in the head by a thrown bat while umpiring a boy’s Little League Game.

 

He continued to work the game, but afterwards a doctor ordered him to hospital for observation. While there, Jansen wrote the following letter.

 

“Dear Parent of a Little Leaguer,

 

I am an umpire. I don’t do it for a living, but only Saturday and Sunday for fun.

 

I’ve played the game, coached and watched it, but, somehow, nothing replaces umpiring. Maybe it’s because I feel deep down that I’m providing a fair chance for all the kids to play the game without disagreements and arguments.

 

With all the fun I’ve had, there is still something that bothers me about my job. Some of you folks don’t understand why I’m there to exert authority over your son. For that reason, you often yell at me when I make a mistake, or encourage your son to say things that hurt my feelings.

 

I counted the number of calls I made in a frustrating game today, the total number of decisions, whether on base or balls or safes and outs was 146.

 

I tried my best to get them right, but I’m sure that I missed some. When I figured my percentage on paper I could have missed eight calls and still got 95% of the calls right. In most occupations, that percentage would be considered excellent. If I were in school I would receive an ‘A’ for sure, but your demands are higher than that.

 

Let me tell you more about my game today.

 

There was one very close call that ended the game. A runner for the home team was trying to steal home on a passed ball. The catcher chased the ball down and threw it to the pitcher covering the plate. The pitcher made the tag and I called the runner out.

 

As I was taking off my equipment and getting ready to leave, I overheard on of the parents comment; 'It’s too bad the kids have to lose games, because of  rotten umpires.' That was one of the lousiest calls I’ve ever seen,' and were telling their friends, 'Boy the umpires were lousy today. They lost the game for us'.

 

The purpose of Little League is to teach baseball; skills to young men. Obviously, a team that does not play well in a given game, yet is given the opportunity to blame the loss on the umpire for one call or two, is being given the chance to take all responsibility for the loss from its shoulders.

 

A parent or adult who permits the young player to blame his failures on an umpire, regardless of the quality of the umpire, is doing the worst kind of injustice to that youngster. Rather than learning responsibility, such an attitude is fostering an improper outlook towards the ideals of the game itself. This irresponsibility is bound to carry over to future years.

 

As I sit writing this letter, I am no longer as upset as I was this afternoon. This afternoon, I wanted to quit umpiring. Fortunately, my wife reminded me of another situation that occurred last week.

 

I was umpiring behind the plate for a pitcher who showed his displeasure at any call on a borderline pitch that was not in his teams favour. One could sense he wanted the crowd to realize that he was a fine, talented player who was doing his best to get along, but that I was a black-hearted villain who was working against him.

 

This kid continues for two innings, while at the same time yelling at his players who dared to make a mistake. For two innings, the manager watched this. When the kid returned to the dugout to bat in the top of the third, the manager called him aside.

 

In a loud enough voice that I was able to overhear, the lecture went like this, “Listen son, it is time that you made a decision. You can be an umpire, an actor, or a pitcher, but you can be only one at a time when you are playing for me. Right now, it is your job to pitch, and you are basically doing a lousy job.

 

Leave the acting to the actors, the umpiring to the umpires, or you won’t do any pitching here. Now, what is it going to be?

 

The kid chose the pitching route and went on to win the game. When the game was over, the kid followed me to my car. Fighting his hardest to keep back the tears, he apologized for his actions and thanked me for umpiring his game. He said that he had learned a lesson that he would never forget.

 

I can’t help but wonder how many more fine young men are missing their chance to develop into outstanding ballplayers because they are encouraged to spend time umpiring, rather than working harder to play the game as it should be played.'

 

The following morning, Donald Jansen died of a brain concussion.