Calling Balls/Strikes from Behind the Mound? Follow an Easy Safety Tip

Jun 6th, 2020

WHAT THIS ARTICLE IS NOT: This article is not a recommendation for umpires to call balls and strikes from behind-the-mound, nor is it a recommendation for a 1-man system. It is for those who are doing so in any system.

STAYING SAFE ANNOUNCEMENT from line drives if required and willing to work behind the mound.


Brent Rice who is in charge of officials at the MHSAA (Michigan) and former administrator and instructor at the Wendlestedt Umpire School shared this on an “Umpiring through COVID” Zoom call with the American Sports Officials, Inc.

(Paraphrasing) Distance is not as important as angle. You can get farther back from the mound and still be just as effective calling balls and strikes than if you were hugging the mound.

In other words, find the distance behind the mound that works best for you from both an accuracy and safety standpoint. Backing off helps give you more time to react to a line drive.

specific Recommendations

John Gallante, President & Assignor of Tri-State Elite Umpire Association, outlines specific recommendations in a 2-man system based on Brent's guidance:

"To adhere to social distancing guidelines, we want to best prepare our umpires for any possible scenario.

If that includes calling balls and strikes behind the mound, I would recommend 10-12 feet back when we have a potential steal of 3rd base. Otherwise, I would prefer our umpires 2-3 steps deeper.

Social Distancing Umpiring Mechanics

The position should change slightly based on age, mobility, etc."

John provides a great mindset for social distancing in this article.


Brent Rice added:

(paraphrasing) And if you feel you need more safety - although it shouldn’t be necessary to wear plate gear - there is supplemental head protection that fits inside your cap.

The supplemental protection Brent is referring to is the Unequal Uncap Protective Flexshell.

Unequal Uncap Protective Flexshell

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About the Author

Picture of Jim Kirk

President Jim Kirk

Jim is a leading expert, educator and author on umpire gear, safety & appearance. After playing baseball at Centre College, he worked as a high school umpire. He became involved in E-Commerce while working on an MBA in the early 2000s and bought in 2006, He eventually led it to the leading umpire gear & attire retailer worldwide, a “Best Places to Work in Louisville” honor in 2020 & 2021 and a National Association of Sports Officials (NASO) Preferred Vendor. He maintained a long-standing relationship with Minor League Baseball Umpire Development & Training Academy for 10 years. He serves as an adviser to UMPS CARE Charities, the charity of MLB umpires, served as a 2-term board of director from 2012-2018, and was named their 2015 Ambassador Award recipient. A supporter since the inception of the Wounded Warrior Umpire Academy, he was named to their Board of Directors in 2020.


  • Great article Jim. I have umpired this way recently because of a COVID-19 protocol and I am comfortable in either position. When I am behind the plate, I am OK with just a mask because I think the place I stand is at a safe angle. Of course the first time I get hit I'll probably change my mind.

    • Comment by Richard Critelli
    • Jan 5, 2021
  • Jim, Thank you for this article but you did not address the plate umpire. He is shown behind the batter but we all know there is no safe place, even at the batter's off side. We have to have an umpire there for fair/foul, plays at the plate, etc. It would seem the best protection would be a mask and an outside chest protector. As soon as the ball is hit the protector can be cast aside if necessary and the umpire can move rapidly into position. Might be a good idea for the field umpire as well. Focusing on the pitch can delay reaction to a line drive by a couple of 1/10 of a second -- and that's all it takes for the ball to grow larger, as we've all seen it do.

    • Comment by Peyton Coffin
    • Jun 12, 2020