The Five Tool Umpire

Jan 3rd, 2012

When we speak of a star baseball player’s ability to play the game, you hear the words from baseball know-it-alls that “this guy is a five tool player!” What are these people referring to?

The Five Tools Player:

  • Hitting for average
  • Hitting for power
  • Base running skills, along with speed
  • Arm strength
  • Fielding

Now that we’ve got that straight, let’s focus on the five important tools of umpiring. Is there such thing as a five tool umpire?  I say there certainly is!  What would the five tools be?

The Five Tools of the Umpire:

Physical Appearance

A five tool umpire is nicely dressed, has polished shoes, a newly creased hat, and a physically fit body. Umpires need a good “on field presence”. The days of the fat, sloppy, backwards hat, balloon protector, thumb in the air umpire is long gone!  A positive physical appearance provides a solid foundation for coaches to respect you.

Our "Crew How-To" Library has advanced video tips for looking your best.

Knowledge of the Rules

A five tool umpire has a complete and thorough knowledge of the rules and the knowledge to apply them. This is harder than it seems. If you umpire various levels, there are some key differences you must be aware of.  Reading the rulebook constantly is an activity that the five tool umpire always does.

Discover rulebooks and manuals here.

Plate Work/Base Work

A five tool umpire knows the “steps to the dance”. These steps include:

Footwork - Getting to where you need to be in the least amount of steps.

Positioning - Finding the proper angle and distance.

Mechanics – Communicating with firm, crisp signals


A five tool umpire has impeccable judgment. Umpires start the game at 100% and get better as the game progresses. This umpire gets all of the Outs, Safes, Balls and Strikes correct, along with the obstructions, interference, fouls and foul tips, bounding balls, home runs, ground rule doubles, out of play areas, detached equipment, lodged balls, and even altered bats.  Please keep in mind you are still human. Sometimes mistakes are made and that’s just the way it is.

Handling Situations and Arguments

The five tool umpire has the ability to be aware of potential situations and those that arise unexpectedly. When they do occur during the course of the game, the five tool umpire knows how to diffuse the situation, keep coaches and players in the game, and as a last resort eject anyone properly. You must do so while keeping an even keel, not getting overly excited and remaining calm at all times.

Putting it All Together

I’ve seen many 4 tool umpires, those who have the previously mentioned tools down pat. What separates the good umpires from the great umpires is this fifth tool.
Now the big question….Are you a five tool umpire?  If not, are you willing to go from good to great?

Your development as a five tool umpire is always a work in progress, no matter what level you umpire. Develop all 5 tools by attending a professional umpire school or various weekend clinics offered throughout the United States or abroad.

Join a professional group such as the National Association of Sports Officials (NASO) and subscribe to Referee Magazine.

Most importantly, keep umpiring.

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About the Author

Picture of Brandon Cooper

NCAA Umpire Brandon Cooper

Brandon Cooper is a highly respected NCAA umpire with many years of professional experience. He's a 1999 graduate of Jim Evans Academy of Professional Umpiring. Brandon worked as a Minor League Umpire from 1999 to 2006 and currently works as a NCAA Umpire. Brandon worked Appalachian Rookie, South Atlantic A, Carolina A, Eastern AA, International AAA Leagues and currently umpires a complete schedule of Big East, Ohio Valley, DI Non- Conference, DII Regional 2011 and DIII games.


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