When you go to a baseball game, you go to watch the players. You watch the way the pitcher winds up, and even the batting stance of each batter. Rarely do you pay attention to the umpires unless they make a bad call, or a call you disagree with, even though they are right and you are wrong. Sometimes, just sometimes, an umpire can steal the show with their third strike call. Believe it or not there is an art to calling a third strike.
The first great discussion I ever heard about the third strike call was on the Dan Patrick radio show. He discussed what he would say and even what arm motions he would make if he were an umpire and so today I want to break down some of the different parts of the third strike call.
The first piece of the third strike call is the determination as to how long an umpire will wait before going into the call.
There are really only two types of styles in the pause. There is the ‘I don’t want to wait around for you to walk back to the dugout’ type of umpire. These are the guys that will start the third strike call before the catcher has even caught the ball.
The second type of umpire is the ‘Wait for it, yeah you think you just got walked, SURPRISE, strike three.” As you can tell by the title, these are the umps who like to toy with the batters for a moment before stomping on their hopes.
The sound that an umpire makes on the third strike call is where you can really begin to see the differences in umpires. Some umpires are very clear with their ‘STRIKE THREE’ call. While others go with a ‘HeeHaa’ or just a simple ‘HAA.’
The key to a third strike sound is that there leaves no doubt in anyone’s mind about what just happened. If a member of the visiting team strikes out the entire crowd should know so they can cheer, and if a home team member the crowd needs to know so they can boo.
Personally I am a fan of the ‘HeeHaa’ and I will explain why in the next section.
The Arm Motion
Simply making a noise is nice but it lacks emphasis and makes it hard for the official score keeper to know if that was a strike call or just a really loud burp. A solid arm motion is needed to seal the fate of the batter. There are four motions that I think deserve serious time and consideration by all umpires.
The Fist Pump – It is simple in nature but it holds strong with those umpires who are very traditional in their ways. Add a strong ‘HAA’ with the fist pump and batters will understand that the call may be simple but that doesn’t mean they can argue it.
The Punch Out – This motion is the next step up from the fist pump. It is still really only a one handed move but it goes across the body enough to really show the fans you mean business. I personally like this move with a solid ‘Strike Three’ call. It becomes a jab to the face with the call and then a right cross to end the batter.
The Bow and Arrow – Not only is the umpire letting the batter know that he is out, but he is also threatening to strike out the entire bench by shooting an imaginary arrow at them. There is nothing more threatening than shooting an imaginary apple off of a players head with an imaginary bow and arrow.
Ripping the Phonebook – Nothing says I’m buff and I know it like performing the punch out movement and then following it up with a quick motion in reverse to show that you can rip in half a phonebook. This is easily my favorite third strike call if it is accompanied with the ‘HeeHaa.’ Of course the initial punch is done with the ‘Hee,’ followed quickly by the ‘Haa’ as the umpire rips the phonebook.
Seeking the Perfect Call
A perfected out call can take an entire career for some umpires and even then they may never see perfection. It is rare and even rarer to catch on video but I believe I have found one. Here is the one and only example I can give you.