17 million outs5/31/2017
The umpire strikes back, back, back… play ball!
“Relationships are started in the oddest places, from home plate to the outfield fences, and I’ve had many,” George Davis says.
Indeed, Davis has had many relationships and worn many hats. Each hat led to more relationships. He’s retired from teaching, but he taught secondary education for the Des Moines Public Schools and coached multiple high school sports as well. Davis hung up his umpiring face mask four years ago — he’d umped for more than 40 years — but he keeps busy by serving as president of the Greater Des Moines Umpires Association (GDMUA). He’s worked in some capacity for this organization for nearly 50 years.
It’s commonly said that the best umpires are the ones you don’t notice, you don’t remember and you easily forget. If you’ve lived in the metro for any length of time, and especially if you’ve frequented a baseball or softball diamond, hopefully you don’t remember Davis.
The GDMUA trains, manages and utilizes up to 90 umpires each season to work a smidge less than 10,000 games. The Des Moines-based group has been in existence since 1934 and mostly serves amateur softball, Little League baseball and high school athletics.
Davis didn’t teach math, but he computed some numbers anyway.
“I bet we have umped more than 400,000 games,” he says, approximating the number of competitions he’s overseen or worked during his tenure.
At seven innings per contest and three outs per side, that’s approximately 17 million outs.
So, if you’ve been unhappy with a call made by an in-town ump at any time since Richard Nixon resigned, it’s likely you should direct your complaint at Davis. But he’s used to it.
“People think umpiring is about the rules,” he says. “In my opinion, knowing the rules is a distant third or fourth.”
The No. 1 attribute he looks for? People skills.
“You’re going to meet the person who is tied up in the office all day,” he says. “They haven’t had a chance to vent.”
Once those types are on the loose, and if an ump makes an iffy call, things can go sideways, arguing can ensue, and then the dust can be kicked up.
“They get to let it all out,” he says. “All the frustration of being bottled up in the day comes down to that one ball or strike, and so therein lies why you need to be able to get along with people.”
Judgement is important, too, but everyone sees things a little differently.
“Your strike might be someone else’s ball,” he says. “That’s a straight judgement call.”
Davis looks for people who don’t get frustrated, work well with kids and who have a calming effect on others while maintaining authority.
“Your call is final,” he says. “You have to make the final call, and there is no going back once you make the call. You can’t go back and undo the call if you blow the call.”
Fewer blown calls is the goal for Davis. He recruits and trains the best umps possible by paying $48 per contest.
“They aren’t just walking up and umpiring a game,” he explains. Umps must invest in educating themselves, and they are required to purchase equipment.
Bravery is required, too. Occasionally, Davis was reassigned to a team he’d had a problem with the previous day. He dreaded going back, but luckily, those old coaches had poor memories.
“They’d tell me about the terrible umpire they had last night,” chuckles Davis. “They didn’t realize it was me.”
You know what’s commonly said about the best umpires being forgotten? Good work, George Davis. ♦