We talk a lot about which umpire gear is more protective than others. Certainly Wilson's wrap around padding is more so than other brands, hard shell protectors are more so than soft ones as well as other things previously discussed. Of course, that is assuming you get hit at all. What if you could simply get hit less often?
In a recent conversation with 10.5-year MLB Umpire Veteran Marvin Hudson during Spring Training in Fort Myers, we discussed this very issue. His advice is simple, "You want to get in the slot and get as low as you can."
If you don't know, the slot is the position in-between the catcher and the batter. In other words, if you are new to umpiring, resist standing directly behind the catcher and staying high. If you do, you are going to take your fair share of foul balls.
While in the slot, you could choose whatever stance is more comfortable to you from the scissor stance to the more popular "box" stance. The point here is that you are in the slot and low. There, you are more tucked away from foul balls and better able to use your catcher for protection.
"How low do you recommend?, I asked Marvin. "For me", he said, "I like to try to get my head down next to the catcher's ear". That's pretty low.
And for that outside corner that is sometimes troublesome for umpires in the slot, Marvin replied that with experience, "that's simply where your judgment comes in".
Thanks to Marvin for sharing some great advice to assist umpires of all levels be more protected behind the plate.
(Marvin and I at UMPS CARE Cincinnati Children's Hospital Event in Sept. 2009)
If you are an umpire who is looking to emulate someone with excellent plate mechanics and presence behind the plate, Marvin is a great one to watch. He is on Derryl Cousins crew this year and will be in Milwaukee tonight through Wednesday for their series against Pittsburgh.
More information and pics on this subject can be found elsewhere:
Plate Umpire Positioning
Basic Stances Behind the Plate
Slot graphic courtesy of the California District 25 Little League Umpires
Minor League Umpires Make the Show
2 weeks ago