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State is blind to benefits of double-vision umpiring Smart idea to add 2 umps for playoffs is shot down

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Sometimes it just doesn't pay to run a high-quality program. It can even cost you when you are dangling a freebie.

Let's take a trip around the bases on this question: Is it because Anne Arundel County has the best overall baseball program -- from the umpires to the coaches to the players to the facilities -- that it can't get a break from the State Baseball Committee even when it is offered a break?

Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association state baseball chairman Earl Hersh of Carroll County will not allow two additional umpires in regional playoff games, even though two umpires from the Anne Arundel Umpires Association would work for free.

The suggestion to go with four umpires was met earlier in the week with an emphatic "No!" Yesterday at about 1 p.m., it was OK, but by 1:30 p.m. word had come from Hersh to forget it and go with two umpires. The last we heard, it was still two.

Old Mill plays host to Arundel at 2:15 p.m. today, while Broadneck visits Severna Park for a 3:45 contest. All season long, county teams had the luxury of a third umpire, which dramatically decreases the margin of error on judgment calls.

In a marvelous gesture that again displays a penchant for professionalism by giving the county baseball teams the best it can, the Anne Arundel Umpires Association put a third man on the high school baseball games free of charge for the schools.

We don't know of any other county in the state that uses three umpires, and the county baseball coaches have been very appreciative of the more-efficient officiating they have received from the three-man crews.

Certainly it is easier for an umpire to get into the best position he can to make a close call by working with two other umps instead of one. There is less pressure for everyone with a three-man crew, and teams that have so diligently worked since March to earn a playoff berth deserve such quality.

Jack Kramp, who flawlessly performs his duties of scheduling umpires for high school and youth baseball, is the umpire in chief and one who may be a rarity. Kramp genuinely cares about amateur baseball and the county program.

This guy takes great pride in his work, which is why he does it better than anyone ever has in this county. But he doesn't care only about his men. He cares about the program and, most of all, the kids. Kramp busts his butt to give the players good officiating.

Attempting to reward some of his men who have done a good job this spring, Kramp suggested putting four men on the playoff games and keeping the fees the same -- teams still would pay for two umpires and get four.

Just as major-league baseball does with the All-Star Game and World Series, Kramp wanted to publicly show off his best men for a job well done by assigning extra men.

"I was really excited when I learned that I had been chosen as one of the extra men," said Bud Carnaggio on Wednesday evening. "But now my bubble has burst because it doesn't look like I'm going to work the playoffs."

Hersh nixed the proposal.

"We don't want to change the policy we've used all season, and that is two men on the games," he said.

It didn't matter that Anne Arundel had used three men all season and given the schools a higher grade of officiating and wanted to elevate it one more notch.

One has to wonder whether because Anne Arundel is so far ahead of everyone around the state in baseball, with its innovative umpires and coaches, not to mention its success, that the envy is boiling over.

The envy could be so hot that other counties don't want Anne Arundel to do anything better than they do and thus keep the heat on the state and guys like Hersh to conform to the letter.

"I can't believe they actually turned me down for four men for the price of two," said Kramp. "What are they afraid of? Are they afraid we're going to show up the rest of the state or something? It makes no sense."

It doesn't. Put more aptly by veteran umpire Jocko Svoboda, "It's asinine."

Jocko, who has more than 40 years of experience, pointed out how much more of a chance there is for near-perfection with four men instead of two.

"Umpires aren't perfect and neither are managers, and we're all trying to do the best we can for the kids, but we can't get any support from the state," said Jocko.

"Their argument is probably that four of us would screw it up twice as much, but I don't think that's quite true."

The umpires have the unquestionable support of acting county coordinator of physical education Rick Wiles, who is befuddled by the fiasco.

"We used three men all season with great success and I don't understand this either," said Wiles. "We have to follow what the state says even though we don't agree with it."

Over the past 12 years, we have allowed Kramp's association to assign at least four umpires for our Anne Arundel County Sun-Oriolelanders All-Star Baseball Game. Usually what they have done is have four guys work the first three innings and a new crew come on every three frames thereafter.

It's a great way to showcase their top men and at the same time give us a quality game.

They have performed as a unit with the excellence that all umpires worth their salt strive for. And that is not to be the show, but to let the players be the focus.

Those who have been in baseball for a while know that the best umpires are those who you hardly see, except to possibly notice their hustle and demeanor.

Using four men on a baseball game leaves no excuse for error, which results in the guys yearning even more to get it right.

"But once again, there is this prevailing attitude that everything has to be the same," said Arundel coach Bernie Walter. "Soon we will be playing baseball on a rectangular-shaped field. And we'll have half boys and half girls playing with a ball that has air in it," he added sarcastically.

Walter's point is well-taken and further reinforces the thinking of those of us who believe that too many decisions regarding high school sports are not made in the best interests of the kids, but rather for the adults, and often to pander to egos.

Lately, some of the decisions made by the state and various committees seem to have lost sight of that.

"You know what, I ought to boycott the damn playoffs," said Kramp yesterday after getting the last phone call informing him that he has to use two men.

"But no, I can't do that because it would hurt the kids."

There is no doubt in my mind that four umpires are better than two and that the former is in the best interest of the players.

Unfortunately, the kids don't have the clout they used to have, and that's too bad.

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