Years ago my wife volunteered me as an umpire for my daughter’s softball league. “What possessed you to volunteer me?” I asked. “I don’t know the first thing about being an umpire”. “Not to worry”, was her quick reply, “The league is desperate for umpires and besides, I signed you up for umpire class.” Yes, there’s a class for umpires who call the games played by 9 year-old girls. I was somewhat reassured. “After all”, I thought, “how hard can it be to make the call?”
When I was a kid, baseball games were “umpired” by a high-school kid who stood with his clipboard behind the pitcher and called every ball, strike and out with the self-confidence of a matador. Democracy, like crying, was unheard of in a baseball game. No one argued with the umpire. His word was final. And, parents never attended the games which were all played in the daytime while dads worked and moms worked even harder.
During umpire class, I learned the rules and was told that as a “new” umpire I had responsibility only for third base and my role was merely to assist the head umpire. I felt assured that I could easily play the back-up and at least do as well as that high-school kid that called our games all those years ago. The first few games went without incident. Very few 9 year-old girls hit the ball hard enough to clear the infield and the parents spent more time socializing than following the action of games that ended in scores of 1-0 or 2-1. My confidence grew. “Heck, making the call is easy”, I told myself.
Then, the inevitable occurred. The head umpire went AWOL before a key game leaving me alone without keys to the equipment room. So, I couldn’t chalk the baselines nor place the bases. The once neatly manicured field now had grass that was about four feet high. And, the field lay directly below the flight path of Dulles International Airport … more on that later. Parents arrived early and packed the stands. I hadn’t seen crowds of that size attend professional ballgames.
I spoke with the two managers, explaining that I was the lone umpire and that if we were going to proceed with the game we’d be running the bases without there being any bases or chalk lines. There being no chance of rain, we decided to proceed with the game. “Don’t worry,” said both managers, “We’ve got your back. We really appreciate your letting us play.” A massive roar of approval rose from the stands. My daughter Erin was so proud of me … her father … the head umpire. The guy who would make the call.
The game started slowly. My confidence soared. “This will be easy”, I reassured myself. But the 3rd inning opened with a flurry of hits with the first three girls getting on base. Were these the same girls who only a few games earlier could barely hit the ball out of the infield? With the bases loaded the 4th batter hit a screaming line drive over third base. “Foul”, I yelled quickly, knowing that any hesitation would be a sign of weakness. “Foul?” screamed the manager of the visiting team? “Are you blind? That was fair by a mile!” Suddenly every parent on his side of the fence snapped. I hadn’t seen rage like that since “Psycho”. There was no way I could back down. I had to stand by my call. I called both Managers over and asked for a little support. The parents were whipping themselves into a frenzy. And then the SST flew overhead. It was so loud, it drowned out the yelling and screaming and quickly silenced the crowd. Everyone got hold of their senses. The game continued and I lived to see another day of umpiring. I couldn’t tell you the final score. But, the girls had a good time, in spite of their parents.
There's a lesson in here somewhere. It’s easy to be a critic, to sit on the sideline and second guess the person making the call. As a leader in your business you’ve undoubtedly made some tough calls. And you’ve probably been second-guessed by many and maybe even yourself. Take heart in the fact that you made the call. As Dwight Eisenhower said, “Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pen and you’re a thousand miles from the cornfield.”