Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Make 'em Play Ball and Keep Their Mouths Shut

Picture this - two baseball teams about ready to start the game and they select a fan from the stands to serve as the umpire. Sounds like a recipe for disaster, right? This is exactly how umpires were selected in the early days of baseball. Sometimes a player even served as the umpire! These volunteers were chosen for their knowledge of the rules of the game and their reputation for being fair.

The National League raised the standing of umpires in 1878 by ruling that clubs would pay them $5 a game and giving them the ability to fine players for foul language and ultimately eject them from games if necessary. These men earned every penny. The rules of the game changed each season and umpires had to stay on top of the changes in order to do their job. Team owners encouraged fans and players to express their frustration when they were unhappy with the umpire's calls. In fact, some owners even paid players' fines. It seems arguments, physical altercations and items thrown at umpires increased attendance at games.

By the turn of the 20th century life started to get a little easier for umpires as baseball rules became more stable and more umpires were added to the field. Today's umpires probably don't realize how easy they have it, especially when faced with the wrath of an angry manager. They may want to take the advice of old-timer Bob Ferguson, "Never change a decision, never stop to talk to a man. Make 'em play ball and keep their mouths shut, and people will be on your side and you'll be called the king of umpires."

In my job I am tasked with ensuring that our partners implement programs in accordance with the procedures we establish. Like umpires in baseball, in order to do my job well I must study and know the policies and be able to enforce them fairly. While I don't follow Ferguson's advice to a tee (I do let people speak!), I do see the benefit in being decisive and firm when I have a strong set of policies and procedures to back me up. I've found that people respect decisiveness. Fortunately our partners don't resort to yelling, physically attacking me or destroying property when they disagree with my decision so I have it much easier than umpires!

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