Survival Guide: Bill Ritz, baseball umpire and EDS spokesman

Bill Ritz

Henrik G. de Gyor

As a baseball umpire for high school and college games, Bill Ritz has faced screaming fastballs and more than few screaming players and coaches. Championships, scholarships and even jobs can hang in the balance of his split-second decisions. Along the way, he has learned lessons about psychology, integrity and coolness under fire that apply to his job as a spokesman for Electronic Data Systems Corp. of Plano, Texas. Ritz spoke with Senior Editor Nick Wakeman about how umpiring has made him a better professional.

WT: What is the best way to argue with an umpire?

Ritz: The best way is to come out and apply logic, because that is what we are doing. We are applying judgment and the rulebook. You ask for time, and just say, "Boy, I really had my guy safe." If you can say that, there might be enough doubt that, if I can, I'll go to my partner and ask, "What did you have on that play?"
 

WT: What's the worst way to argue?

Ritz: You come out and scream and kick dirt, or you use profanity. That is when it's a real test of our abilities. We say, "OK, calm down. Don't scream. I'm not going to listen to you scream. I really want to hear what you have to say." When you're calm, I'll say, "OK, what did you see?"

But if you come out and say, "Bill, you blind [expletive]," you're gone.

WT: How often do players and coaches use the right or wrong way?

Ritz: You'd be amazed at the number of coaches who have studied psychology and know how to get in your head. You call some close strikes and balls, and you might hear a little squeaking from the dugout. They'll know exactly how far to go.

What they are trying to do is raise a little doubt in your mind, so I'll think, "I better take a closer look at that next one."

WT: How do you train to watch for the right things?

Ritz: It's focus and training. You go through class, and you go out and drill and drill and practice. You learn the rules, and you learn mechanics.

You work in a two-man crew, so you have to know who is going to be on what base to cover the play, so that you don't wind up with a play at a base, and there is no umpire there. It can be almost like a dance or a ballet.

WT: What lessons have you brought back to your job?

Ritz: My job as a spokesman for EDS is to have knowledge of the issues and relationships with reporters and be able to explain a situation. You do the same things as on a ballfield. It comes down to people skills and explanatory skills.

When we get a big story that is breaking, and we have reporters on deadlines or customers who want to know about a certain thing that is happening, you have got to be able to articulate what is happening and understand where they are coming from.

WT: How do you keep control of a tight game?

Ritz: If I'm behind the plate, and I'm getting some chipping from the dugout about my strike zone, I've got different ways of sending a clear signal to the dugout. The first thing I'll do is between pitches, I'll raise one hand toward the dugout. I won't even look at the dugout, but it'll signal, "I hear you, knock it off."

If it keeps going, then I'll raise my hand, stop the pitcher and stare into the dugout. That's the second warning.

For a third warning, I'll call time, and I'll point into the dugout and say, "I've heard enough. Knock it off. I don't want to hear another word."

If it keeps going, I've got to dump somebody. What I'm trying to do is send a message to the coaches to get their players under control.

WT: What corporate job is most like being an umpire?

Ritz:Senior management, because they have to deal with frustrated employees and frustrated teaming partners. Investor relations, because they have to deal with frustrated stockholders. And my job in corporate public relations.

A lot of it is a matter of knowing the rules, coolness under fire, solid judgment, people skills and communication skills.

Umpiring has taught me a lot, and not just about baseball. You have to understand where someone is coming from, like a sales guy who has won or lost a procurement. People put an emotional ante in the game, and you have to recognize that and respect it.

Umpiring has made me a better professional because I understand why people get frustrated.

About the Author

Nick Wakeman is the editor-in-chief of Washington Technology. Follow him on Twitter: @nick_wakeman.

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