I am currently watching the Yankees vs. Rangers game. Just saw a few strikes and balls thrown, and it seems that, for a strike, the umpire just points to his right/left and yells "HO!".

Furthermore, the umpire doesn't make any signals after a ball is thrown.

Are there rules as to what an umpire must do/say when a ball or strike is thrown?

  • 1
    Lol, /me wonders if Joe West is doing that game. Surprisingly not. – wax eagle Aug 16 '12 at 1:36
  • 2
    it always bothered me growing up that the umps never said anything for ball. I kept wondering if they said strike and I missed it or something... – corsiKa Aug 17 '12 at 1:34

I took an umpiring class this past Spring (2012), so I can offer what we were taught.

Regardless of whether a pitch is a strike or a ball, we were taught to wait a "tick" to be sure of what we've seen. If nothing else, this mindset helps one watch the pitch all the way into the glove.

If the call is a strike, one should rise from the slightly crouched stance, raise the right hand into a fist and pump it forward with authority and confidence while calling out 'HIKE'.

Why 'HIKE' and not 'STRIKE'? Simple, it's easier to call (especially for 7, 8, 9, or more innings), and it sounds close to the same.

The main point is to both call and signal the strike with authority. Oh, and swinging strikes are signaled, but not called out.

In addition, we're taught to make all strike calls, including strike three, where we're allowed a little bit of showmanship, while facing forward – not looking to the right.

Why? Well, home plate umpires in MLB, and I believe umpires in AAA along with umpires working certain special games, are the few who have the luxury of having another umpire on each of the bases. In the lower minor leagues, I believe there are typically only two base umpires, and in much, if not all, of amateur baseball, there are typically only two umpires total, one home plate ump, and one base ump who moves around the diamond depending on the number and position of runners on base. (Unfortunately, sometimes one umpire is unlucky enough to have his partner not show up, and he's force to make all the calls.)

If the call is a ball, one should not rise and not signal in any way – calling "ball" with authority, but usually not as much volume. At the amateur level, the call should be loud enough for the pitcher to hear it. Obviously, that goal becomes more difficult the larger the crowd is.

As a final note, remember that this is what we're taught. Once out of the classroom, personal style will naturally change some things. However, if one tries to be too much of a showman, it could degrade one's performance in the eyes of the coaches who submit the umpire game reports, which results in one being a showboat umpire in Little League (no offense meant to Little League umps – I've been one – I'm just saying that a poorly graded/ranked umpire won't even earn a chance to work Varsity HS games, much less move on to college games and beyond).

While this may not have answered the original question, I hope the insight is useful and/or enlightening.

  • 7
    Excellent answer, exactly the kind of expert answers we need. – wax eagle Aug 16 '12 at 15:29
  • This is a good answer. I am still curious whether major league umpires actually say "ball" - if they do, it certainly doesn't seem to be loud enough for anyone but the batter and catcher to hear. Likewise, it seems that given the volume that major league umpires must use, "HIKE" degrades further into "URGH". – Nate Eldredge Sep 20 '14 at 14:45
  • @NateEldredge of course, the question about whether or not the MLB umps actually say "ball" is one that can likely only be answered by having a mic on each of them to confirm, though I suppose one could keep a notebook listing the umps and keep track of which umps one happens to hear call a ball over time. Regarding your point about MLB umps actual strike calls, I believe that, aside from the accuracy of the call, which has nothing to do with their choice of word or their volume, the most important parts of the call are the quick signal, the consistency of the word used, and the volume. – jimmym715 Sep 22 '14 at 15:45
  • 1
    Well, a current or former MLB umpire or player could answer as to the general practice in the league (of course there could be a few umpires with different styles). I don't know if there are any on this site, but it's also possible that one of them has spoken or written about it elsewhere and could be cited. As to the strike call, I'm certainly not saying it's a problem as it obviously seems to work fine - it's just sort of amusing. – Nate Eldredge Sep 22 '14 at 15:51

Typically an umpire will shout "Strike" on a strike call and raise their right hand. (traditionally they would point to the right, but that's not typical anymore).

On a ball, they may indicate the count, but typically will not say anything at all.

From a cursory glance of MLB's official rules there seems to be no official guidance as to the words or signals that MLB umpires should use to indicate balls and strikes.

The rule that covers this seems to be 9.04.a.2

Call and count balls and strike;

No further guidance is given in the official rules about how to call balls and strikes.


I have Chiefed for a few athletic organizations and ran umpires when I was younger. I was also taught by some very good MLB level umpire. Basic guidelines:

  • You are consistent
  • If you are going to yell "ball" for a ball then you must say the word "strike"
  • Most umpires would just yell something for strike (and nothing for ball). Most say "strike", some yell the number for the strike (if it is strike two they just yell "two"), some just say whatever, the showmen from the 90s might say "str-iii-eee-kkkkk-e", some might say "strike one".
  • We were told that we must communicate with the hitter on 2 strike or 3 ball calls and be clear. So with two strikes the hitter must know if he needs to take off on the third strike. I would normally say "strike" or "strike three". When the catcher held the ball long enough I would finish with "you're out". If the catcher did not catch the ball I would not say another word. If the hitter looked at me I would turn my head towards first. Up to him to do the rest. Same thing on ball 3 but not quite as important. I will definitely announce "ball four" so that the hitter may sprint to first and pick up an extra bag if there is a passed ball.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.