MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Ask veteran umpire Ron Whiting about his recent decision to step away from calling balls and strikes for high school baseball games around West Virginia, and he will immediately pivot to discussing the differences between 2-man, 3-man and 4-man umpiring crews.
That is certainly appropriate for those in a profession where the goal of an umpire is to blend seamlessly into the fabric of the game, rather than to stand out and draw attention. After four decades in high school baseball, the 60-year-old Fairmont native was on the base paths for the final time in the Class AA state championship game at Appalachian Power Park in Charleston between Frankfort and Bridgeport last month.
“It was just time. It was time to step away and give somebody else those (high school) slots. It was emotional to work that last game. Not a lot of people knew it. Now I will be helping other people get better at the game,” Whiting said.
Whiting will still be a fixture in high school umpiring circles. He will remain heavily involved in training younger umpires through the WVSSAC and his annual ‘Elite Umpire Clinic’ in Morgantown.
“I have done a lot of training. I have collaborated with the WVSSAC,” Whiting said. “I try to prepare the entire staff for 4-man mechanics. We start at the interpreters clinic in January. Then we do follow-up sessions and webinars.”
Whiting has been an umpire at many levels throughout his career. He has been in a rotation calling games at the Division I level in the ACC, Big 10 and Conference USA. Whiting says he will remain an active umpire for college baseball, but combining a prep and college schedule became a grind.
“It is a lot of time away from home. I have been working three or four college games a week,” Whiting said. “There’s a midweek game and then 3-game series for 15 consecutive weeks.”
Whiting also works at the professional level, calling games in the Frontier League, the Appalachian League, the New York-Penn League and the South Atlantic League.
Baseball has been a fixture in Whiting’s life. He was an NAIA All-American at Fairmont State when his college career concluded in 1982. Whiting would later coach at FSC and for the Fairmont American Legion team.
Leading Post 17 gave Whiting the chance to coach his son, Ron, Jr.
“He was a much better defensive player than I was. I had more power, but he was a leadoff hitter,” he recalled. “He really wants to get into teaching and coaching. He lights the room up when he walks in to teach. He is so passionate about what he does and that is what his goal is.”
Whiting Jr. was a minor league affiliated umpire through the 2017 season.
Calling balls and strikes for four decades has given Whiting a unique perspective on the game. It also changes the way he views a game when he is not umpiring.
“If I am watching a game, 80 percent of it I am watching the umpires and the other 20 percent I am watching the game,” he said.
The introduction of instant replay into college baseball has made a significant change to the game. While players keep track of hitting streaks, Whiting took pride in a personal streak of his own.
“I am working in the ACC and I had a 15-game stretch where I was working the bases every game,” Whiting said. “I went 13 calls in a row that went to replay on slide plays, ‘bang-bang’ plays at first base and over slides. They replayed them and we upheld them.”
Much like fielders need to be properly positioned around a base for close plays, Whiting says the process of getting a call correct starts long before a ball is put in play.
“When the guy starts to slide and the glove starts to go down, I have to get myself in ‘the wedge’. That is the point where the foot, the glove and the ball all meet at the same time,” he said. “It almost sounds like I am doing surgery. But that’s what the game has come to because of replay. You have to get in the right spot to get the call right.”
One of the highest honors in Whiting’s career came in the spring of 2018. He was honored by the WVSSAC as the West Virginia high school umpire of the year.
Whiting is also a veteran basketball referee on the Mon Valley board of officials and he will remain a fixture on the hardcourts this winter. Whiting admits he can’t cover ground as quickly as he could in his younger days, but he says that decreased speed has never cost him a call.
“People tell me, ‘Catman, you can’t run anymore,'” Whiting said. “I said, ‘You are right but I am never tardy where I need to be.'”