Play: Why is it that most umpires don’t stand directly over the plate and hide behind the catcher most of the time?
Ruling: Umpires generally receive their training from or through the local umpiring chapters, sanctioned by the State High School Associations to which they belong. All scholastic, certified umpires must belong to a local chapter which falls under a State Association; the National Federation of High Schools (NFHS) sanctions all State Associations.
Training about how to best position oneself behind home plate or in the field is generally known as “Mechanics” training. The quality and scope of training depends on the level of play. Training for the scholastic (high school and below) or collegiate level – i.e., usually two-man mechanics – differs in some respects from training for the professional level – i.e., three-man to six-man mechanics.
It is generally taught that the line of sight (LOS) for the home plate umpire must afford a clear view of the inside and outside portions of the plate, as well as the top and bottom parts of the strike zone. The top of the umpire’s shoulders line up approximately with the top of the catcher’s head. The most advantageous LOS comes from taking a stance either directly over the catcher’s head, in what is commonly known as a spread stance, or slightly to the batter’s inside, in what is customarily referred to as “the slot,” in the scissors stance.
In either stance umpires try to position themselves – “hide,” as you put it – as much as possible behind the catcher for maximum protection physically. Even then home plate umpires are still vulnerable to being struck by pitches, as the April 2008 incident involving MLB umpire Kerwin Danley amply attests. As you might recall, Ump Danley took a Brad Penny fastball in the jaw that LA Dodger catcher Russell Martin simply missed catching.
Sources: NFHS Mechanics Manual