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MLB Hires Seven New Umpires, Names a Director of Instant Replay

Craig Calcaterra: Feb 13, 2014

Press release from MLB on the officiating front. The league announced today that seven umpires have been named to the full-time Major League Umpiring staff. In addition, as another part of this season’s expansion of instant replay, the Office of the Commissioner has appointed Justin Klemm as Director of Instant Replay.

Klemm, a former minor league umpire and minor league umpire administrator, will report to Peter Woodfork, MLB’s Senior Vice President, Baseball Operations. Which I assume means Joe Torre will be relieved of even more uncomfortable press conferences when things go screwy. Klemm will be based at the headquarters of MLB Advanced Media, which will serve as the Replay Command Center.

Here is the rundown of the seven new umps, all of whom have had callups as replacement/fill-in umps in the past.

 

MLB Moves to Eliminate Third-to-first Pickoff Trickery, but no one has any idea why

Note: It is now the rule for the 2013 season

May 10, 2012 - Those ballpark loudmouths who don't know what they're talking about when they see a pitcher fake a pickoff throw to third base and then yell "BALK!" when the pitcher turns and throws to first base instead?

Yeah, there's a good chance they will soon actually know what they're talking about.

Ben Walker of the Associated Press reports that Major League Baseball is looking into classifying that old Pony League trick as a balk for the 2013 season. So if a right-hander wants to pick off a guy at first, he'll have to do it with straight-up skills and not deception that rarely works anyway. As Walker notes, this pickoff play could be picked off itself.

From the Associated Press:

The Playing Rules Committee has approved a proposal to make it a balk, too, with MLB executives and umpires in agreement. The players' union vetoed the plan for this season to discuss it further. MLB is allowed to implement the change after a one-year wait — no telling whether that would happen if players strongly object.

Under the new wording, a pitcher could not fake to third unless he first stepped off the rubber. If he stayed on the rubber ... it would be a balk.

Of course, it's worth asking the question why the rules committee is spending time on this and not others like instant replay. Was this move really such a big problem that it needed extra attention? Do they think taking away part of the pitcher's control of the running game — and it's debatable just how much control this move really creates — will produce more offense?

I guess the best argument out there is that left-handed pitchers can't attempt the same move without being called for a balk. Yankees lefty Boone Logan makes this very claim in Walker's article. But equality and fairness simply don't exist in the pickoff game and I can't remember hearing many right-handers complain that left-handers get a special advantage by facing toward first when pitching out of the stretch — giving them a full view of the runner's lead until he starts his delivery.

Also, if it's something that's designed to speed up the game, it seems like a token move, at best. After all, if Bruce Chen can still throw 10 regular pickoff attempts in one at-bat, what good does getting rid of an occasional gimmick pickoff attempt do? (Outside of giving us the pleasure of yelling "BALK!" with the previously misinformed, of course?)

Seriously, with no previous controversy surrounding this age-old play, I wouldn't be surprised to find that the playing rules committee came around with this idea while wearing shirts that said "Here comes Selig! Look busy!"

The Business of Baseball 2012

Mike Ozanian, Forbes Staff - The National Pastime is flourishing thanks to cable companies’ desire for live baseball programming.

The average Major League Baseball team rose 16% in value during the past year, to an all-time high of $605 million. In 2011, revenue (net of payments to cover stadium debt) for the league’s 30 teams climbed to an average of $212 million, a 3.4% gain over the previous season. But operating income (in the sense of earnings before non-cash charges and interest expenses) fell 13%, to an average of $14 million in part due to a 5.1% increase in player costs (including benefits and signing bonuses for amateurs), to $3.5 billion in 2011.

Rights fees paid by cable television channels are behind the growth in team values. Aggregate cable television revenue for baseball’s 30 teams has increased to $923 million from $328 million over the past 10 years. And thanks to new television deals inked by teams like the Houston Astros, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and the Texas Rangers that have yet to kick in, as well as the pending deal for the San Diego Padres and a likely new, rich deal that will begin in 2014 for the Los Angeles Dodgers, local television revenue could exceed $1.5 billion in 2015.

The richer television deals are evident in the prices that are being paid for teams. Jim Crane, for example, paid $610 million for the Houston Astros in November. Crane’s purchase included a 45% stake in Comcast SportsNet Houston, a new regional sports network owned by the baseball team, Houston Rockets of the National Basketball Association, and cable operator Comcast. The RSN will begin televising the Astros in 2013 and pay the team an average of $80 million in rights fees over twenty years, more than three times what the Astros received from Fox Sports Houston last season.

The debt-laden Los Angeles Dodgers, whom we say are worth $1.4 billion (including the team, Dodger Stadium and the lease to the parking lots), filed for bankruptcy last July. Yet Frank McCourt has offers ranging from $1.3 billion to $1.6 billion for his team. Why? The Dodgers current local television deals with Fox’s Prime Ticket and local station CBS affiliate KCAL Channel 9 expire after the 2013 season and the next deal could pay the team a rights fee that averages around $100 million a year, $55 million more than the team took in last season from Fox and KCAL.

The ultimate cable model for a team is to own an equity stake in a regional sports network because it means you get two revenue streams (cable fees and advertising revenue) and have greater financial flexibility (for example, debt can be parked at the RSN rather than the team). The Rolls-Royce of the RSN model is the New York Yankees, who own 34% of the YES Network. The Bronx Bombers are the most valuable team in baseball, worth $1.85 billion, tying them with the National Football League’s Dallas Cowboys for the top spot among American sports teams and placing them second in the world to Manchester United, the English soccer team worth $1.9 billion. YES generated a staggering $224 million in operating income and paid the Yankees a $90 million rights fee in 2011.

The Boston Red Sox, whose parent, Fenway Sports Group, owns 80% of the New England Sports Network, pioneered the duel revenue cable model in baseball in the mid-1980s. We value the Red Sox, who generated $60 million from NESN in 2011, at $1 billion this year, third-most in baseball. The Red Sox averaged a 7.9 rating on NESN last season, tied with the Milwaukee Brewers for third in baseball.

Although both the Kansas City Royals and Minnesota Twins were unsuccessful with attempts to launch RSNs in 2003 because they could not strike sufficient deals with carriers, the Cleveland Indians have shown that it is possible for a small market team to have its own network. The Indians started SportsTime Ohio in 2006, spurning a rights fee offer from Fox Sports Net Ohio in excess of $30 million per season. Although the Indians raked in less than $30 million in rights fees from SportsTime last year, team owner Larry Dolan and his family made a huge profit from their ownership of the RSN. Besides Indians games, STO programming includes coverage of the Browns, Ohio State, high school sports, the Mid-American Conference and golf.

Both the Chicago Cubs, who rose 14% in value, to $879 million and the Philadelphia Phillies, who increased 19% in value, to $723 million, are expected to enjoy huge increases in local television revenue when their current deals expire. The Cubs contract with WGN, which televises about half the team’s games, ends following the 2014 season and its deal with Comcast SportsNet Chicago expires after 2019. The Phillies’ TV deal with Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia expires after the 2015 season. The Phillies led baseball with an average rating of 9.7 last season.

Only two teams went down in value: The New York Mets and Tampa Bay Rays. The Mets fell 4% in value, to $719 million, due to falling attendance and $41 million in operating losses. The Rays, one of the league’s biggest receivers of revenue-sharing, slipped 2% in value, to $323 million, as attendance and television ratings crashed last season.

MLB Will Not Expand Replay for 2012

March 14, 2012 - Though MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, owners and players were able to agree on a quick-fix expanded postseason for 2012, baseball was unable to finalize a deal that would have expanded instant replay review in time for Opening Day next month.

In late 2011, MLB's owners and the players' union had voted in favor of expanded instant replay, sending the proposal to the umpires' union for final approval earlier this year.

On March 1, the Umpire Ejection Fantasy League (UEFL) broke the news of expanded instant replay's failure for 2012, citing an anonymous source that had declared the ramifications of expanded replay were too complex to resolve in just a few short months.

On Tuesday, the Associated Press confirmed the report, featuring MLB executive vice president for labor relations Rob Manfred's summation: "We weren't able to come up with an acceptable set of agreements between the three parties, We hope we'll be able to do it in time for the 2013 season."

According to New York Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira, the deal might have fallen apart due to many extenuating circumstances and questions left to be answered. Teixeira voiced his support in delaying the move: "If they don't have it ready, I'd like for them to hold back."

For a glimpse as to what might not have been ready, consider that the expanded replay proposal for 2012 included a provision to review and potentially overturn fair vs. foul calls on balls in play—in other words, a screaming liner down the line.

Though overturning a called fair ball to foul might prove no challenge, the reverse seems to have remained a thorn in baseball officials' sides: With a runner on first, what of the streaking grounder that is ruled foul as it passes first base, only to be declared fair upon further review?

With that runner and all defensive players stopping on the umpire's call of "foul ball," officials' biggest concern appears to be how to equitably place runners and the batter after a foul-to-fair overturn.

Expanded replay would also have included the catch vs. trapped ball call, and similar arguments can be made regarding outs recorded and runner placement in the event of a catch-to-trap overturn, or vice versa.

According to additional anonymous sources, umpires were concerned with the unequal quality of television feeds across the major leagues: For instance, umpires expected to receive much clearer images and more television angles at Yankee Stadium than they would in Oakland.

Similarly, MLB was unable to determine whether or not to implement a coach's challenge format—as is presently employed in football—nor did baseball decide whether to take the review process away from on-field umpire crew chiefs and make all decisions from an NHL-esque War Room in New York.

According to an Aug. 2011 UEFL poll, 36 percent of respondents favored fair vs. foul replay, 30 percent supported catch vs. trap and 68 percent supported home runs and fair ball spectator interference calls. Current MLB rules allow for home run and fair fly ball spectator interference review.

22 percent additionally favored a challenge system while 20 percent believed only officials should have the ability to decide when to use replay.

12 percent supported MLB's current format of having a crew chief leave the field to review and create a replay decision, 28 percent suggested MLB hire and assign a fifth official to each crew specifically for conducting reviews—similar to NCAA football—and 15 percent were in favor of adopting hockey's War Room model.

New MLB Labor Agreement

NEW YORK - Nov. 22, 2011 -- Baseball players and owners signed an agreement for a new labor contract Tuesday, a deal that makes baseball the first North American professional major league to start blood testing on human growth hormone and expands the playoffs to 10 teams.

The five-year deal collective bargaining agreement makes changes owners hope will increase competitive balance by pressuring large-market teams to rein in spending on amateur draft picks and international signings.

Other highlights of the deal include:

• Players will be required to play in the All-Star Game unless injured or excused.

• Instant replay will be expanded to include decisions on foul lines and traps, subject to an agreement with umpires.

• Players, managers and coaches may not use smokeless tobacco products during televised interviews and may not carry them in their uniforms.

• Players arrested for DWI will be required to undergo mandatory evaluation.

• Players will start wearing improved batting helmets manufactured by Rawlings by 2013.

An initial positive test for HGH would result in a 50-game suspension, the same as a first positive urine test for a performance-enhancing substance.

In addition, the number of offseason urine tests will increase gradually from 125 currently to 250 before the 2015 season.

"This was very important to me," baseball commissioner Bud Selig said. "This really is in everyone's best interest."

Random testing for HGH will take place during spring training and the offseason, but there is no agreement yet on random testing in-season. There can be testing at any time for cause.

"We've consulted with a lot of scientists on this, and we know there's a difference of opinion among scientists we've consulted," union leader Michael Weiner said. "We are sufficiently comfortable with the science to go ahead with testing, but we have preserved the right if there is a positive test for there to be a challenge -- if that's appropriate -- to the science at that point in time."

The sides will explore in-season testing, but the union wants to make sure it's done in a way that doesn't interfere with players' health and safety.

Blood tests will be taken on game days in spring training to see what effect they have on a player's energy level, a source told ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney. Those samples will be discarded immediately. If the tests go well, MLB will proceed with HGH testing during the regular season.

Weiner said scientists told baseball the current blood test can only detect HGH in the blood from 48-to-72 hours.

"The players want to get out and be leaders on this issue, and they want there to be a level playing field," Weiner said. "The realities, though, are that baseball players play virtually every single day from Feb. 20 through October. And that's unlike any other athlete -- professional or amateur -- who's subject to drug testing. We want to make sure that we're doing everything we can on the HGH issue, but that it be consistent with not interfering with competition and not interfering with players health and safety under those circumstances."

Some free agents exceptions to the rules

The new rules for free agent compensation under baseball's new labor deal will take effect next winter. This winter, for most players, the old rules governing draft picks awarded as compensation will apply.

But a few players will be exceptions to the rules -- because if they're signed as free agents, they won't cost the team signing them a high draft pick.

Six Type A players are included in this exemption: Heath Bell, Michael Cuddyer, Kelly Johnson, Ryan Madson, Francisco Rodriguez and Josh Willingham.

Any team that signs one of these players as a free agent will not have to forfeit a draft choice to the player's former team. If these players' teams offer arbitration and the player declines, the former team will receive a draft choice in the same round immediately preceding the pick that the team signing the player would have given up under the old system. The former team will also get a pick in the compensation round.

A hypothetical example: If the Boston Red Sox signed Bell, the San Diego Padres would get a first-round pick right before Boston's pick, but the Red Sox wouldn't lose their own first-round pick.

Also, five Type A players will be treated as Type B players, meaning teams don't have to offer them salary arbitration in order to be compensated if they depart. Those players are Matt Capps, Francisco Cordero, Octavio Dotel, Ramon Hernandez and Darren Oliver.

All other Type A players must be offered arbitration by midnight on November 23rd for teams to preserve their rights under the rules. Carlos Beltran and Takashi Saito cannot be offered arbitration, under the terms of their contracts.

The new tobacco policy falls short of a call by some advocates, including members of Congress, who argued that a ban on chewing tobacco and dip during games was needed to protect impressionable kids watching on TV.

"Our members understand that this is a dangerous product, there are serious risks associated with using it," Weiner said. "Our players felt strongly that those were appropriate measures to take but that banning its use on the field was not appropriate under the circumstances."

At a time when the NBA season is threatened by a lockout and NFL preseason was disrupted by labor strife, this deal ensures baseball will have 21 consecutive years of labor peace since the end of the 1994-95 strike.

"Nobody back in the '70s, '80s and early '90s, 1994, would ever believe that we would have 21 years of labor peace," Selig said.

The deal, which still must be ratified by the players and owners, is the first contract since Weiner replaced Donald Fehr as union leader last year.

The new playoff model will give baseball 10 of 30 clubs in the postseason. In the NFL, 12 of 32 teams make the playoffs. In the NBA and NHL, 16 of 30 advance.

MLB executive vice president Rob Manfred said a decision on whether the expanded playoffs would start next year likely will be made by the January owners' meeting.

But a source told Olney the extra wild cards in each league will be added for next season, which means the playoff field will expand immediately.

The two wild cards in each league -- the non-first place teams with the best records -- will meet in a one-game playoff, and the winners will move on to the Division Series.

The agreement calls for the Houston Astros to switch from the NL Central to the AL West in 2013, leaving each league with three five-team divisions. It's baseball's first realignment since the Milwaukee Brewers went to the NL after the 1997 season.

In a change, teams will be allowed to have 26 active players for day-night doubleheaders, provided they are scheduled with a day's notice in order to give clubs time to bring up someone from the minor leagues.

On the economics, the threshold for the luxury tax on payrolls will be left at $178 million in each of the next two seasons, putting pressure on high-spending teams such as the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies not to raise their spending even more. The threshold rises to $189 million for 2014-16.

And there is a new market disqualification test as an incentive for clubs to increase revenue, preventing teams from large markets from receiving revenue-sharing proceeds.

By the end of the labor deal in 2016, teams in the 15 largest markets will no longer be allowed to receive revenue-sharing funds, regardless of their TV contracts or attendance, a source told ESPN.com's Jayson Stark.

According to the source, the 15 teams that will be ineligible for revenue sharing by 2016 are the Yankees, Mets, Dodgers, Angels, Cubs, White Sox, Phillies, Red Sox, Rangers, Braves, Nationals, Blue Jays, Astros, Giants and Athletics.

The A's will be eligible for revenue sharing until their stadium situation is resolved, the source said.

The minimum salary reaches the $500,000 mark in 2014, and then there will be cost-of-living increases in both of the following two years. There also will be a new "competitive balance lottery" that gives small-market teams extra selections in the amateur draft, and those draft picks can be traded.

Major league free agent compensation will be completely revised in 2013, with a team having to offer its former players who became free agents the average of the top 125 contracts -- currently about $12.4 million -- to receive draft-pick compensation if a player signs with a new team. It eliminates the statistical formula that had been in place since the 1981 strike settlement.

In addition, the portion of players with 2-3 years of major league service who are eligible for salary arbitration will rise from 17 percent to 22 percent starting in 2013.

Owners achieved their goal of reining in spending on amateur players coming to the major leagues. For high school and college players taken in the June amateur draft, there will be five bands of penalties, starting with a 75 percent tax on the amount 0-5 percent over a specified threshold for each team next year, based on its selection spot. For teams going 5-10 percent over, the tax will rise to 100 percent and they will lose their next first-round draft pick. If a team goes more than 15 percent over, it could lose its following two first-round draft picks.

For players taken in the 11th round and beyond, teams may give them signing bonuses up to $100,000 without it counting against the new threshold.

Manfred said the amateur draft range will be from $4.5 million to $11.5 million next year. For players taken in the 11th round and beyond, teams may give them signing bonuses up to $100,000 without it counting against the new threshold.

For international amateur signings from nations such as the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, a luxury tax will begin with the July 2012-June 2013 signing season on amounts over $2.9 million.

Information from ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney, ESPN.com senior baseball writer Jayson Stark and The Associated Press was used in this report.

MLB Umpire Injured by Foul Ball Awarded $775K in Wilson Suit

A District of Columbia Superior Court jury has ordered the Wilson Sporting Goods Co. to pay $775,000 to a Major League Baseball umpire injured by a foul ball that knocked off his Wilson-made face mask.
 
Ed Hickox, who has since resumed his duties as an MLB umpire, suffered a concussion and several broken bones after a foul ball struck him in the jaw while he was umpiring a Washington Nationals' game at RFK Stadium on May 14, 2005. The protective face mask Hickox was wearing at the time flipped off of his head upon impact. The mask was given to Hickox for free by a Wilson representative.
 
Hickox sued Wilson, claiming the company was responsible not only because the mask failed to protect his face as advertised, but also because the company failed to tell Hickox that the company had not tested the mask with the same rigor they used to test hockey face masks, according to boxscorenews.com.
 
"An ordinary customer would expect the umpire's mask, built to protect the umpire's face from stray baseballs, not to harm Plaintiff when a baseball strikes the mask," Hickox wrote in his complaint. Wilson is expected to appeal.

Umpire West Goes Rogue on Replay in Phillies-Marlins Game

By David Brown - September 4, 2011

Umpire Joe West, who likes to be called "Cowboy" in part because he performs country songs when he's not umpiring, took a hot branding iron to the Philadelphia Phillies-Florida Marlins game Sunday afternoon.

West and his crew used video replay in an unprecedented way after a pair of knucklehead Phillies fans interfered with Marlins outfielder Bryan Petersen as he tried to catch a fly ball hit by Hunter Pence in the sixth inning.

On the field, umpires ruled Pence's hit a double — putting runners at second and third with no outs. But Marlins manager Jack McKeon complained and West, after reviewing the play on video with the other umps, called Pence out.

The Phillies didn't score and many, many innings later, the Marlins won 5-4.

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel argued, saying that umpires are only supposed to use video replay when a home run is at stake. After lodging an official protest, Manuel also said West assumed that Petersen would have caught the ball after banging into the outfield fence — which would be quite an assumption.

A home run wasn't at stake this time — so use of replay in this case would seem to be outside the allowed parameters. For those who want replay expanded to include more than disputed home runs this could be a great moment of judicial activism. But it's probably just a case of West overstepping his bounds that won't stand up to appeal.

When reporters sought his comment after the game, West tried to leave Sun Life Stadium before talking, which prompted perhaps the tweet of the year, by Ryan Lawrence of the Delco Times:

Joe west is running out of the stadium

Well, go get him!

Reporters, including Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer, caught up to West — whose statement appeared to have some contradictions in it.

"I got two managers on the field," West said. "One was arguing he wanted an out. The other was arguing he wanted a home run."

But Manuel said he never requested a review. And he stood on the third base line, far away from West, who engaged McKeon before heading to the video screens. Manuel questioned the true motivation for review. West claimed because the Phillies argued it was a home run, it was reviewable.

"Now we've got a decision as to whether the spectator inference happened over the fence or before the fence," West said. ". . . I didn't assume anything. We went to look at the replays because there was a possibility it could have been a home run. Once we look at the home run, we have to take into account all the evidence. That's my statement."

And it's full of holes. Even McKeon wasn't sure why the umpires did it that way.

"I'm not the judge," McKeon said. "But I would think, isn't what we want from the umpires is to get it right? Did they get it right? Yes. Did they make a mistake on how they went about getting it right? Yes."

West umpires games his own way — quite visibly. Anybody who has watched him on major league fields these 35 years or so recognizes it. Of course, it could be argued that umpires with lower profiles also make for better umpires, but Joe does it his way and Major League Baseball keeps putting him out there.

A protest hasn't been upheld in 25 years, so there's little reason to expect the commissioner's office to overturn the umpires and make the teams replay the game from the point of Pence's hit. But if the Phillies do have to return to Sun Life, perhaps the TV in the visiting manager's office will be fixed by then.

It's the second time since Major League Baseball instituted replay in 2008 that a batter has been called out because of fan interference. In that instance, in 2009, Melvin Mora had a home run wiped out in Baltimore because fans interfered with Endy Chavez's attempt to catch it.

Fans still haven't learned to keep their hands inside the grandstand at all times. A couple of goofs who go to college in Florida — but are Phillies fans — were stubbornly defiant after the game about how they messed everything up.

"The Phillies are 45 games (actually 41) over .500," one said. "Get over it."

Once these guys flunk out of school and have to go back to Philly to sell widgets, they shouldn't be let into town.

How Joe Torre is Combating Rising Tension Between Players, Umpires

In his first year out of a major league uniform since 1989, Joe Torre is finally able to plan his own schedule. He can commute between Los Angeles and New York, his two most recent stops in a 29-year managerial career with five teams, watch tons of games on TV and spend time with family and friends.

Even his new job as MLB's executive vice president of operations is one Torre, 70, describes as stress-free. He is responsible for everything that happens on the field: He monitors the pace of games, listens to the complaints of managers and general managers and disciplines players. There is, however, at least one sizable challenge for the future Hall of Famer, and that is to eliminate the growing tension between players and umpires that has caused more than a few headlines this season.

"This may be a pie-in-the-sky thing for me, but I'm determined to get these guys to work together,'' Torre said during an interview with SI.com. "I'm not going to say, 'This is crazy,' and throw my arms up and walk away. I want the relationship to work smoothly.

"Respect is the word I want. You have to earn it. You give, and you get it in return, that's how I see it.''

In Torre's eyes, whenever a player bumps an umpire it's a sign of disrespect. On Aug. 2, Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina bumped umpire Rob Drake, drawing a suspension in what was just one, but far from the only, example this season of a player making contact with an ump.

In July, Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland said that tension between players and managers is escalating. "We need to work harder to eliminate tension," said Leyland. You can feel it."

"I agree with Jimmy,'' said Torre, though he said he isn't sure what the reason is. "It is my top priority. I hate to say that, but the issue takes most of my time.''

Communication was one of Torre's strength as a manager, and he hopes it will help solve this problem. Torre, who ranks fifth all-time in victories by a manager and was a nine-time All-Star in his 18 seasons as a player, says he has new respect for umpires and hopes to use his experience in uniform to fix the relationship.

Torre said there are "short fuses'' on both sides and says he's heard all the complaints: Umpires are annoyed that players are too sensitive, quick to assign blame, don't know the rules and don't appreciate their professionalism.

Players say umpires are unapproachable, hold grudges, and give bang-bang calls to contending or home teams to avoid a hostile crowd reaction. Players are also concerned that umpires aren't held accountable for performance.

The problem doesn't mean that Torre has become a proponent of expanded replay, which allows umpires to use replay to determine if a home run is fair or foul and whether or not it cleared the fence. Baseball has resisted attempts at more replay. Commissioner Bud Selig agrees that a knee-jerk reaction to add replay is not good.

"We're always going to have the human element in the game,'' Torre said. "Nobody's perfect. This is a very imperfect game. I'm not in favor of wholesale replay. I look at the big picture. Sometimes, you get the short end and sometimes you get a break.''

Torre said that umpires don't hold grudges or make calls to favor contenders, nor does he support firing umpires that make mistakes. Instead, he wants to build relationships between players and umpires, something he said has deteriorated since 2000, the first year that American and National league umpires were eliminated and started working under the umbrella of Major League Baseball.

Under the old system, Torre said, the 68 umpires worked only one league and got to know the players better. Now, players don't see the same umpires as often.

Torre's solution is in the planning stages. He's trying to arrange logistics in spring training so that umpires and players can sit down, get to know each other, hash out issues and understand each other's professional pride in the game. The goal is friendship.

"I don't totally know how to plan it, it's not as easy as it sounds,'' Torre says. "It's going to start next spring training. It might be in smaller groups. We are trying to plan something that makes sense. We don't need to define the relationship as umpire-player. We want it to be a Bill-George thing. I'm not sure the parties know each other.

"They all want the same thing: Respect. My goal is to try to re-create the mutual respect so that it's there all the time. I am not saying it's not there, but overall.''

Players and umpires interviewed by SI.com were reluctant to talk in specifics about the problem.

"We have to work on it,'' Chicago White Sox shortstop Omar Vizquel says.

White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski, said he's not sure there's tension, but he said the most important thing for an umpire to do is answer questions and admit mistakes.

"We give them a very tough job to do and they do it well,'' Pierzynski. "If an umpire says directly, 'I missed that,' how can a player be mad?''

Kirk Gibson, manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks, said that he's not "touching'' the issue between players and umpires, but he thinks players shouldn't concern themselves with umpires' calls.

"If you worry about the umpires, that's a bad sign,'' Gibson says. "Umpires do a good job. Sometimes, you get a break, sometimes you don't. As a player, I sometimes made mistakes.''

White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen says that umpires are making strides in their flexibility: "Sometimes, they kick me out before I step on the field. They have to give me a chance. But, there's a better attitude. Umpires are getting better and better.''

Torre said that umpires have to understand that when players react to a third strike or a popup, the anger isn't directed at the umpire.

"If there is a situation where a player throws a bat, the umpire has to understand that the player is not angry at the umpire, but is angry at himself. Things are so misunderstood. We have to find a way to be more respectful.''

Torre's advice to players is similar: "They have to understand that umpires aren't perfect in every situation and players shouldn't translate a missed call into, 'It's not as important to them as it is to us.' But, both sides have to realize there's misunderstandings and mis-interpretations, then it gets blown out of shape.''

As a manager in the postseason, Torre, who led the New York Yankees to four World Series titles, used to remind umpires that players are going to be intense and they are going to react when something goes wrong. "If they don't react, they don't care,'' Torre said.

Torre said he knows that players are worried about umpires' accountability, and while he wouldn't get into specifics, he said that umpires are graded and evaluated daily on many levels.

"They are graded on a number of things to determine All-Star Game (assignments) and the postseason,'' Torre said. "We record their work. I know players worry about accountability. We are evaluating them. The players are just going to have to take our word for it.''

Technology, with 24-hour Internet replays of umpire's mistakes, as well as a tracker on every pitch in local TV broadcasts, puts added pressure on umpires, Torre said.

"Umpires are wound a little tighter,'' he said. "And we live in a society that likes to point fingers and place blame, whether it is sports, the stock market or politics.''

The TV technology that grades umpires and allows analysts to second-guess an umpire isn't accurate, Torre said.

He said MLB has its own computer technology to grade the accuracy of umpires' ball-strike calls. Torre said the problem with the TV networks is that they strike zone technology is set up for one strike zone, to a batter that stands six feet tall.

MLB's technology takes into account the batters' various stances. "We couldn't give it to you with that quick of response,'' Torre said. "TV is not accurate.''

Torre also knows that controversial calls get a lot of attention and fuel the belief that umpires aren't doing a good job. On July 26, in the bottom of the 19th inning at Turner Field, home plate umpire Jerry Meals missed a call at the plate that allowed the winning run to score. Meals ruled that the Braves' sliding Julio Lugo eluded the tag of Pirates catcher Michael McKendry.

After the game, Pirates pitcher Jeff Karstens suggested to reporters that Meals wanted to go home early. "Maybe he didn't want to be here any more,'' Karstens said.

That's the kind of attitude among players that Torre is trying to erase. He talked to Meals several times and said that Meals didn't want to miss the call.

"He felt very bad,'' Torre said. "He was devastated. I reminded him several times that he was a good umpire. I know how he feels. When I was a player and hit into a double play, I felt as if I was letting everyone down.  "I know in the heat of battle, it's hard not to get angry, especially in the 19th inning. But Jerry Meals is a good umpire. Life isn't always fair.''

Umpire Odds & Ends: An Analysis of the Strike Three Mechanic

August 12, 2011

Earlier this season, we asked about umpire strike three calls; specifically, "Which umpire has the best called strike and/or strike three mechanic?"In Polls: Strike Mechanic, 38% of voters chose Tom Hallion's athletic, back torquing twist & yowl. In second place, 13% chose Dale Scott's subtle and cadenced thwack, followed by 12% for Jim Joyce's consistent verbalization of... something, 11% for James Hoye, and rounding out the top five was a tie at 7% between CB Bucknor and Mike Winters.

Seems the UEFL isn't the only place out there interested in the art of "strike three." UEFL'er Troy sent us an article from the Wall Street Journal, which, as you might expect, took a very analytical approach to the strike three call.
"It's kind of like a pitcher's signature pitch," said New York Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey. "The strike-three call has always been the one thing the umpire can make his own."
The WSJ article features a superb graphical breakdown of four styles of strike three calls based on the likes of Bob Davidson (The Saturday Night Fever), Fieldin Culbreth (The Kung Fu Grip), Dan Iassogna (The Speed Skater), and Tom Hallion (The Tasmanian Devil). Split into three categories (side-puncher, middle-puncher, and wild card [for those who do not fit the side- or middle-puncher categories]), the WSJ placed all 68 full time umpires (including Todd Tichenor) into their corresponding strike three call category. In case you're wondering, yes, Tom Hallion fell under "wild card"; then again, so did Wally Bell with the note, "seemingly changes every game."
"Every time I see Tom I tell him, 'I will not have you go 'Hiii-Yahhhhhh' on me tonight, that's my goal," said San Diego Padres infielder Orlando Hudson, imitating the motion as he spoke. "He's got the best strike-three call in the game."
As it relates to our poll, after Tom Hallion's Wild Card tactic ("turns 135-degrees hard and makes explosive punch,"), Dale Scott is a side-puncher, as are Jim Joyce, James Hoye & CB Bucknor. Mike Winters is the only middle-puncher to make the top five (or top six). The article continues to discuss the challenges in developing mechanics and in finding a balance between standing out and standing out. All in all, another unique take on umpiring at the major league level.
On the other hand, umpires with dramatic strike-three calls constantly tread the murky water between showmanship and ridicule. Or, as big-league umpire Jeff Nelson put it, "There's a fine line between good taste and Leslie Nielsen," a reference to the late movie actor's turn as an overly exuberant umpire in "The Naked Gun."

Umpires Ratify Labor Agreement
Five-year deal with MLB lasts through end of 2014

By Barry M. Bloom and Tom Singer MLB.com - 01/19/10

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Members of the World Umpires Association voted late Monday night to ratify a new five-year contract with Major League Baseball that will extend to Dec. 31, 2014. MLB's owners certified the deal this past Thursday during their joint meeting in nearby Paradise Valley.

Monday's vote by the 67 umpires attending a 5 1/2-hour general session formally finalizes the new contract, which was agreed upon in principal last month, only eight days before the old one expired this past Dec. 31.

"It wasn't unanimous, but it was the most overwhelming vote I've ever participated in," said Joe West, the veteran umpire who is president of the umpires' union. "Everyone is very happy and pleased that we could work through this. This was a good day for baseball and a good day for the umpires. We will make every effort to keep baseball and professional umpires first. We will all work hard to make it right."

The owners and union were in negotiations all last year on this new contract, and for the second consecutive extended collective-bargaining session, came to agreement without acrimony. Since the issue wasn't decided until about 10 p.m. MT, MLB officials weren't available to comment. They had said last week that they would not do so until after the umpires ratified the deal.

As part of the agreement, Commissioner Bud Selig will have more flexibility to dictate expansion of the instant replay system and umpires will now be able to work in successive World Series. There was also a modest pay raise that increases over the course of the contract and buyouts that will allow veteran umpires the ability to retire early.

"The retirement issue was important to several umpires who are thinking about it," said Brian Lam, an attorney for the Perennial Law Group in Washington that represents the umps. "The provisions of this contract will allow them to do that comfortably in the near future."

Under the old agreement, the six umpires who called a particular World Series would not be able to do so again for two years, although they were available to work the Division Series and the League Championship Series the next postseason. That flexibility alone would allow baseball to use its best umpires throughout the playoffs on a rotating basis, although umpires still won't be able to work successive series in a given postseason.

The World Series clause is still being worked out, West said, and is subject to "tweaks."

As far as replay is concerned, it now covers boundary calls on home runs -- fair or foul, in or out. That issue was negotiated with umpires outside of regular collective bargaining in 2008 and the program was put in place in August of that year.

Selig said recently that he would consider expanding replay after a spate of missed calls plagued the first two rounds of last year's postseason. The expansion of replay is now a matter before Selig's 14-man Special Committee, which met this past Thursday and is expected to convene again during the next few weeks.

By and large, the umps were satisfied with the contract, Lam said.

"You would always like a little more, but these are especially challenging times, and under the circumstances the umpires are happy with the deal and we know baseball is, too," Lam said. "Nothing controversial was raised [at the meeting]. We had updated the membership, and they had asked everything well in advance by e-mail. So more than anything, there was a lot of review of the issues."

The World Umpires Association was certified by the National Labor Relations board on Feb. 24, 2000, and became the negotiating arm of the umpires. Its first president was John Hirschbeck, who was replaced by West this past April.

The certification came after the dissolution of the old union -- the Major League Umpires Association. In 1999, led by President Richie Phillips, 50 of the 66 umpires resigned as a negotiating ploy to move along collective bargaining. Some rescinded their resignations, but MLB ultimately accepted the resignation of 22 umpires, thus breaking that union.

Since then, 11 of those 22 umpires have been reinstated, including West, Bob Davidson, Tom Hallion and Ed Hickox, who were added during the successful negotiations of 2004.

Thus, MLB concluded the past decade without a work stoppage involving either the players or the umpires for the first time since the 1960s. Under the leadership of Rob Manfred, MLB's executive vice president of labor relations and human resources, the owners have negotiated successfully with unions of both entities four times since the players threatened to strike for the last time in 2002.

"If somebody would have told us, particularly me, having lived the work stoppages of '72, '73, '81, '84, '85, '90 and '94 that we would have 16 years of labor peace with the players and the umpires, I'd have said they would be crazy," Selig said last week. "This has been good. That's why the sport has grown. I don't think anyone realized the damage we were doing to the sport. People were tired of reading and hearing that stuff every day."

Crawford, Reilly, Meriwether Retiring

NEW YORK -- Jerry Crawford, Mike Reilly and Chuck Meriwether are retiring, the second straight year a significant number of veteran umpires are leaving work. The announcement was made Wednesday by Major League Baseball.

Crawford, head of the former MLB umpires' union, joined the major league staff in 1977 and had been the senior umpire since Ed Montague retired last year after 34 seasons. Crawford worked the World Series in 1988, 1992, 1998, 2000 and 2002.

Reilly had been on the major league staff since 1983 and Meriwether since 1993. Meriwether was on disability and missed last season.

In 2010, Randy Marsh, Rick Reed and Charlie Reliford retired, in addition to Montague. Crawford on Wednesday recalled his major league debut and could recite every detail. Tom Gorman had broken his leg, so Crawford got called up from the minors and filled in at third base in St. Louis on May 15, 1976, as part of a crew with Paul Pryor, John McSherry and Art Williams.

His first call came in the third inning, when pitcher John Denny was thrown out going from second to third, with Ken Reitz applying the tag. "I have a picture of my first call," the 63-year-old Crawford said. "My first one, I got right.

"I would probably still be out there if I could physically do it, but it just became too much of a hardship. My back just wouldn't hold up to the wear and tear. My back has been bothering me for a couple of years now. It's just the degeneration of the discs."

Crawford spent from 1970-76 in the minor leagues and wound up seeing 40 years of professional baseball up close.

"The players are bigger, stronger," he said. "Or maybe I was getting older and slowing down, and it just seemed like they were going faster."

In addition to five World Series, Crawford also worked 12 league championship series, five division series and two All-Star games. His favorite game was when he had first come up as a fill-in. On May 22, 1976, he worked home plate in the major leagues for the first time, part of a crew that included future Hall of Famer Doug Harvey, Terry Tata and John Kibler.

Jim Kaat pitched for the Phillies and John Curtis for the Cardinals. The game was in Crawford's hometown, at Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium. His entire family was there, and his brother-in-law at the time, Jack Marshall, even caught a foul ball.

"It was the only game my mother ever saw me work in person," Crawford said. "To be honest with you, she never watched the game on TV."

Crawford's father, Shag, was an NL umpire from 1956-75 and Jerry's brother Joey is an NBA referee.

When Kirk Gibson hit his famous home run at Dodger Stadium in the 1988 World Series opener, Jerry Crawford watched from the left-field line -- it was his first World Series game. He was behind the plate for Orel Hershiser's four-hitter in the Game 5 clincher.

While he never worked a no-hitter behind the plate, he came close on May 12, 1984, at Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium. The Reds' Mario Soto had a no-hit bid and a 1-0 lead with two outs in the ninth inning against St. Louis,

George Hendrick was at the plate, and Soto got two strikes.

"All he had to do was throw George a slider or something," Crawford recalled. "And you know what he did? He dusted him. He knocked him down. And George got aggravated and he said, 'Just give me a little time.' And he got back up in the box, and he hit a home run to tie the game up."

Years later, Crawford asked Hendrick about it while Hendrick was coaching first base for Tampa Bay, a job he's held since 2006.

"He remembered that," Crawford said, laughing.

Crawford does have one disappointment -- his actions while president of the Major League Umpires Association in 1999.

A mass resignation used as a labor negotiating tactic led to 22 umps losing their jobs. It took six years of litigation to sort out the issues, and only half of the group was rehired.

"Men lost their jobs," Crawford said. "When you have second thoughts, that is a regret. But that's the only regret I have."

MLB also said Wednesday that Scott Barry and Brian Knight have been hired as additions to the big league umpire staff. They follow the hirings last year of Rob Drake, Chad Fairchild, James Hoye and Adrian Johnson.

Minor League Umpires Union Partners With OPEIU

With an overwhelming vote of 91 percent, The Association of Minor League Umpires (AMLU) will partner with Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU), AFL-CIO. This partnership will now be known as AMLU/OPEIU Guild 322, the 322 representing three balls, two strikes, two outs.

The AMLU was created in 2000 as a way to protect the interests of everyone involved. Prior to ‘00, umpires did not have representation. According to the AMLU website, 2009 was filled with appearances from minor league umpires, with many of them recruited by MLB—1,300 games featured at least one.

The day-to-day rigors of a minor league umpire do take their toll, but the wear and tear faced in a season is never fully realized. The inability to return home during the regular season, no vacation or sick time; this agreement without a doubt gives a sense of relief to the rookie and veteran “umps” of the game.

Located in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Canada, OPEIU is now focused on giving these baseball professionals the same security as their counterparts.

“We’re now looking to take the umpires to another level and secure rights and benefits afforded to other baseball professionals, including wage improvements, job security, and better working conditions,” said Francis. “We look forward to bringing OPEIU’s talents and resources into the world of professional umpiring to make these goals possible.”

Presently, minor league umpires in Triple-A bring home $2,600-3,500 per month, while Double-A umpires sit at $2,300-2,700 per month. Class A-Full Season and Class A-Short Season/Rookie make approximately $1,900-2,400 per month.

The umpire strike of ‘06 did not resolve all issues but did bring changes that were, one could say, necessary. With the six-year agreement that runs through 2011, several advancements have been made—adjustments that elevate the level of work while stabilizing quality of life. Find below some of the alterations, courtesy of MiLB.com

Pay raises for Minor League umpires (the starting monthly salary for a rookie umpire is currently $1,900 [compare this with the $175 per month before the establishment of UDP]). All Minor League Baseball umpire salaries and expenses are paid by the league which employs the umpire. Group medical, dental, and life insurance is provided free of charge for all umpires in all full-season leagues. Hotel lodging is provided free through the league offices for each umpire while on assignment within the league. Local courtesy transportation (generally a complimentary rental car) is provided through the league offices for Triple-A umpire crews in each city.

DH to be Used Every Year in All-Star Game

04/28/10
Beginning in 2010, the designated hitter will be used in the All-Star game every year, and rosters will be expanded again to 34 under changes made by baseball's special committee for on-field matters. A pitcher who starts on the final Sunday before the All-Star break will be ineligible to pitch in the All-Star game and will be replaced on the roster, Major League Baseball said Wednesday. Under a change that runs contrary to normal baseball rules, each manager may designate a position player who will be eligible for re-entry to the game if the final position player - at any position - is injured.

MLB Names New Umps, Crew Chiefs
Four Promoted from Tripple-A, New Head Arbiters Announced

By Tom Singer - 04/02/10
Major League Baseball completed its umpiring lineup for the 2010 season with the promotion of four Triple-A arbiters and the appointment of four new crew chiefs.

Rob Drake, Chad Fairchild, James Hoye and Adrian Johnson -- who among them have 57 years of professional umpiring experience and in recent years have worked Major League games as Triple-A callup fill-ins -- were appointed to big league crews. Meanwhile, chosen as new crew chiefs were Brian Gorman, Tom Hallion, Jeff Kellogg and Jerry Layne. The quartet has a shared Major League experience of 73 seasons of umpiring. The four new umpires are taking the places of four who have recently retired following long and distinguished careers, which included terms as crew chiefs: Randy Marsh, Charlie Reliford, Ed Montague and Rick Reed. Marsh and Reliford continue as liaisons between MLB and its umpires, assuming new roles as umpire supervisors.

MLB Appoints New Umpire Supervisors

By Bailey Stephens - 03/06/10
Following a postseason which included several disputed calls by its umpires, Major League Baseball has decided to adjust its roster of supervisors responsible for judging umpire performance, league spokesperson Pat Courtney confirmed to MLB.com on Saturday. Longtime umpires Randy Marsh and Charlie Reliford have retired and taken jobs as supervisors, while former supervisors Marty Springstead, Jim McKean and Rich Garcia have not been retained. Marsh had been a mainstay behind the plate in the Majors since 1981, working five World Series, while Reliford, 53, began his Major League service in 1989. Springstead had been with the league as an umpiring supervisor since 2000. Garcia and McKean both became supervisors in 2002. "Because of early retirement, there were some quality people like Randy Marsh who became available to us," MLB executive vice president Rob Manfred told ESPN.com. "When things go less than perfectly -- as they did in the postseason -- you're going to think about making changes. And part of it is just the natural turnover in an organization. It's no more complicated than that." The league's umpires came under fire during the 2009 postseason, on the heels of several debatable calls. In the American League Division Series between the Twins and Yankees, a call by umpire Phil Cuzzi came into question. Cuzzi ruled that a fly ball to left field off the bat of Joe Mauer was foul, when the ball appeared to land in fair territory. The Division Series between the Red Sox and Angels also brought about some disputed plays, as umpire C.B. Bucknor came under criticism for multiple calls at first base. In the National League Division Series featuring the Phillies and Rockies, Phillies second baseman Chase Utley was given an infield hit, although it appeared the ball struck his leg in the batter's box. The questions continued in Game 4 of the AL Championship Series, when umpire Tim McClelland ruled that Nick Swisher of the Yankees left third base early on a sacrifice fly. Another call of his that drew scrutiny was when Angels catcher Mike Napoli tagged out Yankees base runners Jorge Posada and Robinson Cano at third, but McClelland missed the call, only charging New York with one out on the play instead of two. In the same game, umpire Dale Scott called Swisher safe when it appeared he was out on a pickoff play at second base. The controversy surrounding the umpires' calls led to a renewed push for expanded use of instant replay in the Majors. The topic was raised at the annual general managers' meeting in November, but the group declined to vote on the issue. Commissioner Bud Selig has suggested his new 14-member panel of baseball executives and managers discuss the issue. The Commissioner reportedly has greater latitude in changing the use of replay after the World Umpires Association reached a new labor deal with baseball in January.

Umpires, MLB Agree on Deal

December 23, 2009
NEW YORK -- Major League Baseball ensured its first decade of labor peace since the 1960s by agreeing to a five-year contract with umpires that runs through 2014. The deal announced Wednesday, which is subject to ratification next month, was the second straight achieved without acrimony since a failed mass resignation in 1999 led to 22 umpires losing their jobs. "I think both sides acted very professionally in trying to work through a tough time, and we ground it out," said World Umpires Association president Joe West, who lost his job in the 1999 dispute and regained it three years later. Owners are expected to vote on the deal when they meet in the Phoenix area on Jan. 14, and umpires are set for balloting four days later. Stung by a series of missed calls during the playoffs, management sought increased flexibility on postseason assignments in the new agreement. MLB asked that the prohibition be lifted against umpires working the World Series in consecutive years, a request that some of the union membership had trouble with. Negotiators said they wouldn't discuss specifics of the deal before ratification, but it is hard to imagine owners agreeing to a contract that didn't include the removal of that restriction. "As president of our union, my first responsibility is to the game of baseball, my second responsibility is to my profession, and my third responsibility is to do what in my heart I think is right," West said, speaking generally. "When I say baseball, that doesn't mean the commissioner's office, and when I say umpiring or my profession of umpiring, that doesn't mean the union. ... Whenever we came to something that was tough in contract, we both tried to abide by those rules." The deal leaves the collective bargaining agreement with players as baseball's next labor negotiation. That expires in December 2011 but both sides seem intent on an early start for bargaining. "I do believe, me personally, that these negotiations -- the umpires and the players, frankly -- are more complicated than a lot of collective bargaining agreements and that the parties are well served by getting started early," said Rob Manfred, baseball's executive vice president of labor relations. New players' association head Michael Weiner had a similar view. "I would expect bargaining will begin well in advance of the termination date," he said. The umpires' relationship with management has mirrored that of the players, leading to work stoppages in 1970, 1978, 1979, 1984, 1990, 1991 and 1995. After the 1999 mass resignations backfired, Richie Phillips' Major League Umpires Association was replaced by a new union, the WUA, which negotiated a pair of labor contracts under union president John Hirschbeck. West succeeded Hirschbeck in February. After a series of eight work stoppages from 1972-95, players and owners reached agreements without strikeouts or lockouts in 2002 and 2006. The umpires' deal had been set to expire Dec. 31. The leadership and professionals of the WUA did an outstanding job working with us to try to get an agreement, Manfred said. I think we're in a period of time where both sides recognize that our best interests are served by reaching a deal." Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press
Abbott and Costello Have Nothing on Ambidextrous Pitcher, Switch-Hitter

Switch-Hitting Vs. Switch-Pitching

Associated Press, June 21, 2008
NEW YORK -- Ambidextrous pitcher Pat Venditte can confound hitters -- and umpires -- when he's on the mound.

The umps working a game Thursday night between the Class-A Staten Island Yankees and the Brooklyn Cyclones had nothing to go by when Venditte made his professional debut, less than two weeks after getting drafted in the 20th round by the Yankees. He pitched the ninth, and after retiring two batters and allowing a single, a switch-hitter stepped to the plate for Brooklyn. That's hardly unusual. But it becomes intriguing against Venditte, a switch pitcher. Things got a tad dizzying when designated hitter Ralph Henriquez, who had taken his on-deck circle swings as a lefty, entered the batter's box from the right side. Venditte put his specially made glove (it has six fingers, two webs and fits on both hands) on his left hand, and got ready to pitch right-handed. Henriquez then changed his mind and switched sides of the plate, because a batter sees the ball sooner when it is thrown by a pitcher using the opposite hand. So Venditte shifted his glove to the other hand. Then it happened again. And again. And again. Apparently unsure of how the rules handle such an oddity, the umpires didn't stop the cat-and-mouse game until Venditte walked toward the plate and said something while pointing at Henriquez. Umpires and both managers huddled and the umps decided the batter and pitcher can both change sides one time per at-bat, and that the batter must declare first. The ruling favored the pitcher, since he gets to declare last. About seven minutes after he first stepped in, Henriquez struck out on four pitches as a righty against a right-handed Venditte and slammed his bat in frustration. Staten Island won, 7-2. "It's probably been a long, long time since he's seen a right-hander as a righty," Venditte said. "I think in that situation, I had the upper hand because he wasn't used to that. It's been a long time since he'd come in the game as a switch-hitter and faced a righty as a righty." It wasn't completely new to Venditte, who went 9-3 with a 3.34 ERA and had seven saves as a senior at Creighton. "That same thing happened my sophomore year against Nebraska," he said. "But in that situation he got to hit off me right-handed, and I faced him lefty. He hit a line drive to center but it got caught, so I lucked out." It's unclear what the MLB rule book says on the matter. While it's clear that both a batter and a pitcher are allowed to change sides once, the umpire's decision that the batter must declare first remains debatable. "We're waiting on an official ruling on it," Staten Island media relations director John Davison said. Pat Venditte Sr., who raised his son as ambidextrous from the age of 3, said the Missouri Valley Conference had rules in place for such a situation. There, the pitcher had to show which arm he was going to pitch with. "My first thought was, isn't there a rule to cover that?" asked Venditte Sr., by phone from Nebraska. Justin Klemm, executive director of the Professional Baseball Umpire Corporation, said his organization was working with Major League Baseball to remedy the lack of a clear rule. "We don't want to rush to any interpretation beyond what is in our manual," Klemm said, referring to the minor league umpire manual. "Obviously what's in our manual doesn't cover every situation. We want to be as fair as possible, but we're going to do that in a timely manner." It's all happening because Venditte Sr. decided to experiment with his son at age 3, having him first kick footballs with both feet, then punting with both, and finally throwing with both hands. He and his 3-year-old son played long toss -- pitcher's mound to plate -- with each arm. Because his son was home-schooled, Pat Jr. wasn't dissuaded from doing something that might have been seen as "unnatural," his father said. By the time he started playing organized baseball, his son was already better with both hands than most kids were with either. "By the time he played at 7, people were in awe," Venditte Sr. said. "It spurred us on. He was doing things that people found unique and different." Some scouts have noticed that Venditte throws harder from the right side -- near 90 mph as opposed to about 80 from the left side -- and have decided that means he's naturally a righty. Not so fast, his father said. "The reason he's not as fast from the left is he drops his arm from the left side to get more movement, he throws a sweeping slider," he said. "The coach at Creighton thought it was more difficult to hit. He has equal arm strength. He can stand at home plate and throw it out of the ballpark from both sides." The Yankees have enough faith that Venditte can bring his ambidextrous pitching game to the majors to draft him not once, but twice. They drafted him in the 45th round after his junior year as well, but Venditte chose to return to Creighton. Venditte is not the first professional pitcher to throw with both hands, although he may be the first in the modern era with the potential to regularly switch arms. Greg A. Harris, who pitched for Cincinnati, Montreal, San Diego, Texas, Philadelphia, Boston and the Yankees from 1981 to 1995, was a righty throughout his career. He pitched from the left side for two batters in the second-to-last game of his career.

Only Female Ump in Minors Released

October 31, 2007
NEW YORK (AP) -- She's out!

Ria Cortesio, pro baseball's only female umpire, was released by the minor leagues this week. Earlier this season, she became the first woman in nearly 20 years to call a major league exhibition game. "I've been prepared for it, to some extent, for a long time," she told The Associated Press on Wednesday from her home in western Illinois. "But I was surprised a little bit." Cortesio spent nine years in the minors, the last five in the Double-A Southern League, and hoped someday to become the first female ump in the majors. In March, she worked a spring training game between the Chicago Cubs and Arizona Diamondbacks. Her mask made it to the Hall of Fame. She handled the Futures Game and Home Run Derby at the All-Star game in Pittsburgh last year. She once was called out by George Steinbrenner for squeezing the strike zone when Roger Clemens made a rehab start. Cortesio cut her ponytail several years ago and lowered her voice for making calls, trying to be more inconspicuous. At 5-foot-10, she was slender -- Prince Fielder once gently lifted her out of the way so he could charge the mound. She was at her off season job, helping run the music system at the arena where the Quad City Flames of the American Hockey League play, when she got a call Tuesday from minor league baseball's umpire organization. "They let you know around the World Series about next year. If they want to keep you, they send a letter. If they're going to let you go, they call," she said. "When I saw the number on my cell phone, I thought, 'Whoa, this is it.'" There are about 300 umpires in the majors and affiliated minors. Several minor league umps get released each off season, with baseball trying to make a decision on their futures within a few years. At 31, Cortesio wants to map out what's next. Her family runs a wine business and she's been a substitute teacher in high school. When she went to Rice University, she worked the scoreboard at the Astrodome. "It does feel freeing, in a way," she said. As she spoke, she said she was putting on her Joan Jett-style makeup to go to work on Halloween night. There have been six female umpires in the affiliated minor leagues, and none have made the majors. Pam Postema spent several years in Triple-A during the 1980s; after being fired, she filed a sex discrimination suit against baseball and settled out of court 5 1/2 years later. Cortesio said she had not decided whether to pursue legal action. Her release came in a call from Mike Fitzpatrick, executive director of the Professional Baseball Umpire Corporation. He did not immediately return a call for comment. Cortesio started this season as the top-ranked umpire in all of Double-A. If there had been an opening in Triple-A, it would've been hers. There were no vacancies and when the new ratings by minor league supervisors came out in midseason, her ranking substantially dropped. So, too, did her chance of getting a promotion and possibly making it to the majors someday. A move up would have greatly changed her status -- umpires in Triple-A are under the auspices of major league supervisors. "I don't know if they wanted to make a call on me in the majors," she said. Cortesio started out in the rookie Pioneer League in 1999 and later worked in the Midwest and Florida State leagues. She was an instructor at the Jim Evans Academy of Professional Umpiring. As a crew chief in the Southern League, she made about $2,700 per month. Her three-person crew drove an average of 24,000 miles during the six-month season.

Minor League Umpires Agree to Background Checks With Conditions

September 7, 2007, Andover, Mass. --- The Association of Minor League Umpires (AMLU), the labor union representing over 200 minor league baseball umpires, including minor league umpires employed by Major League Baseball (MLB) to perform regular and off-season MLB umpiring assignments, announced that its members agreed to sign MLB releases for background checks after obtaining an agreement from MLB regarding the use of any background information obtained by MLB.

“This agreement will help preserve integrity and maintain public confidence in professional baseball, while protecting the fundamental rights and privacy concerns of minor league umpires,” said Shaun Francis, President of the AMLU. The agreement forged between MLB and the AMLU guarantees strict confidentiality; makes provisions for securing any information that is gathered; and, gives minor league umpires the right, in certain cases, to be represented by the AMLU. “We’ve been assured that issues like routine credit problems alone, will not disqualify an umpire from working in MLB. Our success in securing the rights of umpires to be represented by their union will help make sure these issues are handled fairly and equitably,” said Francis.

After obtaining MLB's assurance regarding the use of information and the right of minor league umpires to be represented by the AMLU in the event of further inquiries by MLB, the AMLU, on behalf of each of their members who were requested by MLB to submit to background checks, gathered its members' signed releases and forwarded them to MLB.

"We said from the start that we could live with some sort of background check, but we were opposed to signing a blank check for MLB without some clarification of how the background information would be used and the right of minor league umpires to have union representation in the event of any problems arising", said Francis.

The World Umpires Association (WUA), representing major league umpires, refused to agree to these same background checks, citing provisions in their collective bargaining agreement (CBA) that prohibits MLB from unilaterally forcing them to comply. However, minor league umpires have no such CBA with Major League Baseball, and are not recognized by MLB as major league employees.

"Minor league umpires dealing with MLB is sort of like David vs. Goliath", said Francis. "Our dialogue with MLB and our understanding with them about background checks is a step in the right direction for these minor league umpires who also work for MLB. All we're asking for is fairness and justice."

The AMLU represents the 210 umpires employed in 16 minor leagues across the United States and Canada, including the minor league umpires employed by MLB to work major league regular season, spring training, instructional and fall league assignments. The AMLU is actively exploring merger with another national labor organization to support its members' bargaining power with professional baseball.

“The issue of background checks illustrates how important it is for minor league umpires, when they work for MLB, to have the right to negotiate with MLB. This agreement is a step in the right direction,” said Francis.

Umpire Winters Suspended by MLB

September 26, 2007 New York, NY (Sports Network) - Umpire Mike Winters has been suspended by Major League Baseball for the rest of the regular season for his involvement in a heated dispute with San Diego Padres outfielder Milton Bradley on Sunday.

Bradley was ejected by Winters in the eighth inning of the Padres' 7-3 loss to Colorado. The argument apparently began when Winters accused Bradley of tossing his bat at home plate umpire Brian Runge after being called out on strikes to end the fifth. A fan in the seats down the first base line also yelled something at Winters, who then made a comment to Bradley that sent the volatile player in a rage. Published reports indicated that Winters had used profanity aimed at Bradley. First base coach Bobby Meacham tried to restrain Bradley before manager Bud Black also came running out. Bradley broke free of Meacham's hold, but Black nabbed him by the jersey and spun him around before Bradley collapsed and grabbed his right leg. Bradley, who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee and will need season-ending surgery, had to be helped off the field. Black was later ejected for arguing a check-swing call against Adrian Gonzalez. Bradley later called Winters' actions, "the most unprofessional and most ridiculous thing I've ever seen." Winters became a major league umpire in 1990 and worked the World Series in 2002 and 2006.

Umpires Union Won't Fight Winters' Suspension for Profanity Aimed at Bradley

NEW YORK - The union for baseball umpires will not contest the season-ending suspension given to Mike Winters for using a profanity aimed at San Diego's Milton Bradley last weekend. The World Umpires Association issued a contrite statement Thursday and union spokesman Lamell McMorris said the WUA would not challenge the penalty handed down by Major League Baseball a day earlier. "I've spoken with Mike Winters, and he sincerely regrets what happened on the field that day," McMorris said. "Sometimes, regrettable situations just come out of nowhere and spiral out of control, and everyone involved later wishes that the entire thing can be undone and everyone can go back to the beginning and start over. Unfortunately, this is not one of those situations. But we wish the Padres well on the remainder of their season, and we look forward to having Mike back on the field next year." McMorris said Winters does not plan to telephone Bradley, who tore a knee ligament when Padres manager Bud Black spun him to the ground to keep him from going after the umpire during Sunday's 7-3 loss to Colorado in San Diego. Bradley had knee surgery Thursday in Cincinnati to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus in his right knee. Winters will not work during the post-season, a baseball official said. He umpired during last year's World Series and would have been in line to work a league championship series this season. San Diego claimed Winters baited Bradley, who has had a volatile temper in the past, into the confrontation.

Baseball: Finding of Umpire Bias is Small but Unsettling

By Alan Schwarz
August 19, 2007 Game officials have been quite the topic of discussion lately, what with the former National Basketball Association referee Tim Donaghy pleading guilty to two felony charges pertaining to gambling. But as salacious as explicit association with bettors has been, it was implicit association - the tendency for people in split-second interactions to favor members of their own race - that drew the attention of some prominent economists. The day before Donaghy's plea, four academics released a study that found that Major League Baseball umpires called strikes at different rates depending on a pitcher's ethnicity. Specifically, an umpire will - with all other matters like game score and pitcher quality accounted for - call a pitch a strike about 1 percent more often if he and the pitcher are of the same race. The analysis was conducted by Christopher Parsons, an assistant professor of finance at McGill University; Johan Sulaeman, a graduate student at the University of Texas; Michael Yates, an assistant professor of finance at Auburn University; and Daniel Hamermesh, a professor of economics at the University of Texas. Their work was spurred by the release of a similar paper in May, in which an Ivy League professor and graduate student found that primarily white NBA refereeing crews whistled fouls (again, all else being equal) more frequently against black players than against white players. The variance in baseball was quite small, even smaller than basketball's. But its mere existence - too great for randomness to excuse - was met with wonder by those who study implicit association, a usually subconscious racial bias found in real estate sales, taxi pickups and other nonathletic areas. "In sports, we can capture human behavior that is hard to quantify in other areas of society," said J. C. Bradbury, an economist at Kennesaw State University near Atlanta. "We can then ask questions like: Why is it there? Can we fix it?" Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the baseball paper is its claim that the strike-calling variance was not present in games overseen by QuesTec - the computerized camera system that baseball uses in a dozen parks to scrutinize and improve umpire performance. "The umpire knows he's going to be evaluated - he behaves differently, apparently," Hamermesh said. Bradbury described it in the economic vernacular: "When the price of discrimination is higher, you see less of it." QuesTec's apparent influence did not seem to surprise Steve Trachsel, a veteran pitcher with the Baltimore Orioles. He said he had seen no difference in how white and black umpires called his pitches, but did say that QuesTec did alter umpire behavior. "I've been told by the umpire that because there's QuesTec today, they can't give you that pitch," Trachsel said. "You know what kind of zone you're going to have when QuesTec is there." The paper on the umpires examined more than two million pitches thrown by starting pitchers from 2004 through 2006, during which only 38 percent of the games featured a team with the apparent benefit of having its pitcher match the race of the umpire while its opponent's did not. (Primarily, this occurred because 71 percent of the starting pitchers and 91 percent of the umpires were white.) Under such conditions, the team with the advantage received about one extra strike call a game. Did that strike matter? Very rarely, because it generally would need to come in a pivotal situation - such as when the score was tied, or there was a man on base or the count was perhaps one ball and one strike and the difference between a ball and a strike would lead to a shift of 300 points in the average batter's on-base plus slugging percentage. A reasonable estimate is that a team enjoying 162 straight games of this advantage would win maybe one or two extra games. The discovery of mild bias is slightly different than the one regarding basketball fouls, Hamermesh said, because the nature and frequency of umpires' decisions leads to a purer data set. "Nothing absolutely requires a basketball official to make a foul call - a lot of the time, the official can make no call at all," Hamermesh said. "An umpire has to call a ball or a strike if the pitch isn't swung at. It removes a lot of the choice to not make a choice at all." Hamermesh and his colleagues found that heightened scrutiny beyond QuesTec also appeared to dampen the ball-strike variance. It disappeared when the at-bat reached three balls or two strikes, a particularly pivotal state. It also decreased as the stadium grew more full, implying that the game was of larger significance.

Minor League Umps, MLB Clash Over Checks
Refusal to sign release could mean official won't be promoted

Aug 10, 2007 NEW YORK - If a minor league umpire refuses to allow Major League Baseball to perform credit checks, it might cost him a job in the big leagues.

Minor league umpires, just like their big league colleagues, are clashing over expanded background checks that the baseball commissioner’s office wants to perform in the wake of the NBA’s referee betting scandal. Members of the Association of Minor League Umpires are employed by the Professional Baseball Umpire Corp., an offshoot of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues. “An AMLU member may decline our request that he sign the release and authorization, but MLB is free to consider such refusal when deciding which umpires to select to perform temporary services for MLB and which umpires to hire for permanent employment once a position opens at the major league level,” MLB senior vice president Frank Coonelly wrote in a letter to the umpires’ lawyer on Wednesday. Coonelly said the umps will be treated “just as we do with any other applicant or contractor.” Minor league umps claim MLB won’t meet with them. “We have not refused to go along with the so-called background checks, but MLB has not been very forthcoming with the details of their plan; in fact, they’ve flat-out refused to talk to us, much less answer our questions,” AMLU president Shaun Francis said in a statement Friday. Francis added in an e-mail to umps: “Will a bounced check or a college bar fight be sufficient grounds for the MLB denying you employment? We really don’t know the answer because MLB won’t talk to us.” Coonelly wrote Wednesday to umpires’ lawyer Robert Weaver and said he is willing to discuss the matter. Coonelly said Weaver failed to call him and wrote another letter Friday inviting Weaver to call.

Longtime NL umpire Shag Crawford dead at age 90

Longtime major league umpire Shag Crawford, patriarch of a family of prominent sports officials, died Wednesday. He was 90.
Jerry Crawford became a big league umpire in the mid-1970s, around the time his brother, Joey, became an NBA official.
Born Henry Charles Crawford, Shag called more than 3,000 games as a National League umpire from 1956-75. He worked the World Series three times, the NL championship series twice and handled three All-Star games.
Crawford, one of the founders of the umpires' union, ended his active career in 1975 after getting into a dispute with baseball over the rotation of umpires in the World Series.
Crawford, who raised his family in the Philadelphia area, worked the first game at Veterans Stadium in 1971. He stood with son Jerry at home plate when the lineup cards were presented before the final game at the ballpark in 2003.
Jerry Crawford said his father died at an assisted living facility in suburban Philadelphia. "For someone who was going to be 91 in August, he was in pretty good health for a long time," Crawford said by telephone.  "When we were young, my brothers and my sister would go watch my dad work," Jerry Crawford said. "I'm sure that had something to do with what we did."

My Trip to The Show (Part II)

Two springs after his cameo as a Blue Jays outfielder, SI's Tom Verducci was back in the bigs, this time as an umpire for an Orioles-Red Sox game. All he had to be was perfect. (And what manager, player or fan would ever believe that?)

"You're expected to be perfect the day you start, and then improve."
-- Ed Vargo, NL umpire supervisor, 1985

By Tom Verducci
March 28, 2007

Embarrassment. Injury. Blunt force trauma. Estate planning. The mind quickly accelerates the possibility and the amplitude of catastrophe when you are standing on the infield grass, as I am, 75 feet in front of Boston Red Sox slugger Manny Ramirezwhile he bats with a runner on first base. No infielder ever would be so foolish to put himself this close to the potential harm of a Ramirez line drive, not even armed with world-class hand-eye coordination, a fielder's glove and a protective cup -- all of which, as I am most acutely aware, I do not possess at this moment..

I am a major league umpire -- for one day anyway, March 23, working a spring training matinee between the Red Sox and the Baltimore Orioles in Fort Myers, Fla. Leaving the observational safety of sports writing, I have been granted permission by Major League Baseball to experience the pressure, the difficulty and the thanklessness of risking life, limb and public humiliation in front of thousands of people conditioned to dislike you. I am assigned the same spring rotation as my full-time brethren: three innings at third base, followed by three at second and three at first. The baseball we hold dear is a benign, leisurely sport, a "noncontact" pursuit in which we cherish its sweetly proportioned empty spaces. The interlude between pitches. The flanks in the alignment of fielders. The 90 feet between bases. The flight of a thrown or batted baseball offers elegant interruption to the spatial symmetry.

Working from the interior of the infield, however, reveals the power and speed of the game. It's the difference between observing a funnel cloud from a safe distance on the ground and flying a research plane into the vortex of a tornado. "I tell all the young umpires that come up from the minors, 'Expect a close play every time,'" says Tim Tschida, 46, my crew chief who is working home plate this game. "[The play's] only routine here after it's over. That ball three steps to the right of the shortstop? They don't get to that ball in the minors and here they might throw the guy out. Middle infielders get to more balls up the middle that minor leaguers would never get to -- and not only get to them, but turn them into double plays. I tell the young guys, 'Don't give up on anything.'"

My proximity to Ramirez, who is poised in that familiar asp-like, coiled stance, is gripping, but the responsibilities of the job rattle around in my head, like marbles tumbling in a dryer. I've got to keep watch on the Orioles' pitcher, Erik Bedard, for a possible balk, the Sasquatch of rules violations for its difficulty to observe. (I've already missed one by Boston starter Curt Schilling, but so, too, did the rest of the crew.) I must make all calls at second base, which is over my right shoulder (including a stolen base attempt or a force play, which is the most commonly missed call by umpires), and possibly at third base if the umpire there, Brian O'Nora, leaves his post to track a ball hit to the outfield.

I must also know the rule book and the grounds rules with absolute certainty, a weakness of mine exposed during a mild argument the previous half inning with Boston right fielder J.D. Drew(who had no clue he was pleading his case to a sportswriter until I told him the next day). And one more thought -- the mother of all marbles. Being an umpire is like being a jet pilot, a skydiver or a sword swallower: You're expected to be perfect every time, and if you do screw up it's obvious to everyone. Nothing less than flawless is acceptable. I must get it right.(who had no clue he was pleading his case to a sportswriter until I told him the next day). And one more thought -- the mother of all marbles. Being an umpire is like being a jet pilot, a skydiver or a sword swallower: You're expected to be perfect every time, and if you do screw up it's obvious to everyone. Nothing less than flawless is acceptable. I must get it right.

"God knows if you don't have the mental aptitude for this, you'd ask, 'What are you doing?'" says Fieldin Culbreth, another crew member. "If you're right, nobody's coming in and patting you on the back. If there are 10 close plays and you get 10 exactly right, they're booing you anyway. The only people who will say, 'Good job' are the other three guys in the [locker] room with you. The teams aren't going to say, 'Hell of a job.' ESPN's not going to say, 'Watch this umpire!' Here's the difference: The players are trying to make a play to get onn SportsCenterSportsCenter. We're trying our damnedest to stay off it."

I trained long (O.K., two days with Tschida and Culbreth) and hard (kicking back watching games in the Florida sun) for this gig. Ominously, the most important advice given to me by the umpires was to avoid utter disaster. My Umpire 101 syllabus looked like this:

1. Don't blow out the knee of Baltimore shortstop Miguel Tejadaby watching the flight of a pop-up near the third base linee.

The fielder, who is also looking up, is likely to plow into the umpire, whose proper course of action is to first look for and avoid the fielders. "You getting hurt is one thing," Culbreth says. "The player getting hurt? Now there's a problem." 2. Beware of balls that explode. That's umpire terminology for what happens when you try to track a ball as it passes directly over your head, causing you to lose sight of it. 3. Don't chase down a batted or thrown ball; that's the players' job.

Don't laugh; it's happened. Former major leaguer Ron LeFloreflunked umpire school in 1988 for his instinctive reaction to play the ball like the outfielder he once was rather than getting into proper position..

4. Don't get spun around by line drives hit directly at you; you'll fall on your butt or, worse, get pegged there.4. Don't get spun around by line drives hit directly at you; you'll fall on your butt or, worse, get pegged there.

Culbreth recalls the time that no sooner had he remarked that he had never seen Jeromy Burnitz hit a line drive than Burnitz nailed first base umpire Terry Craftin the posterior. "It went up one side of his [butt] and down the other,"" Culbrethhsays..

5. Make sure your fly is zipped. Basically, the job comes down to this: If I can quit worrying long enough about wiping out5. Make sure your fly is zipped. Basically, the job comes down to this: If I can quit worrying long enough about wiping out Tejada, about baseballs that either explode, tempt me to field them or put me on my can, and about keeping my pants on properly, then all I need to do is nail every single call. Great.

"Umpiring is a gift," says ump Tim Timmons, 39, who also assisted in my training, "like the hitter who has the skill to hit that 90-mph slider or the pitcher who can do things with a baseball no human being should be able to do. Those are real gifts, and so is umpiring. You can't teach instincts.""

Major league umpires are, in fact, closer to perfect than you might imagine. There were 167,341 at bats last season over 2,429 games. According to the 2006 "Umpiring Year in Review," a report put together by MLB officials, the men in blue made only 100 incorrect calls, excluding balls and strikes (and in that discipline they were judged to be 94.9% accurate). Not once did a club protest a game. (A protest can be filed only if a team believes umpires misapplied the rules.) For the privilege of having to be perfect, umpires spend about 200 days a year on the road, hear the same lousy jokes in every ballpark about their eyesight or familial heritage, and routinely get second-guessed by critics watching repeated super slow, frame-by-frame replays in high definition from multiple camera angles. Yet major league umpiring jobs (of which there are 68) open up these days about as infrequently as those on the Supreme Court. What kind of person would love a job in which you get noticed only for your mistakes? "I've always said there's no player, no fan, no manager and no umpire who could ever be as hard on me as I'll be," says Culbreth. "The fans can boo and throw stuff, and managers can scream and holler and get ejected, and they'll never get to me like I will. The part that bothers me the most is people think we miss a call, change our clothes, get in a station wagon, go have a cheeseburger and go home. That's just not how it is. If people knew how much we cared ... they wouldn't be able to comprehend how much it bothers us to find out that we are wrong."

Schilling and Bedard are throwing so well that my three innings at third base pass without incident. The best action I get is a conversation with Boston third baseman Mike Lowell about April weather, and a Manny-being-Manny moment when, as Ramirez runs to leftfield, he looks at me with wild-eyed glee and chortles, "Heeeey! Que pasa?!" I get no appeal calls on check swings by left-handed batters, an especially tricky call for umpires because the rule book is not explicit about what exactly constitutes a swing.

Says Culbreth, laughing, "Just remember, if it's David Ortiz, he didn't [swing]. Trust me. After you say he did, he'll tell you. He'll faint. If I could hit with his check swings I might have gotten drafted.""

According to Major League Baseball's review, in 2006 umpires missed a call in the field only once every 12.2 games. Force plays (43 mistakes), tag plays (14) and steals (12) were the only categories in which umpires missed 10 or more calls the entire season. Video replay, however, is just around baseball's corner, at least in a limited scope. Baseball is studying the possibility of using it to assist in making home run calls -- fair or foul, and whether or not the ball cleared the wall or designated home run line. Such calls have been made more difficult by modern ballpark designs, which put fans, architectural elements and billboards closer to the action. "If we don't address this, there will be a major controversy and that's how replay gets in the door," Tschida says. "Last year our crew in the first month had five home run calls where we had to get together [to discuss them]. I was thinking, Are we snake bit? So I started keeping track. We had 43 home runs where the ball came back on the field. It's not supposed to happen, but it happens when non-baseball people are designing fields."

I have the pleasure of calling a clean, no-doubt home run by Red Sox catcher Jason Varitekin the fifth, but it's during those middle innings, when I am stationed at second base, that the inner game of umpiring becomes dangerous. The second base umpire is the lead dancer of the four-man ballet. I must run into the outfield on balls hit from gap to gap with nobody on base, with the third base umpire rotating to second and the home plate ump rotating to third. "Once you leave, don't stop,"" Culbrethhinstructs.instructs.

However, in the fourth, I am positioned in the interior infield because there's a runner at first base -- "Once in, always in" is the rule with runners on -- and I make the mistake of chasing a ball hit into the right centerfield gap by the Orioles' Jay Gibbons. It's a blunder most fans would never notice, but understanding the umpires' pursuit of perfection, it rankles me. Indeed, I'm later told that umpire supervisor Marty Springstead, watching the game from the press box, exclaimed, "Uh-oh, too many umpires in the outfield."

The next batter, Kevin Millar, also drives a double into the same gap. The ball rolls to a stop at the bottom of the fence and is returned to the infield by centerfielder Wily Mo Peña. That play will prompt Drew, after the inning ends, to stop next to me on his way to the dugout..

Drew lifts his arms out to his sides and says to me, "Hey, what's the rule on the ball that wedges under the fence?" I can tell he's very serious and mistakes me for an actual umpire. This is not good. "Uh, did it go under the fence at all?" I ask in an attempt to avoid his question. "Because if it goes under the fence it's a dead ball even if he fishes it out." "No," Drew says, more impassioned this time. "The ball got stuck between the bottom of the fence and the ground. What's the ruling?" "The ball's in play unless it goes completely under the fence," I reply, in full filibuster mode as I return to the under-the-fence diversion. "No, not under the fence," Drew says again, more confused than annoyed about not getting a direct answer from an umpire. "What's the ground rule here on a ball stuck under the fence?"

I've tap-danced long enough for Culbreth to rescue me as he joins us from his station at first base. I haven't been this happy to see an umpire since Leslie Nielseninn The Naked Gun. Culbreth explains that the ball's in play as long as Peña chooses to play it; if the ball's wedged, Peña can raise his hand to signal a stuck ball. Then the ruling is an automatic double and two bases to any base runner.

"Yeah," I say to Drew, suddenly summoning an authoritative tone with a straight face. "Tell him next time to just raise his hand and we'll stop the play." I made sure to find Drew the next morning at a Red Sox workout. "That was you?" he says in amazement. "I came back into the dugout after that and looked at the list [of umpires]. I knew the other three guys, but they didn't have you on it. So I figured you were some Double A umpire they called up to replace somebody."

There's more trouble in the fifth, the same kind of trouble, like the undertow of the ocean, that mostly goes unseen. Baltimore's Corey Pattersonwhistles a line drive att Culbrethh, the kind of missile that can put an umpire embarrassingly on his butt or whack him there..

Schilling pitches out of the jam, but only after he gets away with his covert balk. Stepping off the mound to get a new signal from Varitek, Schilling, a right-hander, moved his left foot slightly back, which technically begins his delivery. Tschida sees something amiss, but in the moment he processes the information, he grants a request for time from Varitek. ("Oh, I balked," Schilling will say the next day.) After the inning, Culbreth still is thinking about Patterson's line drive. "That one I don't feel great about," he tells me. (Amazingly, according to the MLB report, umpires missed a total of three fair-foul calls all of last season.) "I think I got it right, but sometimes you feel less than great about it." "I thought you had it right," I tell him. "Was there chalk?" "No, it didn't hit chalk," he says, "but here's the thing: If you ever have some doubt in your mind, you're better off calling it fair than foul. That's because, if another umpire had a better look and comes in and says, 'No, I had it foul,' then you can just return the base runner and the batter continues to hit. But once you call it foul, everybody stops; so if another umpire has it fair, what can you do? You can't just make up where everybody goes." "You had it right," I tell him. Says Schilling, "It was foul by three or four feet. Wasn't even close."Culbreth still is thinking about Patterson's line drive. "That one I don't feel great about," he tells me. (Amazingly, according to the MLB report, umpires missed a total of three fair-foul calls all of last season.) "I think I got it right, but sometimes you feel less than great about it." "I thought you had it right," I tell him. "Was there chalk?" "No, it didn't hit chalk," he says, "but here's the thing: If you ever have some doubt in your mind, you're better off calling it fair than foul. That's because, if another umpire had a better look and comes in and says, 'No, I had it foul,' then you can just return the base runner and the batter continues to hit. But once you call it foul, everybody stops; so if another umpire has it fair, what can you do? You can't just make up where everybody goes.""You had it right," I tell him. Says Schilling, "It was foul by three or four feet. Wasn't even close."

"We're looking right down the line from the dugout," reliever Mike Timlinsays. "It was foul."says. "It was foul."

Culbreth gets another adventure straight out of the Umpiring 101 syllabus: a foul pop-up into a swirling wind that confuses Millar, the Orioles' first baseman. Culbreth is trying to stay out of the way of Millar, who is circling wildly, as if dizzy. Culbreth is doing his best to zig whenever Millar zags. It's a comedic and ungraceful pas de deux, the punch line coming when the ball plops on the warning track closer to Culbreth than to Millar. Second baseman Brian Robertslooks at me and we both are laughing. So, too, is Tejada, who yells, "Hey, Kevin, I can't wait to see that on bloopers!" Millar, who otherwise spends his time at first base yelling mock insults to his former Red Sox teammates as they hit, or trying to bait me into making appeal calls from second base on ridiculously meager check swings, has to laugh himself..

Here it comes: a close call I will have to make at first base that will impact the game. Boston, trailing 2-1, has runners at first and second with no outs in the seventh when Lowell hits a grounder to second base. Baltimore will try to turn a double play, so I position myself for the call. The throw from Tejada to Millar bounces into the first baseman's glove. It's a close play, but I have Lowell out, the bang of the ball hitting the glove barely preceding the bang of the foot upon the bag. (The umpires' adage is that a blind man could umpire at first base.) The rally is virtually snuffed by the call. Suddenly there's this swell of noise from the Red Sox crowd, a strange mix of excitementand apoplexy. Is it directed at Lowell? At me? I thought I had it right, but for one anxious moment, I'm not sure. Did I blow it that badly? No, wait. I flush the doubt. Lowell was out. I'm pretty sure of it. That plaintive groan is the sound of disappointed partisanship. Major league umps are tone deaf to such noise. "They're biased," Culbreth says of fans. "The only time you might hear something is if it's really original, which almost never happens. I still remember one time when I was in Double A. There was this middle-aged lady. She must have been in her 50s, pushing 60. She gets up and she yells at me, 'Why don't you pull down your pants, bend over and try your good eye.' Nothing's original. But that was." Says Tschida, "There was one time years ago when I bought a patent leather belt and thought it looked just great. Well, I wear it in Yankee Stadium for the first time, and those people know how to wait so that you can hear them. This one guy, a real New Yorker, gets up and yells, 'Hey, Tschida. How can you make a call like dat wearin' a patent leathah belt like dat? And hey, what accessories came with dat?' As soon as the game was over, I go in the locker room, rip off the belt and throw it in the garbage." Boston ties the game in the last of the eighth. It is only spring training, but I'm struck by the buzz in the crowd, the effort by both teams to win the game -- to preserve the tie, Baltimore intentionally walks Ortiz, who spits epithets all the way to first -- and it hits me smack in the gut: I am umpiring first base in a game in which the Red Sox and the Orioles are tied at 2 headed to the ninth. Good Lord, if this is Fort Myers, what must the late innings of a World Series game feel like? The real umpires want the responsibility of the big call. It's what drove them through one of the two feeder umpire schools to professional baseball (94% of the students don't even graduate to the next step, a recommendation to an evaluation course), through the minor leagues (earning between $1,800 and $3,400 a month) and earning that big league job with the $87,859 starting salary, the first-class air travel, the four weeks of in-season vacation and the $363.48 per diem for food and lodging. Me? I'm praying neither the baseball nor my head explodes. "This is my 22nd year," Tschida says. "When I'm 55 that will be my 30th, and if I feel good I'll keep going. I'll do it as long as I can. Few people in this job just retire when retirement age hits. Mostly, we do it until it becomes physically difficult to do it. Until we can't." I know, especially deployed at first base, I could very well be involved in the outcome of a big league game. "If it goes extra innings," O'Nora tells me, "we don't rotate. You stay at first.

I remind myself of what O'Nora told me in the middle innings, when I was so eager to make a call I'd give the out signal as quickly as a fly ball thwacked into an outfielder's glove: Don't hurry. It's nothing until you call it. Even a big league outfielder might drop a ball, and you wouldn't look too sharp with your fist in the air and the ball on the ground. Slow down the game. It's exactly what the better players do as the tension builds.

It's the bottom of the ninth, and Boston's Alex Ochoa lifts a routine fly ball to centerfield. Just as I sneak a peek to watch the catch before I make sure Ochoa touches first base, Orioles centerfielder Adam Stern, fighting wind and sun, flat drops the ball. O'Nora, coolly patient, gives the no-catch call. Ochoa reaches second base. He advances to third on a groundout to second base -- my last call, an easy one -- and scores the winning run on a single by Kevin Cash through a drawn-in infield..

The four of us, the umpires, depart the field through the same tunnel as the Orioles at the far end of the visiting dugout. It's been a good day. I did not disable any ballplayers. I stayed off my butt. My fly is up. Our dressing room is on the right, the Orioles' clubhouse directly across the narrow hallway on the left. As I walk into our room I hear a short, loud crash from the Baltimore clubhouse, followed by an even louder shout of "F---!" Not two seconds later, the first words out of Tschida's mouth are these, softly: "I think Schilling balked." His face is riddled with disappointment. "We get paid to see that," he says. "I didn't see that. We will Opening Day." Tomorrow is another day, another game. Tomorrow they'll be perfect.

MLB, Union Announce New Labor Deal

10/25/2006
By Barry M. Bloom
ST. LOUIS -- Call it the golden age of the sport. Call it economic parity. Call it what you will, but call it labor peace for Major League Baseball for the next five years.

Reflecting the health of the sport and unprecedented partnership between the sides, Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig and players association head Don Fehr jointly announced Tuesday one of the longest labor contracts in baseball history, a five-year deal through 2011. The agreement, signed late Monday night and announced Tuesday during a press conference at Busch Stadium in the hours before Game 3 of the World Series between the Cardinals and Tigers, must be ratified by the owners and the players. That is considered a formality. The deal includes adjusted formulas for revenue sharing, a higher threshold for the competitive balance tax, a revamped draft for amateur players, changes in draft-pick compensation for free agents and the elimination of long-standing deadline dates for Major League free agents, giving teams added flexibility in re-signing their players. It also extends the current drug policy, amended for the second time last year, from the end of the 2008 season to the length of the new agreement. "This is the golden era in every way," Selig said. "The economics of our sport have improved dramatically, and that's good. The last agreement produced stunning growth and revenue. I believe that five years from now people will be stunned at how well we grew the sport. This agreement encourages that, and I'm very confident that it will produce the same results that we're all concerned about and that I certainly am -- not only economic growth, but parity."

Baseball is seemingly already there. When this World Series is over, the Fall Classic will have produced seven different champions since 2000, an unprecedented run in major sports. Gross revenue has increased to $5.2 billion this season from $1.2 billion in 1992, the first year Selig took over as Commissioner. The average player salary has increased to $2.8 million this season from about $1 million in 1992. Both are records. The lack of acrimony in the talks also signaled what both sides said is a new era in labor peace. The agreement was completed two months before the Dec. 19 deadline and was marked by a virtual news blackout as the sides negotiated in private, and without rancor.

"What was really different this time was that the approach to bargaining, while it had its difficult moments, was very workmanlike, very pragmatic, very day‑by‑day," Fehr said. "There was a shared desire to see if we could resolve this well ahead of time and if we could get it done by about the time of the World Series, before the free agency declaration period began." The 2002 talks in New York went right to the edge of an Aug. 30 strike deadline called by the players, and for months beforehand the two sides were conducting independent conference calls and press conferences. But four years ago, the contract was settled for the first time without a strike or lockout. There had been eight such work stoppages from 1972 to the strike that wiped out 1994 postseason and delayed the opening of the following season. "They were without the usual rancor. They were without the usual dueling press conferences. They were without the usual leaks," Selig said. "In other words, these negotiations were conducted professionally, with dignity and with results. These negotiations were emblematic of the new spirit of cooperation and trust that now exists between the clubs and the players." The success of this year's World Baseball Classic, a joint venture that will be staged again in 2009 and every four years thereafter, was also credited with laying the foundation for teamwork between the sides. "That was the first really dramatic foray we made and we made it together," Selig said. "We made it as partners. They were wonderfully cooperative and it produced an event that exceeded everybody's finest expectations. So I would say that it was a great precursor to what happened here." Much of the new agreement mirrors the old agreement. Revenue sharing was slightly modified. The competitive balance tax was altered with the threshold rising from $136.5 million this year to $178 million in 2011. The winning league in the All-Star Game will continue to get home-field advantage in the World Series. The debt-service rule, in which clubs cannot borrow to pay existing debt, remains the same. The Commissioner's discretionary fund stayed at $10 million a year. But there were new facets to the deal. The Dec. 7 and Jan. 8 deadlines for free agents to re-sign with their former teams were eliminated, allowing clubs more flexibility to retain their players. Additionally, any player traded in the middle of a multi-year contract can no longer demand a trade. Clubs that can't sign early-round picks in the First-Year Player Draft will be compensated with comparable selections in the subsequent year's draft. Teams will also face a much shorter deadline to sign draftees, with all picks other than college seniors required to be signed by Aug. 15. Players will see the MLB minimum salary rise from its current $327,000 -- plus cost of living -- to $380,000 next year. After that it goes to $390,000 for 2008, $400,000 for 2009 and 2010, and $400,000 plus cost of living adjustments for 2011. And while the current drug-testing rules will be extended through the 2011 season, both sides said they would consider testing for the synthetic hormone, HGH (human growth hormone). "If a urine test is developed and scientifically validated and all the `i's' are dotted and 't's' are crossed, there is an understanding that we will adopt that test," Fehr said. "Blood tests we will talk about when one is validated. But as far as I know, and we check fairly frequently on this, there is not that testing available yet."

Minor league Umps Reach Agreement, End Strike

By RONALD BLUM, AP Baseball Writer
May 30, 2006

Minor league umpires settled their season-long strike, ratifying a six-year contract Tuesday that calls for a $100 monthly salary increase. Umps had said their salaries previously averaged $15,000 at Triple-A, $12,000 at Double-A, $10,000 in full-season A-ball and $5,500 in rookie leagues. As part of the new deal, per diems rise $3 to $28 at Triple-A, $25 at Double-A and $23 at Class A. They will rise gradually to $40 at Triple-A in 2011, $35 at Double-A and $30 at Class A. Umpires will return to work by June 12. They had been on strike since minor league seasons began April 6. "Our goal from the beginning of these negotiations was to obtain a fair contract," Andy Roberts, president of the Association of Minor League Umpires, said in a statement. "It has been a tough struggle, but an important one for our membership. Now it's time to get back on the field. The umpires are ready to work, and we look forward to the rest of the season." Umps and the Professional Baseball Umpire Corporation agreed to a contract April 27, but umpires rejected that agreement by a 2-1 margin on May 1. The sides resumed talks last Wednesday with the assistance of a federal mediator. "Late Friday, the AMLU made a proposal to settle the strike that PBUC agreed was acceptable," management lawyer George Yund said in an e-mail Tuesday.

Tension Over Umpiring Escalates

May 8, 2006

The Birmingham Barons, Double A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox, were pulled off the field by manager Chris Cron during the eighth inning of Saturday night’s game against the visiting Jacksonville Suns after the teams’ benches cleared three times. In the stands was David Wilder, director of player personnel for the White Sox. Wilder was quoted as saying he would complain to Southern League commissioner Don Mincher about the umpiring. “This has gotten out of control”, Wilder told the Birmingham News.

The events in Birmingham are just the latest in a series that have sparked comments from minor league officials about the quality of officiating being provided by replacement umpires hired to fill in for minor league baseball’s striking umpires. Following his ejection from a May 1 AAA International League game in Ottawa, Ottawa Lynx manager Dave Trembley described the umpiring as the “worst officiating I’ve ever seen in 20 years of professional baseball”, and “an embarrassment to the International League and an embarrassment to me.” Trembley was also quoted as saying that he warned International League President Randy Mobley about the replacement umpires last month. One day later, Bill Masse, manager of the AA Trenton Thunder, described the umpiring of a May 2
game with the Reading Phillies as “an absolute joke.” Masse was also quoted as saying that “Major League Baseball should be absolutely ashamed of themselves for letting this happen over freakin’ nickels.” On April 27 Tampa Bay Devil Rays prospect Delmon Young was suspended indefinitely by the International League for throwing a bat at a replacement umpire in a game the night before.

“Unfortunately for the managers, players and fans of minor league baseball, what we expected to happen is coming to pass”, said Andy Roberts, president of the striking Association of Minor League Umpires. “The replacement umpires don’t have the training and experience to work at this level of professional baseball, and it’s taking its toll.”

“We don’t condone fighting, and we certainly don’t condone anybody throwing a bat”, added Roberts, “but these incidents shouldn’t have happened. Professional umpires have the knowledge and experience to control things on the field. We also travel from city to city in every league, so a visiting team doesn’t have to worry about the effects of using home-town umpires.”

The Association of Minor League Umpires represents the approximately 220 umpires employed in 16 minor leagues across the United States and Canada. The umpires have been on strike since the start of the minor league season

Umpires Reject Contract Proposal

Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Members of the Association of Minor League Umpires (AMLU) rejected a proposed contract which would have ended their three-week old strike against minor league baseball. “The membership has spoken, and they have the final say”, said AMLU President Andy Roberts. “The negotiating committee and the leadership are ready to do what we have to do to win this struggle for the umpires.”

By a 2-to-1 margin, the umpires rejected the tentative proposal reached by negotiators for the two sides in talks facilitated by a federal mediator last week in Cincinnati. The proposed deal called for a single $100 per month salary increase for umpires, and a $2 per day increase in per diem in the 2006 season, with further increases in per diem spread over a six year contract term. Umpire pay currently starts at $1800 per month for the 2 1?2 month Rookie League season, and reaches a maximum of $3400 per month for the most senior umpire in a 5 month AAA season. Per diem ranges from $20 per day at the low levels to $25 per day at AAA. The salary and per diem have been unchanged since 1998.

Minor League baseball continues to use replacement umpires in the wake of the membership’s rejection of the proposed contract. No further negotiations are scheduled between the parties at this time. In a AAA International League game last night in Ottawa, Ottawa Lynx manager Dave Trembley spoke out about the quality of the replacement umpires after he was ejected. According to a report published in today’s Ottawa Sun, Trembley described the umpiring as the “worst officiating I’ve ever seen in 20 years of professional baseball”, and “an embarrassment to the International League and an embarrassment to me.” Trembley is also quoted as saying that he warned International League President Randy Mobley about the replacement umpires last month. Mobley is a member of minor league baseball’s negotiating committee. Lynx field coach Dallas Williams was quoted by the Sun as saying “those guys should be reffing hockey.”

Minor-League Umps Set to Reverse their Strike Call

By Pat MurrayApril 30, 2006

BUFFALO — Minor-league umpires are expected to be calling strikes rather than be on strike in the near future.

Striking minor league umpires reached a tentative agreement with management on a six-year contract and could be back by May 8 if the deal is ratified. More than 200 members of the Association of Minor League Umpires have been on strike since the start of the 2006 season.

The minor-league umps wanted an increase in their rather meager salaries. Last season, the average salary was $15,000 in Triple-A, $12,000 in Double-A, $10,000 in full-season Class A and $5,500 in short-season rookie leagues. The per-diem (meal money) was $25 in Triple-A, $22 in Double-A and $20 at all other levels.

Umpires who work in leagues that play full seasons receive health insurance for the entire year. Their lodging during the season and travel are also paid for by Minor League Baseball.

While the minor-league umpires are on strike, the minors have been using replacement umpires. The names of the umpires weren’t released to the media in an attempt to protect their identity and safety.

Pat O’Conner, chief operating officer for Minor League Baseball, said striking umpires have tried to intimidate replacement umpires through tactics such has harassing them during games and taking their pictures, putting them up on the AMLU’s Web site and identifying them as “scabs.” Some replacement umpires have even received death threats, O’Conner said.

“I am greatly disappointed,” O’Conner said. “Some of these tactics to me are beyond necessary. I hope everyone that does something illegal gets what they deserve.”

There were no major on-field disputes with the umpires until last week when Durham’s Delmon Young threw a bat that hit a replacement umpire in the chest after being called out on strikes in an International League game at Pawtucket. Young, who flung his bat end over end, said he did not intend to hit the umpire. Young, a top prospect of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays apologized Thursday after the International League suspended him indefinitely.

Buffalo manager Torey Lovullo said such an incident should never happen, replacement umps or not.

“It doesn’t matter who’s umpiring, that’s unacceptable,” Lovullo said. “Those guys (the umpires) aren’t try to do anything out of the norm, just give them the benefit of the doubt. But players get on edge, and when they do, they’re liable to do anything at any moment.”

Lovullo refrained from criticizing the umpires, although he did say there were some questionable calls when the Bisons played in Pawtucket.

“They’ve been very consistent,” he said of the replacements. “We came in with some very raw expectations, and they’ve been outstanding. For what level of baseball they’ve been umpiring they’ve given us their best effort.

“I don’t want to say anything negative about them because the games would not go on if they weren’t out here giving us their best effort as they have been.”

Jason Stein, a 31-year-old umpire in the Double-A Texas League, said he isn’t bothered so much by the quality of the umpiring. Rather, he thinks back to all of the hardships he has endured since he dropped out of college, borrowed $3,000 and went to umpiring school. “They didn’t earn the right to be here,” Stein said. “That’s what gets me.”
As of next week, it appears that the regular umpires will tell the replacements that they’re outta here.

Statement by the World Umpires Association

The World Umpires Association, which represents the major league umpires, fully supports our minor league umpire brothers and their union, the Association of Minor League Umpires, in their current struggle to protect their collective bargaining status, to achieve decent working conditions, and to obtain livable wages and realistic per diem.

As professional umpires, all of us understand the hardships of being an umpire in the minor leagues. Significant improvements in their working conditions and compensation have been overdue for more than a decade.

The minor umpires? requests are moderate and completely justified in light of the their skill and their vital role in preserving the integrity and character of professional baseball.

John Hirschbeck, President March 31, 2006

Below are Letters that were Penned by Several of the Current Minor League Umpires

March, 2006
Gentlemen,

I would like to ask you for a few minutes of your time to update or inform you on the Association of Minor League Umpires (AMLU) and our current negotiations with Minor League Baseball (MiLB) and Professional Baseball Umpire Corporation (PBUC).

As some of you may have already heard, our contract and collective bargaining agreement has expired and we have been in negotiations with MiLB/PBUC for the past three months. We are asking for better wages and living conditions for the umpires of today, and for those who will follow in our paths. To date, MiLB/PBUC and the AMLU have been unsuccessful on agreeing to a new contract. With that being said, the AMLU has made a decision not to attend spring training this year.

In a nutshell, minor league umpires have not had a pay raise in over TEN years. In fact, seven years ago there was actually a DECREASE in pay and a wage freeze put in place. Five years ago the minor league umpires formed an association and signed their first contract ever. It was believed to be a major step in the right direction, but as it turned out it gave MiLB almost deity-like power over the umpires. They have pushed us around for five years, and have treated us like dirt. It has come time for things to change, and this is the year for it to happen.

We are not asking baseball to make minor league umpires rich, but we are asking them to come up to level that will allow us to follow our career paths with affordable means - right now, the wages are not livable. The top AAA umpires currently make $14,000/season (give or take). Our per diem is $25/day at the highest level while the government allows for a MINIMUM of $40/day, with many of the MiLB cities listed closer to $50.

Some of you may be approached to either work games in spring training or even the regular season, as this has been happening recently in minor league cities throughout the country. As my fellow brothers on the field, and also as friends with whom I have had the pleasure of working with and getting to know over the past few years, I would ask that you take our situation into consideration if you are contacted. MiLB believes that they have a broad pool of talent to choose from to replace us in spring, and also in the event of a work stoppage. By agreeing to work in our stead, you would be denying us any hope of leverage in negotiations.

If you have not already read the numerous articles about our situation, you can visit the AMLU website (www.amlu.org) and view some of the articles there. Also, doing a Google search about minor league umpires and contracts or negotiations will produce a multitude of results. If, for whatever reason, you can’t find these articles and would like to read them, please feel free to contact me and I will forward them to you.

I hope this information helps and each of you better understand what we are trying to accomplish and that you will seriously consider standing behind our effort. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for umpires in the minor leagues. If we don't make a stand now, MiLB will never have to take us seriously and we will be pushed around forever.

If anyone has questions, comments, concerns or any information about contact that has been made by MLB or MiLB that they would like to share, I ask you please do not hesitate to get in touch with me, or with any of the other guys I will list at the end of this letter.

I can’t thank you all enough for taking the time to read through this and for any and all support that you can give.

Nick Nolde
Escanaba, MI Carolina League

A quick note on some of the other things that we are asking for and are being steadfastly denied…

- MiLB has hired international umpires. They are now saying that they will NO LONGER PAY FOR THEM TO TRAVEL to their assignments. That means that four Australian guys and two Japanese guys that are in short season (making approximately $5,400 for the season) will have to pay out of their pockets to get here from their home, which we all know costs no less than $1,000.

- We are asking MiLB to include ALL umpires in the health plan. Currently only umpires in full season leagues are covered, meaning that in the first couple of years umpires have NO HEALTH COVERAGE unless they pay for it out of their own pocket.

- We are asking for a scaled pay increase that is heavier at the upper levels. It would give rookie umpires a whopping $300/mo raise. We’re not asking for the world, yet MiLB is UNWILLING to budge.

One last thought to ponder. MiLB stated in the rounds of negotiations, “It’s not that we don’t have the money to give you, we just don’t want to.”

If you would like to email some of the other minor league umpires, these guys have offered to answer any questions that you may have.

Darren Hyman AAA Pacific Coast League
Brent Persinger AAA International League

(original letter by Tom Clarke)

A Response

Fellow officials,

I appreciate Alex sharing this letter with us. Some of us may have read the article in this month's Referee about the plight of the minor league umpires, as they try to scratch out a meager increase from the powers that be. Baseball has treated umpires as a necessary evil for many, many years. I remember a story from Tim Welke's minor league days. He recalled running late for a game with his partner. As they arrived late to the plate for ground rules, the home mgr. told them, "Imagine that, $3 million waiting on two cents!"

I'm not sure how successful the union will be, but I urge all my friends at the college level and perhaps even the high school level to just say "No" to any professional call or invitation. We do not belong in that environment, and it will only hurt the guys who are fighting for a better living in the professional ranks.

I appreciate your consideration.

Frank

  They're Out - Minor league Umpires Vote to Authorize Strike

NEWYORK (AP) -- Minor league baseball umpires voted Friday to authorize their first strike since forming a union in 2000 and said Class AAA members would not serve as fill-in major league umps until there is a contract.

The minor league umps, whose five-year labor deal expired in November, had previously voted not to work spring training games. The decision whether to strike will be made by the union's officers.

"Our goal all along has been to get a fair contract without a strike, and we still hope that we can get it done," said Andy Roberts, president of the Association of Minor League Umpires. "Our members have told us loud and clear, however, that they're prepared to strike if that's what it takes to get a fair contract."

The union represents about 220 umpires in 16 leagues. Management and the union have not met since Jan. 31, when the Professional Baseball Umpire Corporation made what the union termed management's final offer.

Class AAA umpires regularly work major league games during the regular season, filling in for big league umps who are injured or on vacation.

"We have our regular crews. If somebody gets injured and they're unwilling to work, we'll find somebody willing to work," said Rob Manfred, Major League Baseball's executive vice president of labor relations.

Pat O'Conner, chief operating officer of minor league baseball's governing body, the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

Roberts, an umpire with the Class AAA International League, had said the average salary for minor league umpires has remained unchanged for a decade. It is about $15,000 at Class AAA, $12,000 at Class AA, $10,000 in full-season A-ball and $5,500 in rookie leagues.

Umpires have asked for annual increases in a four-year contract. O'Conner has refused to comment publicly on negotiations.

Minor League Umpires Seek Better Conditions

Written by Doug Segrest
November 13, 2005

You love your job. It has perks. Most notably, it allows you to be part of the game you grew up with as a kid. So you're willing to do almost anything - 11-hour, all-night road trips, minimal pay, absence from your family for five months at a time - to chase a dream. You just want a little equity. Maybe a hint of respect. If you're former Birmingham-Southern College baseball players Andy Roberts and Brian Hale, you want more. Roberts, 31, is the president of the Association of Minor League Umpires, the coalition of men in blue who umpire professional games from Rookie League to Triple-A. Hale, 32, is the vice president. He's no longer on the job as an ump - the clock ran out on him in October. But he hasn't given up the fight.

``We're not trying to get rich," said Hale, the son of Jefferson County Sheriff Mike Hale. ``But given the travel, the pay, we just want it to be livable."

Right now, under the radar of ESPN, beyond the notice of most newspapers, a battle is under way. Roberts, Hale and Birmingham attorney Robert M. Weaver are negotiating with Minor League Baseball officials to improve the collective bargaining agreement that ended with the 2005 season. The AMLU, headquartered in Birmingham, isn't making pie-in-the-sky demands. But the union is fighting tooth-and-nail on issues that hit close to home to anyone who lives paycheck to paycheck: Salaries - The pay scale is the same as it was 10 years ago with one exception. First-year umpires in rookie ball make less than their 1996 predecessors. Umps are paid for five months and make, on average, a whopping $10,000 annually. Commuting - Baseball wants umpires to travel as a group and stay in the same hotel. But that means an umpire who lives in Cullman and works Southern League games in Birmingham or Huntsville must get permission to spend a few nights at home and commute to the games. Travel - The union wants to be involved in scheduling umpire rotations to cut down on needless road trips. One time last year, in the Triple-A International League, Roberts' crew worked a series in Ottawa and Hale's crew worked in Toledo. After all-night van trips, Hale's crew showed up the next night to work a series in Ottawa while Roberts' crew reported to - where else? - Toledo. Guidelines for on-field contact - Suspensions and penalties for players and managers who make physical contact with umpires vary from league to league. Umpires want concrete guidelines that outline sanctions up front. A database of managers and players who cross the line - Leagues could act with more impunity against repeat violators. Umpires would have more warning, as well. An increase in off days - Minor league men in blue get 8-10 off days an entire season. Only three (the Major League All-Star break) are consecutive. By contrast, big-league umps get five weeks. Roberts' goal of becoming a Major League umpire remains alive. But right now, his vision is more narrowly defined. Like Hale, all he wants is a little respect for the men in blue.

Umpires Turn Down $1.9M in Back Pay

By RONALD BLUM
Nov 16, 2005

NEW YORK - Baseball tried to give five umpires more than $1.9 million in back pay Tuesday, but they instructed their banks to refuse the payments, according to their lawyer. More than six years after a failed mass resignation led to a lawsuit that went all the way to the Supreme Court, the umpires and the commissioner's office are still fighting over an additional $718,817 in interest. Major League Baseball attempted to pay $525,607 to Joe West, $439,248 to Bill Hohn, $379,095 to Gary Darling, $301,453 to Larry Poncino and $297,162 to Larry Vanover, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press. The money was to cover lost salary and bonuses for 1999, 2000 and 2001 plus medical expenses, with a credit taken by management for $122,072 in estimated earnings by the five during that period. Management also made a $47,422 pension contribution for Poncino and a $42,368 contribution for Vanover. "These guys are going to get what they are entitled to, which is the back pay and interest," said Pat Campbell, the lawyer for the Major League Umpires Association. "That was a cheap move by baseball." The refused electronic payments are part of a nasty legal battle that initially cost 22 umpires their jobs. "It is regrettable that the MLUA's refusal to provide the information necessary to calculate the umpires' back pay for the last 10 months, after repeated requests that it do so, prevented the umpires from receiving their back pay earlier," management lawyer Frank Coonelly said. "Even after 10 months, the MLUA has provided only a small subset of the necessary information and, as a result, payments were made to umpires based on estimates. Our decision to make payments without the necessary information probably resulted in an overpayment to the umpires but we could not wait any longer for the MLUA to do its part." The Supreme Court on Jan. 10 declined to hear an appeal of the original case, but that didn't end the arguing. "They did not pay me what they owe me, and they did not pay Darling, Hohn, Poncino, or Vanover what they owed them," West said in an e-mail. In documents filed in federal court in Philadelphia on Oct. 27, the MLUA asked that commissioner Bud Selig and Major League Baseball be held in contempt. While the union claimed in its memorandum that "allowance for prejudgment interest is indisputable," management said "the MLUA did not seek prejudgment interest in arbitration and this court cannot resolve a remedial question that was not submitted to the arbitrator." The five umpires were rehired as part of a partial settlement in February 2002, an agreement that left courts to decide the issue of back pay. Six other umpires were rehired by baseball. Bruce Dreckman, Sam Holbrook and Paul Nauert gave up back pay when they were brought back in August 2002, and Bob Davidson, Tom Hallion and Ed Hickox agreed to drop claims under a deal this year.

Five Big League Umps Win Back Pay

01/10/2005

Five umpires' long battle to get back pay from Major League Baseball is over. The Supreme Court declined Monday to hear an appeal of a lower court ruling, largely ending nearly 5 1/2 years of litigation resulting from the resignation by 22 umpires late in the 1999 season. Gary Darling, Bill Hohn, Larry Poncino, Larry Vanover and Joe West will receive back pay for September 1999 and the 2000 and 2001 seasons. The five were rehired as part of a partial settlement of their suit in February 2002, a deal that left the issue of back pay to be decided by the courts. Six of the other umpires have been rehired by baseball. Bruce Dreckman, Sam Holbrook and Paul Nauert gave up their right to back pay when they were rehired in August 2002, and Bob Davidson, Tom Hallion and Ed Hickox will be brought back under an agreement reached last month in which they agreed to drop any claims. In May 2001, arbitrator Alan Symonette ordered baseball to rehire Darling, Hohn, Poncino, Vanover and West, as well as Drew Coble, Greg Kosc, Frank Pulli and Terry Tata. Coble, Kosc, Pulli and Tata were allowed to retire with back pay. The arbitrator's decision largely was upheld in December 2002 by U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III. The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Bartle's decision by a 2-1 vote in February 2004. December's deal gives severance pay to Jim Evans, Dale Ford, Eric Gregg, Mark Johnson, Ken Kaiser and Larry McCoy. The only remaining suit was filed by Richie Phillips, head of the Major League Umpires Association. Umpires replaced the MLUA with a new union, the World Umpires Association, in late 1999.

Fan Pleads Guilty to Attacking Ump

By Carrie Muskat
12/04/2003

CHICAGO -- The fan who attacked an umpire at a Chicago White Sox game this year pleaded guilty Thursday and was sentenced to up to 180 days of jail time and 30 months' probation. Eric Dybas pleaded guilty to a charge of aggravated battery in a public way during a hearing before Cook County Judge Joseph Kazmierski. Dybas, 25, of Bolingbrook, could have been sentenced to up to five years in prison. The incident occurred April 15 when Dybas charged onto the field during a White Sox home game against the Kansas City Royals and tried to tackle umpire Laz Diaz. Dybas was overpowered by Royals players before he could hurt the umpire. "It sends a message that running on the field of play is not 'I'll pay my fine and be home at night' type of thing. There are penalties," said Scott Reifert, White Sox director of public relations. "We think today's ruling is fair and it shows how embarrassing the (William) Ligue ruling was," Reifert said. Ligue Jr., got 30 months' probation when Judge Leo Holt sentenced him in August for the September 2002 attack that resulted in permanent hearing damage to Royals coach Tom Gamboa. Assistant State's Atty. Rich Keating called Dybas' sentence a fair one. "It not only sends a message to other would-be field charges but adequately addresses the incident itself," Keating said.

Commissioner's Statement on Drug Testing

11/13/2003
Baseball Commissioner Allan H. (Bud) Selig issued the following statement today regarding the announcement that drug testing for Major League Baseball players will begin next season:

"While I am pleased the results of the survey testing show that there is not widespread steroid use in baseball, I am also pleased that the drug testing program negotiated last year as part of the collective bargaining agreement with the Players Association heightened awareness to the dangers of improper drug use and now has allowed us the means to implement the new more comprehensive drug testing and enforcement program. Hopefully, this will, over time, allow us to completely eradicate the use of performance enhancement substances in baseball."

Program Testing for Major Leaguers for Steroids to Commence in 2004

Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association today announced results of the 2003 testing survey undertaken pursuant to the new Basic Agreement between the Clubs and Players. In 2003, 1,438 anonymous, unannounced tests were conducted. The number of positives was between five and seven percent, and therefore exceeded the threshold in the Basic Agreement for the institution of program testing. Under program testing, all players, starting March 2, 2004, will be subject to the same testing as occurred in the survey on a random basis, only this time the identity of those tested will be known, and positive test results could lead to discipline, including suspension of the offending player. All players on the 40-man rosters were randomly selected for testing at unannounced times in 2003. In addition, 240 players, also randomly selected, were tested a second time, again on an unannounced basis. Because of the double-testing of many players, the actual number of players on the 40-man rosters who tested positive (as opposed to the number of tests producing positive results) is not determinable. In announcing the test results, Rob Manfred, the Clubs' representative on the Health Policy Advisory Committee, which oversees the testing program, said: "We believe that last season's testing helped address the problem of steroid use and that the more vigorous testing and enforcement program next year will be a further step forward on this issue." Gene Orza, the Association's representative on the Committee, said: "Plainly, many of the widely publicized claims regarding steroid use in the sport turn out to have been grossly uninformed, as do the suggestions that the agreement with the Clubs was designed to avoid a penalty-based testing regimen. That said, we will continue to work with the Clubs in the administration of the new testing program in the same spirit of cooperation that marked the administration of the 2003 survey testing."

QuesTec 'Not Going Away'

By John Schlegel, 11/11/2003
PHOENIX -- Sandy Alderson has a simple statement about the future of QuesTec, the computerized system Major League Baseball used to evaluate umpires this season.  "It's not going away," Alderson said Tuesday while taking a break from the GM meetings at the Arizona Biltmore.

According to Alderson, MLB's executive vice president for operations, the system "has done wonders" and will remain a big part of the evaluation process for umpires. The system, used in 13 stadiums this year, is already doing its job by helping umpires call a uniform strike zone based on the rule book, Alderson said. "The fact is that I think what we've shown with the data we have is that the umpires are getting better and better at calling the strike zone and it's not getting to be a smaller and smaller strike zone in the sense games are getting longer -- they're not getting longer," Alderson said. The system has been controversial from the beginning, drawing a grievance from the World Umpires Association and absorbing one beating of a camera by Arizona pitcher Curt Schilling. Alderson says the more players find out what the system is being used for, the better understanding they have of it and the better appreciation they have for it in general. According to Alderson, data shows there was a higher percentage of strikes thrown in QuesTec parks vs. non-QuesTec parks, and ERAs were lower at QuesTec parks than non-QuesTec parks. "We're not looking to take away the pitch that's on the black," Alderson said, referring to the edge of the plate. "I think those who have gotten more information about it have come away with an understanding of what we're trying to accomplish." The system is used essentially as an education device but is also a factor in decisions on postseason assignments and annual evaluations, and could be used to determine crew chiefs.  Alderson sees QuesTec technology being a part of baseball for years. "In my view, this kind of technology is in its earliest stages of application," said Alderson, who offered other uses including deeper data on the pitches thrown (velocity, trajectory, etc.) for information purposes, as well as potential fantasy and video-game applications.  For now, Alderson will take what it's doing for improving umpiring. "I think what you'll find X number of years down the road is that you'll see the same degree of accuracy in respect to the strike zone from the use of a QuesTec type of system that we now see on the bases," Alderson said. Alderson said a full presentation on QuesTec will be made to the GMs later this week.

Umpires Say System Has Them Alter Calls

By MURRAY CHASS
May 29, 2003
Throughout baseball history, pitchers and hitters have adjusted daily to the strike zone idiosyncrasies of the home plate umpire. Now umpires are adjusting, too, depending on the site of the game, and they say their adjustments can influence the outcome of games.

The reason, four umpires said yesterday, is the QuesTec system that Major League Baseball uses to monitor umpires' calls of balls and strikes and to rate the umpires on the accuracy of their calls. The system is used in at least nine parks, including both in New York, and is expected to be in 13 parks as the season progresses. But, the umpires said, the strike zone created by the system varies from park to park, forcing them to alter their strike zones from park to park. The umpires say they can have yet another strike zone in the parks where they are not monitored. "It's having an effect on the game," said one umpire, who like all of the umpires who commented in telephone interviews did so only if they would not be identified.  "It's definitely a concern," another umpire said. Umpires have questioned the QuesTec system for the past year, but the commissioner's office has forced them to try to comply with the QuesTec strike zone. Umpires have been told that if at least 90 percent of their calls do not conform with QuesTec calls, they are guilty of below-standard umpiring. "I try to call the game I would normally call," one umpire said, "but I think about QuesTec every once in a while. When you start thinking, you're in trouble. The worst feeling an umpire can have is second-guessing yourself. That's what QuesTec does. Umpires say they are losing their confidence." Another umpire said he and his colleagues had to change their strike zones from QuesTec park to QuesTec park. "For years, you're reacting to what happens; you call what you see,'' he said. "In a QuesTec city, you say, 'What is the machine going to say?' not 'What was that pitch?' Pretty soon you're umpiring a video game, not a baseball game. It affects your mind-set of what you're doing out on the field." What makes the system worse, this umpire said, is that the strike zone, which is established by the computer operator, varies from park to park, from at-bat to at-bat with the same batter and sometimes even from pitch to pitch. Sandy Alderson, executive vice president for baseball operations under Commissioner Bud Selig, did not return a telephone call yesterday seeking comment, but on Tuesday he strongly defended the system, telling The Associated Press that "the umpires have never been more accurate and more consistent about the strike zone and the rule book than they are today."

The QuesTec system, which the World Umpires Association has challenged in a grievance that is scheduled to be heard in July, has come under public scrutiny since last Saturday night, when e Arizona pitcher Curt Schilling took a bat to one of the cameras through which the system operates at the Diamondbacks' Bank One Ballpark. His earned run average this season is 4.39 in six starts at home and 1.96 in three starts on the road.

Schilling will most likely be disciplined for his action, but he gained the gratitude of umpires and fellow pitchers who have come to believe that the system has affected umpires' pitch calls. "We hear it all the time," Al Leiter of the Mets said in Philadelphia before the Mets' game there last night. "There are a number of umpires saying: 'Al, I'm on the computer tonight. It's a computer night.' " Tom Glavine, also a Mets pitcher, said he had heard similar comments from umpires. Several umpires spoke of being forced to call a narrower strike zone in QuesTec parks. "I think that's unfair that they're under pressure to call a different game," Glavine said. "To me, either everybody has it or nobody has it. Whether or not it does anything, if there's even the slightest potential that because of it being somewhere, the game's going to be different versus it not being there, that's tough." Alderson said the system was easy to operate, but the umpires interviewed yesterday disagreed. They said the system's accuracy varied from operator to operator and depended on the way the operators calibrated the system and the way they set the strike zone from a snapshot taken as the first pitch to a batter was on the way to the plate. Because of the variations, one umpire said, umpires do not know what the dimensions of the strike zone were until 30 minutes after the game. "It's an exercise in frustration," he said, adding: "You spend your whole career trying to get good enough to be on the major league level and some guy comes along 30 minutes after the game and tells you based on a grainy photograph where the strike zone was." Because of the differences they say exist, the umpires said, they share information about the different parks where QuesTec is used. "It's human nature," one umpire said. "If a truck driver is going down the road and sees a cop, he lets everyone know there's a cop. You go to a QuesTec city and you pass on information about it." Another umpire said, "We also share the despair going from park to park."

Umpires Want Computerized Overseer Out

By MURRAY CHASS

The umpires union called yesterday for Major League Baseball to end its association with the company whose pitch-tracking system baseball officials use to monitor and evaluate umpires.

"Their presence is an embarrassment to the game of baseball," the World Umpires Association said in a seven-page statement, referring to QuesTec Inc. and its key official, Edward Plumacher.

The union acted after a report in The New York Times yesterday said that Plumacher had been disciplined in recent years by two stock regulatory agencies and the New York State attorney general's office. The company itself was fined twice in two years by the attorney general's office on charges of selling unregistered securities. "In baseball, the umpires are the judges," the union statement said. "Umpires enforce the rules and protect the integrity of the game. It is essential that anyone officially involved in evaluating the umpires — that is someone who is hired to judge the judges of the game of baseball — must have proven competence and well-tested integrity." Disciplinary action taken against Plumacher and the company, the union said, "shows that continued involvement of QuesTec Inc. could damage the reputation of baseball." Sandy Alderson, chief of baseball operations in the commissioner's office, and Rob Manfred, the clubs' chief labor lawyer, declined to comment on the union's statement, but they appear to have no intention of acceding to the union's demand. The union has feuded with the commissioner's office for three months over the computerized tracking of ball-and-strike calls. A lawsuit and two grievances are pending. The union initially protested the refusal of the commissioner's office to answer questions and supply information about the Umpire Information System. Now the union also challenges the accuracy of the system. "From reviewing QuesTec disks that have been issued to them this season," the union statement said, "umpires have found that the QuesTec U.I.S. was wrong more than 80 percent of the times when it disagreed with an umpire's balls-and-strikes calls." The union further said that umpires referred to "obviously wrong" calls as "QuesTec bloopers." The system, the union added, "misreads pitches high, low, inside and outside" and "is just not good enough to be used to evaluate professional umpires." "It is time to throw out the commissioner's gimmick!" the statement said. "Baseball is a game between men, not a game of man against the machine."

The union will very likely escalate its protests of the use of the QuesTec system when postseason umpiring assignments are made.

Product From Company With Checkered Past Monitors Umpires

By MURRAY CHASS and PATRICK McGEEHAN

The key official of the company that provides the computer technology that Major League Baseball uses to monitor and evaluate its umpires has been disciplined by two stock exchanges and the New York State attorney general's office, and the company itself has twice been fined by the attorney general's office.

The disclosure of the penalties, which have been made over the past eight years, promises to escalate the three-month dispute between baseball and the umpires over the monitoring system, which the umpires oppose.

Sandy Alderson, executive vice president for baseball operations in the commissioner's office, acknowledged that baseball did not investigate and was not aware of the background of Edward Plumacher and the company he is affiliated with, QuesTec Inc.

Plumacher is clearly the man in charge, but he has not been listed as an officer or a director of the Long Island company since the British Columbia Securities Commission, in 1998, barred him from holding office with a public company for eight years. The American Stock Exchange, in 1996, permanently barred him from working for a member of the exchange. Baseball did not know about those two penalties or that the New York attorney general's office had twice fined QuesTec, once in 1996, when Plumacher was the company's president, and again in 1998, charging that the company had sold securities that had not been registered. "I wouldn't say it's usual for baseball to run a security check on every company it does business with," Alderson said. "In fact, the company represented by Ed is one of a couple of partners in this venture. The technology we are primarily relying on is from another company." But asked on Friday if Plumacher's background concerned him, Alderson said: "Well, it's not positive information. On the other hand, we don't believe it should have a direct bearing on what he currently is doing for us."  Commissioner Bud Selig declined to comment. Larry Gibson, a lawyer for the World Umpires Association, disputed Alderson's statement that another company, Atlantic Aerospace, provides the system's technology, saying it only enhanced the system's graphics. "The umpires have been concerned that the commissioner's involvement with QuesTec could damage the reputation of baseball," Gibson said. "This new information confirms the umpires' worst suspicions." Fay Vincent, who preceded Selig as commissioner and also once served with the Securities and Exchange Commission, said disclosure of prior acts of a person or company was always important "so people can have knowledge of the background of people they're dealing with. It goes to integrity," he said. QuesTec entered into a five-year agreement with Major League Baseball in February 2001 to use the QuesTec Umpire Information System to track umpires' ball-and-strike calls. Baseball agreed to pay $520,000 for the use of the system, $30,000 for each park in which the system is installed and $200 for each game in which the system is used. The system is operating at eight parks this season, including Shea Stadium. The umpires have said that the system is faulty and that it does not accurately portray pitches and batters' strike zones. They further argue that the system should not be used to evaluate umpires or rank them for All-Star Game and postseason assignments. Baseball officials defend its accuracy and say they are not using it in any way that the umpires have not agreed to. The dispute has spawned a lawsuit by Major League Baseball against the union, two grievances by the union against baseball and a union demand for arbitration. The umpires also asked QuesTec to remove from its Web site statements that appear to be an endorsement by the umpires. The contract with baseball is signed by Plumacher as founder of the company. In the company's most recent filing with the S.E.C. last October, Plumacher is listed as a "significant employee" as well as marketing manager. Asked on Friday about his past problems with the stock exchanges and the New York attorney general's office, Plumacher said in a brief telephone interview, "I'll acknowledge that there have been problems in the past with the New York State attorney general's office, but there was never any acknowledgment of guilt." He abruptly terminated the call. In September 1996, the attorney general's Bureau of Investment Protection fined QuesTec $2,000, charging that it raised money from investors by selling securities that had not been registered. Plumacher, who was then president of the company, signed an "assurance of discontinuance," agreeing not to sell unregistered securities but not admitting that QuesTec ever had. Two years later, the same office fined QuesTec $20,000, charging that it had again sold unregistered securities. Investigators had gathered evidence that QuesTec had raised about $485,000 from investors in New York, Florida, Venezuela and elsewhere in late 1997 and early 1998. This time, Michael Russo, who had replaced Plumacher as president, signed the "assurance of discontinuance." Plumacher became an officer and director of QuesTec's predecessor company, Sportsight, in 1992, several months after he left Wall Street. But his job followed him. In August 1994, the American Stock Exchange charged Plumacher, who had been a broker with Shearson Lehman Brothers, with several violations of its rules. Among them, the exchange said, were unauthorized trades Plumacher made in clients' accounts and steps he took to hide those trades, such as changing clients' addresses to his own. Plumacher did not show up to defend himself at a disciplinary hearing. On Dec. 2, 1996, the exchange's disciplinary panel found that he had committed all of the violations. It censured him and permanently barred him from working for a member of the exchange.  The British Columbia Securities Commission took action against Plumacher about a year later, in January 1998. Sportsight's shares were listed on the Vancouver Stock Exchange. The British Columbia commission charged that for more than three years Plumacher did not file reports on his holdings of company stock, as the commission required. In February 1996 he then filed 32 of those reports, detailing more than 200 trades of his company's stock, according to a commission document. During that period, he had spent almost $1 million buying shares and reaped about $650,000 selling them. Plumacher was fined $1,600 for filing those reports late. He was fined twice more for filing other insider-holding reports late. But when the Canadian commission charged Plumacher in November 1997 with 34 counts of failure to file insider reports, it looked into his history with the American Stock Exchange and found that he had misrepresented it. In March 1996, Plumacher had given the Canadian commission a sworn response to a questionnaire. When asked if he had been "reprimanded, suspended, fined or otherwise disciplined, in any jurisdiction, by a self-regulatory organization," he answered no. He did not divulge the charges he faced from the American Stock Exchange. In January 1998, the commission fined Plumacher $5,000 and barred him from acting as a director or officer of QuesTec or any public company for eight years. Meanwhile, Plumacher and QuesTec were also running afoul of the New York attorney general. Besides paying the two fines two years apart, QuesTec agreed to notify the New York Department of Law within five days if Plumacher became either a director or officer of the company. Although Plumacher supposedly holds neither of those positions, on insider-trading reports he filed last year following the sale of 355,000 shares of QuesTec stock, he is listed as "officer." A spokesman for the attorney general's office was unable to determine yesterday if anyone had been notified of a change in Plumacher's status. With or without a named executive position, Plumacher is clearly the man in charge at QuesTec. The contract with Major League Baseball, for example, stipulates that "all notices, requests or communications" should be sent to him.

The company's S.E.C. filing a year ago said he oversees QuesTec's daily technical operations, sets up and coordinates new product installations and "attends to all of the company's financial and accounting functions."  QuesTec's technology has also been used for television coverage of baseball, tennis and golf.

3 Umpires Regain Jobs; Arbitration Filed Against Owners

August 15, 2002 
NEW YORK (AP) -- Three more of the 22 umpires who lost their jobs during a failed mass resignation in 1999 were rehired.

Paul Nauert, Bruce Dreckman and Sam Holbrook began working minor league games this week, the commissioner's office said Thursday. Baseball has rehired eight of the 22 umpires dropped following the mass resignation three years. Four others were allowed to retire with back pay. The three brought back Thursday had been out of baseball since Sept. 2, 1999. They replace Charlie Williams, Dan Morrison and Rocky Roe, who left the major league staff during the season on disability caused by on-field injuries. Also Thursday, the umpires' union kept up its fight with owners. Angry that management has refused to provide information on a computer system that analyzes balls and strikes, the union filed a demand to have the American Arbitration Association resolve the dispute. "We need to know what it can do and what its capabilities are, and then how its capabilities can translate to baseball," said Joel Smith, a lawyer for the World Umpires Association. Thursday's rehirings bring the major league staff to 67, one short of the minimum set in the union's labor contract. The mass resignation was orchestrated by Richie Phillips' Major League Umpires Association as a bargaining tactic, but it collapsed when many American League umps refused to go along. The MLUA then filed a grievance, and in May 2001 arbitrator Alan Symonette told baseball to rehire nine of the 22. That decision was upheld last December by U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III, who in addition ordered new arbitration hearing for Nauert, Dreckman and Holbrook. The WUA currently is fighting with owners over the computer tracking system. Umpires filed a grievance against owners on July 19, claiming the refusal to provide information on the system violated their labor contract.  Rob Manfred, the owners' top labor lawyer, did not return a telephone call seeking comment. Umpires claim the computer system does not accurately track pitches, especially breaking balls. The July 19 grievance was filed a day after owners sued the union in federal court, asking for an order that its attempt to discipline John Hirschbeck, the union head, was not subject to arbitration. Owners asked for a permanent injunction preventing the union from taking the dispute to arbitration.

Umpires Use Engineers to Challenge Computer System

July 29, 2002 
COCOA, Fla. (AP) -- Upset that baseball is using a new computer system to track ball-and-strike calls, the sport's umpires have hired physicists and engineers to examine its accuracy.

Robert Kemp Adair, a Sterling Professor Emeritus at Yale who wrote the book The Physics of Baseball, was among those on the panel announced Monday by the World Umpires Association.

Serving on the panel with Adair are Lawrence Carlin of Duke, John Carini of Indiana, Richard Fitzpatrick of Texas, Ernest C. Hammond of Morgan State and James Whitney II of Morgan State. They are joined by Grant Segrist, formerly of Southern Utah. Umpires say Questec's umpire information system is not accurate, especially on breaking pitches. "The umpires are confident these independent scientists will get to the bottom of the matter," union president John Hirschbeck said. "Our independence is central to the integrity of the game. No one should interject into the game a system that has not been scientifically verified. This is a matter of man against the machine." The use of the system has sparked a lawsuit and two grievances, with the WUA saying baseball won't respond to a list of 50 questions out the system. "If major league baseball believes the Questec system works and they are proud of it, they owe it to the fans and supporters of major league baseball to answer our questions, and to give our impressively qualified scientific experts an opportunity to evaluate the system." Management lawyer Rob Manfred did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

Owners Agree to Rehire 5 of 22 Ousted Umpires

February 26, 2002 
NEW YORK (AP) -- Baseball owners have agreed to rehire five of the 22 umpires who lost their jobs in a failed mass resignation three years ago and to allow four more of the umps to retire with back pay and benefits.

The agreement is likely to be announced Wednesday, after the baseball official in charge of umpires meets with the five and decides they are physically fit to resume umpiring, several baseball officials familiar with the deal said Tuesday on the condition they not be identified. With the deal, umpires no longer will seek to enforce a Dec. 14 decision by U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III in Philadelphia. Bartle upheld a decision made last May by arbitrator Alan Symonette, who ordered the nine rehired. Both sides asked the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to review the decision, a process that could take most of this year, and baseball owners had asked Bartle to stay his ruling. Even though the sides have reached an agreement, the sides will continue with their appears. Five of the umpires - Gary Darling, Bill Hohn, Larry Poncino, Larry Vanover and Joe West - will rejoin the major league staff. The other four - Drew Coble, Greg Kosc, Frank Pulli, Terry Tata - will retire.

Cameras Catch Umps in Action

By T.J.Quinn
7/18/01
Before last night's game between the Mets and Blue Jays, veteran umpire Jerry Crawford was sitting in the umpires' clubhouse holding a white compact disc with his name on the label. If he had a computer, he would have been able to plop in the disc and watch an analysis of every pitch he called from behind the plate the night before.

The computer would show — within a quarter of an inch — if the 24-year veteran's strike zone was in line with the one baseball officials are firmly trying to bring back into style. He'll have to wait before he unlocks its mysteries, however. "I have nothing to look at it with," he said, turning it from one side to the other. Baseball has hit the heights of technology. Whether or not the game is ready for it is another matter. Major League Baseball installed cameras and a computer system at Shea Stadium over the weekend that offers the best system to date for evaluating balls and strikes, utilizing the technology used by the military to track missiles. And while the umpires union and baseball fight over the use of pitch counts for evaluations, the Umpire Information System, as it is known, is strictly to be used as a teaching tool. Umpire union officials say there is nothing wrong with using the technology in that manner, but they do not want to see it used as another way to evaluate umpire performance. "I'm not convinced that it's a proven way to assess whether the strike zone is being properly called or not," said Joel Smith, the labor counsel for the World Umpires Association. "Is (the technology) appropriate at this point? I don't think so. Just the idea of a pitch count is so far afield." Umpires are currently evaluated by supervisors — employed by Major League Baseball — who review video and observe games. Baseball and QuesTec, the Deer Park, L.I., company that created the Umpire Information System, insist the new ump cam is only a way for umpires to improve their games, especially as umpires relearn the strike zone. "Our dialogue from the start has always been instruction, not evaluation, and that has been hammered home with us," said Ed Plumacher, the founder of QuesTec. "We do not even have a way to quantify" what umpires are doing. Baseball executive VP Sandy Alderson said that while he has no intention of using UIS to evaluate umpires, baseball has spent a "significant" amount of money on the system. "We do expect it to be a very valuable training tool," he said. "It's as close as we can get to objective feedback on the strike zone." Alderson and Plumacher would not say how much the system cost. The news last week that MLB wants more strikes called infuriated the union. The part of the umpires' collective bargaining agreement that details how umpires will be evaluated has not been finalized, Smith said, so the union wants to make sure that baseball does not use the UIS for evaluation purposes.

"We just completed parts of the manual involving conduct, performance. . . I would consider us behind schedule on all of this," Smith said.

Shea is the second stadium to be fitted with the new system, and MLB and QuesTec hope to have four more stadiums wired by mid-September. Baseball tried it out last winter during Arizona Fall League games, and after testing it at Fenway Park last year, began operating it in Boston last month. Fans who have watched Fox telecasts have seen a variation of the technology. After some pitches, a graphic called "pitch trax" shows the ball through (or near) the strike zone, how much it breaks and how fast it is. After a game, the information is stored on three CDs. One is sent to QuesTec, one is sent to Ralph Nelson, baseball's vice president for umpires, and the third is hand-delivered to the umpire by a QuesTec operator. Crawford said he's interested to see what the disc tells him, but he said he never wants to see technology take over his game or replace it. "This is a human game, played by humans and umpired by humans," he said.

Umpires File Grievance Over Pitch Counts

July 15, 2001
NEW YORK -- Baseball umpires filed a grievance to keep the commissioner's office from pressuring them to call more strikes and reduce pitches, saying management's move "threatens the integrity of the game."
The grievance, filed late Saturday, says the commissioner's office violated the umpires' new labor contract by keeping track of the average number of pitches in games worked behind the plate by each umpire and ranking each umpire in that category.
"If you have good pitchers pitching, there will be fewer pitches thrown, but if the pitchers are struggling, we can't control that," umpire Randy Marsh said. "If the pitch is a strike, it's a strike, and if it's a ball, it's a ball."
Larry Gibson, a lawyer for the umpires, notified baseball of the grievance in a three-page letter he faxed Saturday to the commissioner's office.
"The union has learned that the office of the commissioner believes the average to be around 285 pitches in a nine-inning game," Gibson and Joel Smith, another union lawyer, wrote in the letter. "Umpires are being told that this number is too high and to 'bring your pitch count down' . . . to 270 pitches a game."
Gibson and Smith wrote that umps have been told to "call more strikes," "be aggressive" and to "hunt for strikes."
"The pitch count, whether or not it is coupled with a direct instruction to call more strikes, interferes with an umpires' duty to exercise independent judgment on each pitch," the letter said. "Pitch count pressure threatens the integrity of the game, in that it brings on to the playing field improper influence on umpire performance."
The labor contract calls for the sides to meet on the issue. If they can't resolve it, the case would go to an arbitrator selected from a list provided by the American Arbitration Association.
"This is the first I've heard of it," Sandy Alderson, executive vice president of baseball operations in the commissioner's office, said Sunday when told of the grievance by a reporter.
"I'm sure we'll meet with the union to discuss it. I think this has been taken way out of context by the union. I'm surprised they haven't attempted to discuss this matter with us privately and have resorted to this more public approach."
Baseball and its umpires have been at odds for more than two decades and just last month, umpire Al Clark was terminated for charging plane tickets for his wife to a credit card paid for by the commissioner's office.
Larry Barnett, one of baseball's umpire supervisors, retired July 6, partly because of the pitch-count pressure.
"I just didn't feel I could go that direction," said Barnett, whose retirement was first reported by The New York Times on its website Sunday night.
A major league umpire from 1969-99, Barnett became a supervisor two years ago. He said his retirement could not be directly attributed to pitch-count pressure but that but to "a bunch of things" but also said he felt uncomfortable with the decision to push for more strikes, especially when he had to call a young umpire about it.
"I never even thought about it in all the games I umpired," Barnett said. "If you have two very good pitchers, this is my opinion, you might get a low pitch count. If you make four or five pitching changes, you might get a high pitch count."
Commissioner Bud Selig has been concerned about the lengthening time in takes to play games in recent years and has pushed, with little success, for the pace to speed up. The average time of nine-inning games this year is 2 hours, 55 minutes, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, down just two minutes from last year.
Gibson blamed slow games on the 2:05 allowed between innings for television commercials, a time increased to 2:25 for nationally televised games.
"Is an umpire to catch up on his average going from one game to the next and is he to keep that average in mind when making a judgment as to whether a particular pitch is a strike or a ball?" the letter said.
Rob Manfred, baseball's executive vice president for labor relations, declined comment.
"We ought to be able to resolve this," Gibson said Sunday. "We understand there's actually a chart they developed that ranked all the umpires by pitch count over eight games. We want to see it. We hope in the future, it doesn't get created again."

Arbitrator Orders Rehiring of Nine Umps

May 11, 2001
NEW YORK – Nine of the 22 umpires terminated by baseball two years ago following a failed mass resignation were given their jobs back Friday by an arbitrator.  Major league baseball was ordered to rehire Drew Coble, Gary Darling, Bill Hohn, Greg Kosc, Larry Poncino, Larry Vanover and Joe West.

In addition, arbitrator Alan Symonette ordered baseball to take back two umpires who have said they intend to retire: Frank Pulli and Terry Tata.  Baseball also was ordered to give the nine back pay for the time they missed. Left out were 13 umpires, including well-known faces such as Richie Garcia and Eric Gregg. "It's not a good day. It's only a sad day," West said. "I feel like a plane went down with a lot of my friends." Symonette began hearing the case Dec. 13, 1999, and testimony dragged on until Aug. 29, 2000. The sides then spent months working on legal papers, and Symonette took several months to write his decision. "I'm saddened by the fact that 13 of my colleagues and a lot of good friends apparently are not going to have jobs at this time," Larry Young, an umpire crew chief, said in Chicago. "My whole crew is down in the dumps right now. ... We were hoping we could all get back together. We were hoping they all would be reinstated." Several of the umpires let go had economic hardships. Gregg said he borrowed money from present and former umpires to pay his mortgage.  "It's been hell for them," veteran crew chief Ed Montague said in Toronto. "They haven't had a paycheck in almost two years." Commissioner Bud Selig's office, which pushed for a hard line on the umpires, had a mixed reaction. "While feeling vindicated that its core position that the umpires resigned and that MLB had the right to hire replacements was upheld, we are at a loss to understand the arbitrator's conclusions with respect to some of the National League umpires," the commissioner's office said in a statement. "Major league baseball will thoroughly examine the opinion and consider what further action is appropriate." Arbitrator's decisions generally are difficult to overturn in court unless the side appealing can show bias. "I am obviously very pleased for the nine umpires who got their jobs back with back pay and very disappointed about the 13 who didn't," said Pat Campbell, who argued the case for the 22. If baseball balks at rehiring the umpires, they would have to seek a federal court order to get Symonette's decision enforced. "It's really too early to tell what's going to happen," umpire Tim Welke said. Symonette, according to two lawyers familiar with decision, concluded in his 100-page opinion that former National League president Len Coleman "abused his discretion" in not clearly explaining why certain umpires were fired. Coleman had said he would make his decisions based on "merit" and "skill," invoking words in the umpires' collective bargaining agreement, but gave no rationale, Symonette said. Symonette gave an umpire-and-umpire analysis on which umpires to bring back. He decided Coleman was justified in not rehiring Gregg, criticized by many in baseball for his weight and wide strike zone and Hallion, criticized for his "temperament." Symonette noted that West also had temperament problems, but ordered him rehired. As for the AL umps, Symonette concluded Coble and Kosc didn't quit because they never resigned in writing but upheld the other AL terminations.  With the returning umpires added in, more veterans will be on the field. "I'm glad. Those guys are all good umpires," Atlanta Braves pitcher Greg Maddux said. "It's unfortunate that it had to happen the way it did, but it's nice to have them back. You can't teach experience." Last September, as part of negotiations for a new labor contract, baseball had offered to rehire 10 of the 22 at the major league level, rehire three at the minor league level, give four buyouts and allow the other five to retire. Richie Phillips' Major League Umpires Association rejected that offer, preferring to take its chances with Symonette. The 10 who would have been rehired in the majors under the offer, according to two lawyers speaking on the condition they not be identified, were Coble, Darling, Bob Davidson, Bruce Dreckman, Jim Evans, Garcia, Tom Hallion, Hohn, Poncino and Vanover.  Hired at the minor league level would have been Ed Hickox, Sam Holbrook and Paul Nauert. Dale Ford, Ken Kaiser, Larry McCoy, Pulli and Tata would have retired; and Gregg, Mark Johnson, Kosc and West would have been given buyouts. Pulli currently is working as an umpire supervisor. "You'd like to have 22 of them back," AL umpires Tim McClelland said. "My sympathy goes out to the guys who are not coming back. I'm happy for the guys that are. I've just been hoping that everybody gets their job back." At the behest of Phillips, umpires submitted mass resignations in July 1999, pushing for an early start to negotiations to replace the labor contract that ran through that December. Most AL umps either quickly withdrew their resignations or failed to resign, causing the strategy to collapse. By then, owners had hired 25 new umps from the minor leagues and got rid of the 22. Phillips' union agreed to the arbitration as part of the settlement of a federal lawsuit that followed. The umps opposed to Phillips formed a new union, won a federally supervised vote, and replaced the MLUA in February 2000. They agreed to a new labor contract Aug. 31 that allowed owners to merge the AL and NL umps into a unified staff.

 New Strike Zone Hasn't Taken Long to Make Impact

May 01, 2001
NEW YORK (AP) -- David Justice kept flailing away at the plate, striking out four times against Boston before hitting a game-winning home run.  After 11 years in the major leagues, he was trying to adjust to a new strike zone.

"That's not easy," said the New York Yankees designated hitter, who had struck out four times in a game only once before in his career. "As soon as you see a ball's high, you swing. If you don't approach it right, you pop up."  One month after baseball started to enforce its new strike zone, strikeouts are up, while walks, home runs, batting average and ERA are all down. This is what commissioner Bud Selig envisioned when he told his aides to demand that umpires move the strike zone up and narrow it. For 20 years, it had gotten lower and wider, umpires ignoring the definition that had been in the Official Baseball Rules for more than a century. "I think the strike zone is a little higher, generally," Houston Astros manager Larry Dierker said. "We have a couple of guys calling it the way it used to be, but I think they're trying to follow the rule." There was an average of 2.34 home runs per game in April, down 8.6 percent from the record average of 2.54 in the first month of last season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, baseball's statistician. Still, the decrease wasn't that dramatic, with the 2001 average remaining 5.4 percent above the 1999 average of 2.22. Walks decreased 13.3 percent, from 7.82 per game to 6.78, and strikeouts increased 5.4 percent, from 12.91 to 13.61. That shows the strike zone really is getting larger. "I've been happy with the consistency in the five games I pitched," Arizona's Curt Schilling said. "I didn't think it would be that easy for them to make that adjustment, but I think so far they've done a good job." As new ballparks have opened, year-to-year statistical comparisons have become more difficult to evaluate because the new ballparks have different -- and usually smaller -- dimensions. Three new ballparks opened last year - hitter-friendly Enron Field in Houston, pitcher-friendly Comerica Park in Detroit and Pacific Bell Park in San Francisco. Two ballparks opened this season, with no dramatic changes evident yet: Miller Park in Milwaukee and PNC Park in Pittsburgh. Whatever the factors, offense is down this year, with batting average dropping 3.7 percent (.270 to .260), runs falling 10.6 percent (10.75 per game to 9.61) and hits decreasing 4.4 percent (18.56 to 1.774). Among power categories, doubles dropped 9.1 percent (3.81 per game to 3.46) and triples fell 7.3 percent (0.41 to 0.38). Pitchers have been the beneficiaries, with the major league ERA falling 9.5 percent, from 4.93 to 4.46. "Last year, my strike zone was wide," Houston shortstop Julio Lugo said. "I wasn't getting that outside pitch at all. Now there are more high strikes." While the stats have changed, they aren't affecting styles on the field. "There are only a few pitchers who can take advantage of pitching up there, and we don't have that type of pitcher," New York Mets manager Bobby Valentine said. "For a lot of pitchers, it's a disadvantage to pitch up there." While management hoped a bigger strike zone would speed the pace of games, speed has changed only minimally. Through Sunday, the average time of a nine-inning game was 2 hours, 54 minutes, a decrease of only three minutes from last season.

Big-League Umps Practice Calling Higher Strike Zone

1/24/2001
CHANDLER, Ariz. (AP) - Salaries aren't the only thing going up in baseball.
Major league baseball officials insist the strike zone will be rising, too.

In what is believed to be the first session of its kind, all 68 major league umpires took turns Wednesday in the Arizona sunshine calling strikes on pitches that for years have been considered above the strike zone. San Francisco minor leaguers stood at bat, wearing strips of white tape across their chest to show the umpires where the rule book says the strike zone is, three baseballs - or nine inches - above the belt.

For years, anything above the belt has been considered a ball.  But the higher zone will be enforced in the coming season, the umpires said. "What you see right here now, that's the way it's going to be. Make no mistake about it,'' said Al Clark, a big-league umpire for 25 years. Sandy Alderson, vice president for baseball operations in the commissioner's office, oversaw the session, believed to be the first in which all big league umps were gathered in the same location. The idea is simply to enforce the rules as written, Alderson said. "I think the conventional wisdom is it will take some offense out and it will speed up the game a little bit,'' he said, ``but I'm not really concerned about those elements as much as I am getting us back to more of an adherence of the rules.'' Pitching machines were set to make sure the ball would fly in above the belt to give the umps some practice. Wednesday's meeting was evidence that baseball means business this time. "It's a different approach from just sending out a memo and expecting it to happen,'' Alderson said. When the commissioner's office took charge of overseeing umpires from both leagues, it pledged to spend money to make sure the games were called consistently and by the rules. The plan to enforce a bigger strike zone was introduced to umpire crew chiefs and to skeptical managers at baseball's winter meetings in December. After Wednesday's demonstration and practice session, the umpires went back into a closed session to discuss what needs to be done to be ready for the change on opening day. "We already have a couple of things planned,'' Alderson said. "We're going to send a team of four or five staff and umpires around to meet with managers and coaches just after spring training opens for pitchers and catchers to explain everything to them and maybe have a demonstration.'' Umpires also will be assigned to each club a few days before spring training games begin to work batting practice and intersquad games. "I think the umpires are going to be more or less ready to go by the time we get to the beginning of the season,'' Alderson said, ``and my guess is that hitters will be also - except that when we get in the heat of battle, their reaction level will be a little more intense.'' To make sure the umpires don't backslide into old habits, the commissioner's office plans to install pitch track machines, accurate within a half-inch, in five or six ballparks. Clark said the hitters had better realize in spring training that the higher strike zone will be a reality, and begin practicing accordingly. "You see 68 umpires here, and 68 umpires are on the same page,'' he said. ``If they're going to fight us, they're fighting city hall.''
Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved

Talk About a Revolution: Baseball by the Book

Ken Rosenthal, The Sporting News, November 7, 2000
AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. -- Major-league baseball is prepared to take a radical step that will dramatically transform the way the game is played next season. How? By following its own rulebook.

The high strike is back, according to Sandy Alderson, MLB's executive vice president of baseball operations.  In fact, the entire strike zone is back, not that it ever went anywhere, except in the minds of umpires.

"I'll believe it when I see it," one executive after another said Tuesday at the general managers' meetings.  Who could blame them for being skeptical?

The NFL is the "No Fun League," enforcing every petty rule imaginable. MLB has turned into a veritable frat house, operating under the motto, "Maybe later, Brother."

Maybe later the commissioner's office will enforce the time-of-game procedures that were introduced in 1998.  Maybe later it will enforce the strike zone as it is specified in the rulebook.

Alderson vowed action on both fronts Tuesday. He made so much sense, he should be commissioner, but that's a story for another day.

"It's been the view of people for a long time that the strike zone as it's being defined in the rulebook was being interpreted by individual umpires in a variety of ways," Alderson said.

"We're trying not only to bring some uniformity to the interpretation, but go back to the rulebook and eliminate a lot of the interpretation itself."  And what does the rulebook say?  

One, that an inside or outside pitch is a strike if any part of the ball crosses any part of home plate. Two, that any low pitch is a strike if it crosses the lowest part of the knee.  Three, that any high pitch is a strike if it crosses the midpoint between he top of the pants and the shoulders.

None of that is so confusing, but in recent seasons, umpires have rarely called strikes on pitches above the belt, while extending the zone several inches outside.

Hitters have taken advantage by "diving" over the plate for outside pitches, and heaven help the pitcher who tries to adjust by working inside.

Ask Pedro Martinez -- hitters are offended by any pitch thrown within six inches of their supplement-enhanced bodies, even while wearing more protective armor than medieval knights.

The issue of protective gear also will be addressed at these GM meetings. But to Alderson, calling the strike zone properly would lead to a "self-correction" on a number of levels.

"Games would be quicker," said Blue Jays assistant general manager and former Cy Young winner Dave Stewart. "Runs would go down."  That is, if the zone is enforced.

"Even though we have a new group of umpires, the umpires in the past have made it very, very clear that they're going to run the game like they want to run it," Stewart said.

"Maybe they can get done what they've been instructed to do, but. . . . most guys are not used to calling the high strike. It just never gets done."

Alderson, however, said that he already has met with the umpires' leadership, pointing out that the umpires were more committed and less confrontational last season at MLB's request.

The actual umpiring wasn't much better, but the level of cooperation has indeed improved now that the umpires have formed their new union and reached a new collective-bargaining agreement with MLB. The time finally is right for change.

Twenty-two umpires and five substitutes currently are receiving new training in Scottsdale, Ariz. All 68 umpires will receive the training in January.

The sessions cover all facets of umpiring. And for those who still don't get it, a computerized strike-zone measuring system illuminates the proper calls on balls and strikes.

Devil Rays manager Larry Rothschild said he actually enjoyed the distinctions in umpires' zones, believing that veteran hitters earned an advantage by learning each umpire's tendencies.

Rothschild, however, said that he, too, grew upset when the lack of uniformity grew "out of control."

Rather than consistency, MLB had anarchy. Now, it's going back to the future.  "We're committed to enforcement," Alderson said. "This isn't like the balk rule back in 1978 or whatever. When we set out to accomplish something, we're going to follow it up."  Only in baseball could the rulebook qualify as a radical document.  Let the revolution begin!

Umps to Call High Strikes Again

Associated Press - November 7,2000

AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. - Baseball vowed Tuesday to bring back the high strike next season.  Sandy Alderson, executive vice president of baseball operations in the commissioner's office hopes the return of the strike zone as defined in the rulebook will help bring baseball back to the way it used to be played.

"It's been the view of people for a long time that the strike zone in the rule book is being interpreted by individual umpires in a variety of different ways," Alderson said Tuesday at the general managers meetings. "We're looking to bring uniformity back, eliminate a lot of the interpretation and go back to the rule book."

According to the rulebook, a pitch should be called a strike if any part of a ball crosses over any part of home plate, and if the pitch is between the hollow of the knee and the midpoint between the belt buckle and shoulders.

"With certain exceptions, nothing above the belt has been called a strike," Alderson said. "In some cases, nothing touching the belt has been called a strike. That's what we're looking to change."

Twenty-two younger umpires are working in Arizona this month on skills, including calling the strike zone as it is written in the rulebook.

All the umpires will meet again in January to go over the new strike zone and they will meet with players in February.

"If it is called consistently in spring training, it won't take long for players to adjust," Alderson said.

Tampa Bay manager Larry Rothschild thinks the individual strike zones are part of the nuance of the game. But expanding the zone will help pitchers and bring some balance back.

"Any time you increase the area of the strike zone, it has an adverse effect on offense because the hitter has more to deal with," Rothschild said.

Alderson also hopes it will help speed up the game. Games during the regular season averaged 3 hours, 2 minutes, five minutes longer than 1999. Postseason games pushed well past that barrier, routinely edging to and past the 4-hour plateau.

"The time of game is an issue that we need to address, not one we need to highlight," Alderson said. "We can get the time down appreciably without making major changes."

While increased offense and smaller strike zones have contributed to game length, Alderson wants to tackle the other factors.

He noted that many players don't even leave the on-deck circle until after their theme music is played over loud speakers. Some players then step out between every pitch to adjust their batting gloves, helmet and uniform.

Only then is the next pitch thrown.

"I thought of Mike Hargrove, the human rain delay," Alderson said of the Baltimore manager, who was notoriously slow at the plate during his career. "Compared to some of the guys today, he'd set a land-speed record."

While much of the focus of this week's meetings is on free agents and trades, the GMs are also discussing issues like strike zone, time of game, body armor, the height of the mound and how to break three-way ties for the playoffs.

Pitchers have often complained that hitters wearing protective equipment on their arms and elbows dive over the plate without fear, taking both the inside and outside corner away from the pitcher. Alderson said the issue will be discussed with the players' association. "Body armor has become offensive, not defensive," he said. "Players should be able to protect their elbows without a Roman shield." GMs will discuss raising the height of the mound in the Arizona Rookie League on a trial basis. The lowering of the mound after the 1968 season, helped usher in a greater offensive era. "This was discussed last year to possibly implement it on an experimental basis at the minor league level to see what the consequences would be on offense and injuries," Alderson said. Alderson said that the GMs once again voted to change the way three-way ties are broken after the season. In the current form, if two teams finished tied for the division and with the same record as the best second-place team in another division, the second-place team automatically gets the wild card berth. The other teams play a one-game playoff, with the winner getting the division title and the loser staying home. GMs have argued that is unfair. The union, which must approve any change, is against delaying the start of the playoffs and eliminating off days in the first round to allow for the extra day to break the tie.

Major League Umps Ratify Contract; Minor League Umps Form Union

By RONALD BLUM
September 15, 2000 NEW YORK (AP) -- Major league umpires ratified their new labor contract and minor league umps approved forming a union of their own. Major league umps who are members of the new union, the World Umpires Association, participated in the mail ballot, and 42 of 44 eligible members voted, WUA lawyer Larry Gibson said Thursday. Votes were counted by Edward J. Angeletti, a retired Maryland Circuit Court Judge. There are about 90 major league umpires, but many did not join the new union and remain loyal to Richie Phillips' Major League Umpires Association. Nevertheless, the deal covers all major league umps. The union's executive board and team owners must also approve the agreement, which calls for umpires' pay to rise from $95,000- $282,500 in 1999 to $104,704-$324,545 this year, depending on seniority. In 2004, the final season of the five-year deal, the range will be $108,716-$404,705. Also Thursday, minor league umpires said they voted 187-10 to form a union to negotiate with the governing body of the minor leagues. The umps approved the union in a secret mail vote conducted by the National Labor Relations Board's Baltimore office, which counted the ballots Monday. The outcome of the election confirms that minor league umpires need to have a voice in a system where they take on considerable personal risks and hardships in the hope of becoming a major league umpire,'' said Beth Saindon, a lawyer for the Association of Minor League Umpires. She said the average salary for umps is $15,000 at Triple-A, $12,000 at Double-A, $10,000 at full-season A-ball and $5,500 at rookie leagues and short-season A-leagues. Minor league umps have a health plan but no pension benefits. The union will negotiate with Professional Baseball Umpire Corp., an affiliate of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, the governing body of the minor leagues. The NABPL has until Monday to file objections to the election. ``We didn't feel and still don't feel a union is necessary,'' NAPBL spokesman Jim Ferguson said. ``Now that they've voted, as we said all along, we'll deal with them in good faith.''

Wichita State Wants Umpires Added to Lawsuit

University is being sued because pitcher Ben Christensen hit Evansville player in the head with a warm-up pitch July 23, 2000
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) -Wichita State wants three umpires to be added to a lawsuit against the school that arose when a pitcher hit a visiting baseball player in the head with a warm-up pitch. Second baseman Anthony Molina of the University of Evansville suffered eye injuries when hit by a ball thrown by Ben Christensen as Molina stood near the on-deck circle just before the start of a game with the Shockers on April 23, 1999. Molina sued Wichita State and Christensen, seeking $75,000 in damages. The university now wants the three umpires who were working the game to share responsibility. The school submitted a motion last week to include the three umpires as defendants, saying they failed to enforce the rules. Before the game, Molina had walked behind and to the right side of home plate, closer to the Wichita State's on-deck circle than to Evansville's. Under Rule 5, Section 2-e, if that happens "the umpire first should warn the offender(s) and if the violators do not immediately move away the individual(s) shall be ejected from the game." Home plate umpire Gary Mitchell didn't do either and Christensen threw a pitch at Molina. Christensen said the pitch was just meant as warning, but Molina wasn't looking and was hit, causing a skull fracture and lingering vision problems. The lawsuit includes three charges against Christensen - battery, negligence and "willful, wanton and reckless negligence" - and one count of negligence against the university. Mitchell declined to comment at the university's request, as did Missouri Valley Conference associate commissioner Joe Mitch, and Jim Schaus, the school's athletic director. The other umpires were Charlie Larca of Jordan, Minn., and Steve Govero of Springfield, Mo. Mitch Margo, the legal counsel for the MVC, said he was still trying to determine whether the conference or the NCAA has a contractual obligation to represent the umpires. The motion to include the umpires will be heard in Sedgwick County District Court on Aug. 4. It may push back the date for the trial, now scheduled for Nov. 29. "I hope this gets resolved," Margo said. "It's an unfortunate situation that I wish never happened." Christensen, who was warming up on the pitching mound, was ejected from the game and then suspended for the rest of the season. He had a 21-1 record in three seasons at Wichita State and was a first-round draft choice of the Chicago Cubs. Molina has undergone three operations but returned to play for Evansville last season, hitting .280 in 20 games. His lawsuit claiming battery and negligence seeks more than $75,000 from each defendant. In November, Sedgwick County District Attorney Nola Foulston declined to bring criminal charges against Christensen..

Umpires Pass on MLB's ProposalUmpires Pass on MLB's Proposal

NEW YORK (AP) 07/31/00 — Richie Phillips' Major League Umpires Association let a Monday deadline pass on a deal that would have rehired 10 of the 22 umpires baseball got rid of last September.

The MLUA has filed a grievance, hoping arbitrator Alan Symonette will force baseball to rehire the 22, let go after the union's mass resignation plan failed. Baseball claims it accepted the umpires' resignations, while the umps claim they withdrew their resignations and were illegally fired.

During the offseason, umpires voted out the MLUA and replaced it with a new union, the World Umpires Association. During negotiations for a new labor contract with baseball, the WUA said two weeks ago that it had tentatively agreed with the commissioner's office that 10 umpires would be rehired.

But under federal law, agreement from both unions was needed, and the MLUA rejected the deal, saying it would rather take a chance with the grievance and get all or none of the 22 rehired.

Umps' Rehiring Comes with Conditions

Associated Press - Thursday, July 20
NEW YORK -- Baseball has offered to rehire 10 of the 22 umpires it let go last September but only as part of a new labor contract and only if the umps' old union agrees to settle its grievance.

The offer has tentatively been agreed to by the new union, the World Umpires Association, two lawyers familiar with the talks said Thursday on the condition they not be identified. But the old union, Richie Phillips' Major League Umpires Association, said it hasn't been contacted by baseball or the new union. MLUA lawyer Pat Campbell said the offer falls far short of what his side wants."There may be some discussions between the WUA and baseball," Campbell said, "but we don't bless them, we don't condone them, we're not parties to them. We've been asked to participate and we haven't gone. No offer has been made to us. If that's the offer, they can save it because that offer does not reflect the realities of the case."The MLUA filed a grievance to regain the jobs of the 22. The case, being heard by arbitrator Alan Symonette, was to have resumed this week but was postponed until Aug. 28 or 29 because former AL official Derek Irwin was unavailable to testify. Negotiators for the new union and baseball met for three days this week and are scheduled to resume talks next week. The 10 umpires who would be rehired under the offer, according to the lawyers, would be Gary Darling, Bob Davidson, Bruce Dreckman, Jim Evans, Tom Hallion, Ed Hickox, Bill Hohn, Sam Holbrook, Paul Nauert and Larry Vanover.Six of the 22 umpires, all over 55, would retire under the plan: Dale Ford, Rich Garcia, Ken Kaiser, Larry McCoy, Frank Pulli, Terry Tata. The remaining six would be given buyouts, either in a lump sum, or an annuity: Drew Coble, Eric Gregg, Mark Johnson, Greg Kosc, Larry Poncino and Joe West. Sandy Alderson, the executive vice president who is heading negotiations for baseball, wouldn't say owners and the new union had a tentative agreement on the fate of the 22, let go when baseball accepted their resignations, handed in as part of a mass resignation plan by the old union that failed."I don't think it's a secret we have had discussions the last few weeks on the 22 and a possible settlement of their arbitration case," Alderson said. "The status of the 22 is inextricably related to successfully concluding a collective bargaining agreement. To suggest we are that close is misleading. I think there are significant aspects of the proposal on the 22 that remain undecided."Baseball said it merely accepted the resignations of the 22, while the MLUA says the umps should have been allowed to withdraw their resignations and were illegally fired.

Baseball Offers to Rehire 10 of 22 as Part of Overall Settlement

07/20/00
By RONALD BLUM AP Sports Writer NEW YORK (AP) Baseball has offered to rehire 10 of the 22 umpires it let go last September but only as part of a new labor contract and only if the umps' old union agrees to settle its grievance. The offer has tentatively been agreed to by the new union, the World Umpires Association, two lawyers familiar with the talks said Thursday on the condition they not be identified. But the old union, Richie Phillips' Major League Umpires Association, said it hasn't been contacted by baseball or the new union. MLUA lawyer Pat Campbell said the offer falls far short of what his side wants. ``There may be some discussions between the WUA and baseball,'' Campbell said, ``but we don't bless them, we don't condone them, we're not parties to them. We've been asked to participate and we haven't gone. No offer has been made to us. If that's the offer, they can save it because that offer does not reflect the realities of the case.'' The MLUA filed a grievance to regain the jobs of the 22. The case, being heard by arbitrator Alan Symonette, was to have resumed this week but was postponed until Aug. 28 or 29 because former AL official Derek Irwin was unavailable to testify. Negotiators for the new union and baseball met for three days this week and are scheduled to resume talks next week.  The 10 umpires who would be rehired under the offer, according to the lawyers, would be Gary Darling, Bob Davidson, Bruce Dreckman, Jim Evans, Tom Hallion, Ed Hickox, Bill Hohn, Sam Holbrook, Paul Nauert and Larry Vanover. Six of the 22 umpires, all over 55, would retire under the plan: Dale Ford, Rich Garcia, Ken Kaiser, Larry McCoy, Frank Pulli, Terry Tata. The remaining six would be given buyouts, either in a lump sum, or an annuity: Drew Coble, Eric Gregg, Mark Johnson, Greg Kosc, Larry Poncino and Joe West. Sandy Alderson, the executive vice president who is heading negotiations for baseball, wouldn't say owners and the new union had a tentative agreement on the fate of the 22, let go when baseball accepted their resignations, handed in as part of a mass resignation plan by the old union that failed. ``I don't think it's a secret we have had discussions the last few weeks on the 22 and a possible settlement of their arbitration case,'' Alderson said. ``The status of the 22 is inextricably related to successfully concluding a collective bargaining agreement. To suggest we are that close is misleading. I think there are significant aspects of the proposal on the 22 that remain undecided.'' Baseball said it merely accepted the resignations of the 22, while the MLUA says the umps should have been allowed to withdraw their resignations and were illegally fired.

Umpires Unite, Sign Declaration of Togetherness

By Hal Bodley 
06/29/00
Major and minor league umpires, fearful of management's attempt to seize more control over them, signed a joint statement of principles Wednesday.

The action gives the major league umps unconditional support from the 187 umpires in the minors for the present contract negotiating strategy.

"This is a historic event," World Umpires Association President John Hirschbeck said. "This is the first time professional umpires at all levels, from the rookie leagues to the majors, have come together with a common statement."

Rob Manfred, baseball's chief negotiator, said umpires stating their views "in a public proclamation makes them no more likely to be accepted. They've expressed their views across the table, and they're inconsistent with the terms of the collective bargaining agreement of every official in professional sports."

Meanwhile, Hirschbeck said umpires won't ask for a strike vote by Friday, the deadline for such an action. The sides negotiated Tuesday. Three more days of talks are scheduled for next week, beginning Wednesday.

"Through good-faith negotiations I'm hopeful we'll reach an agreement that recognizes the independence, neutrality and professionalism of umpires is essential to the integrity of baseball," Hirschbeck said.

Hirschbeck said all 68 major league umpires and 83% of those in the minors endorsed the agreement. "We're not looking for something where umpires aren't evaluated," he said. "We would like training, evaluation, but a fair system when it comes to termination and discipline. Baseball wants total control."

New Umpire's Union Cleared to Negotiate

February 24, 2000 
NEW YORK -- Richie Phillips' last appeal was rejected today by the National Labor Relations Board, clearing the way for the new umpires' union to start negotiations with owners. Insurgent umpires, angry with Phillips' failed mass resignation strategy last summer, voted 57-35 in November to replace the Major League Umpires Association with a new union. The MLUA contested the results, first with the NLRB's New York office, then with the five-man labor board in Washington. Today's decision certified the new union and cannot be appealed. The new union, called the World Umpires Association, hopes to start negotiations quickly on a new collective bargaining agreement, replacing the one that expired Dec. 31. Negotiations were delayed because the WUA could not officially represent umpires until it was officially certified. The MLUA filed objections to the election, claiming owners and the new union illegally conspired to defeat the MLUA. Those objections were rejected Jan. 21 by hearing officer David E. Leach III. The NLRB adopted Leach's report today in a three-paragraph decision signed by chairman John C. Truesdale and board members Sarah M. Fox and Peter J. Hurtgen. Owners want to merge the umpires from both leagues into one staff and make other changes as part of the elimination of American and National league presidents and offices. Phillips, who has headed the MLUA since 1978, had intended to resist that. While he had heavy support among NL umpires, the new union's board has heavy support in the AL. Umpires split into factions last July when Phillips called for a mass resignation plan designed to force an early start to labor talks. Most AL umps either quickly withdrew their resignations or failed to resign, causing the strategy to collapse. By then, owners had hired 25 new umps from the minor leagues and got rid of 22. The labor board's ruling came as the MLUA's grievance to regain the jobs of the 22 resumed in Philadelphia. Under federal labor law, the old union will remain in charge of the grievance.

NLRB rules against Phillips

By RONALD BLUM
January 21, 2000
Richie Phillips and the Major League Umpires Association lost again today when a National Labor Relations Board hearing officer decided there were no grounds to overturn the election that kicked them out in November. Umpires, many angry at a failed mass resignation plan that backfired in July and cost 22 of them their jobs, voted 57-35 in November to form a new union. Phillips and the MLUA appealed, claiming the new union was helped illegally by owners during the election, but the appeal was rejected today by NLRB hearing officer David E. Leach III, who heard three days of testimony this month. The MLUA has two weeks to appeal Leach's decision to the five-member NLRB in Washington. Because of the appeal, bargaining for a labor contract to replace the one that expired Dec. 31 has been virtually nonexistent. "Today's NLRB decision removes any doubt that major league umpires will be represented by our new union,'' said American League umpire John Hirschbeck, one of the leaders of the insurgents. "We now have the opportunity to move forward in the best interests of all umpires, the game of baseball and the public,'' Hirschbeck said. "The only result from an appeal would be to delay the inevitable and to slow down bargaining for a new contact.''  The MLUA was not sure if it would appeal again. "If after we read the opinion, we conclude there are grounds to appeal, then we'll appeal,'' said MLUA lawyer Pat Campbell, who had not yet read Leach's decision. The new union called for an end to the infighting.  "It's time now for Richie Phillips to yield to the will of a clear majority of the umpires and step aside,'' said Ron Shapiro, a lawyer and agent who has advised the insurgents. ``An appeal would only delay the inevitable now.'' Leach overruled the four objections filed by the old union, saying they either were irrelevant or were not supported by evidence, and recommended that Daniel Silverman, the NLRB's New York regional director, certify the new union. "It has been asserted that the employer is blatantly anti-Phillips and anti-MLUA, but the record is silent in this regard,'' Leach wrote in his 35-page report. Phillips has led the MLUA to tremendous gains. When he became its negotiator in 1978, rookie umpires made $17,500 and the most senior umps got $40,000. In the contract that just expired, they made at least $95,000 each and could earn up to $282,500 apiece, including bonuses. Many AL umps became increasingly uncomfortable with Phillips in recent years and some voted against renewing his contract before last season. Worried about baseball's plan to merge the AL and NL umpiring staffs, Phillips and MLUA president Jerry Crawford called for mass resignations in July. They said they were angry over the umpires' working conditions, and many umps said they wanted to force an early start to labor negotiations. The strategy collapsed when most AL umps either didn't resign or quickly withdrew their resignations. Owners then hired 25 new umps from the minor leagues and accepted the resignations of the 22, effective Sept. 2. That's when the insurgents, led primarily by AL umps, began organizing the new union, the Major League Umpires Independent Organizing Committee. Phillips and the MLUA claimed the new union illegally tried to win votes by saying it could get a better deal with owners than the MLUA and that management employees told umpires to vote for the new union. It also said the failure to pay $20,000 postseason bonuses to the 22 illegally influenced the election. "The employer's position, while harsh, is certainly a matter for interpretation of the contractual language,'' Leach wrote. Meanwhile, Phillips testified Thursday for a third straight day in Philadelphia before arbitrator Alan Symonette, who is hearing the MLUA's grievance trying to gain back the 22 jobs. Phillips has not yet completed his cross examination, and Symonette was uncertain when the case would resume.  Crawford is the only witness to complete his testimony.

Phillips Testifies in Umpires' Grievance

January 18, 2000
PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- Richie Phillips, head of the overturned Major League Umpires Association, planned a second day on the witness stand, testifying on behalf of 22 umpires who lost their jobs in September.

Phillips began his testimony Tuesday, and his lawyer didn't finish questioning him by the end of the day. The hearing will continue through at least Thursday. Arbitrator Alan Symonette heard testimony last month from MLUA president Jerry Crawford, then recessed the case because of a family illness. Phillips claims the 22 umpires were illegally fired, while owners say they merely accepted their resignations, the result of a failed mass resignation strategy by the MLUA. Umpires have since voted 57-35 to replace the MLUA with an insurgent union, the Major League Umpires Independent Organization Committee, led in large part by American League umps unhappy with Phillips. The MLUA filed objections to the election and NLRB hearing officer David Leach III heard three days of testimony earlier this month. Also, a National Labor Relations Board hearing officer in New York is expected to decide this week on Phillips' attempt to reverse a November election that kicked out his union. Leach can recommend the NLRB certify the results or order a new election. The losing side has two weeks to appeal his decision to the five-man NLRB in Washington.  Because of the dispute, almost no bargaining has taken place for a labor contract to replace the deal that expired Dec. 31.

Umpires Claim Baseball Tried to Bust Them

January 5, 2000
NEW YORK -- Baseball commissioner Bud Selig and other top leaders of the sport encouraged a group of insurgent umpires to break off from their union and form a new one, Richie Phillips claimed Wednesday during a federal hearing.

Citing telephone records of calls between Selig's office and insurgent leader John Hirschbeck, Phillips and the Major League Umpires Association tried to convince a National Labor Relations Board hearing that owners illegally conspired with the anti-Phillips faction. Phillips' union is trying to convince a hearing officer to overturn the election it lost 57-35 to the insurgents in November. The hearing officer, David L. Leach III, refused to let Phillips question baseball lawyer Frank Coonelly or an organizer of the insurgent Major League Umpires Independent Organizing Committee about conversations between the two.Phillips said the questioning was crucial to support testimony earlier in the day by Drew Coble, among the 22 umps who lost their jobs in September. Coble said he was told Selig had promised he could have his job back if he dropped his support for Phillips. Phillips, who has led the umpires since 1978, said the insurgents "were used by Bud Selig and baseball as a vehicle to break the union and to send a message to others in baseball."Phillips cited telephone records that showed six telephone calls on July 22 between Selig's Milwaukee office and Hirschbeck's home. Phillips said there was a meeting that day in Selig's office of the nine top executives in baseball, including both league presidents. He claimed they talked about how to break the union. Larry Poncino, an NL umpire, testified that he was told by Hirschbeck's brother, Mark, that the insurgents could have a labor contract within 72 hours if Phillips was ousted or his union dismantled. Poncino said Mark Hirschbeck, an NL ump, said in late September that with Phillips out of the picture, the umpires could get improved severance benefits and larger work crews, among other contract improvements. Poncino said he asked Mark Hirschbeck how he learned about the possible contract improvements and Hirschbeck wouldn't say. Poncino later asked him if he would repeat the allegations at an arbitration hearing in Philadelphia. The MLUA filed a grievance attempting to regain the jobs of the 22."He told me he would have to deny that the conversation ever existed," Poncino said. Confronted with his own resignation letter, Poncino said he signed it because he thought all umpires were signing similar letters. Instead, a majority of AL umps either didn't resign or quickly withdrew their resignations, causing the MLUA's strategy to collapse. The MLUA rested its case, and the insurgents planned to call one or two witnesses Thursday. Owners weren't sure whether they would call any witnesses. Copyright 2000 Associated Press

Deposed Umpires' Union Files Objections With NLRB

December 8, 1999
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Major League Umpires' Association Tuesday filed objections to last week's federally supervised election that scrapped the union in favor of a new bargaining unit. The old union, headed for 21 years by Richie Phillips, charged that the National and American Leagues engaged in ''coercive'' and ``unlawful'' conduct designed to interfere with the balloting. In voting conducted by mail, 57 umpires voted to create a new bargaining unit while 35 sided with Phillips' faction, the MLUA. One umpire's vote was voided. A simple majority of the 93 major league umpires was needed to oust Phillips and form a new union. In a letter to the NLRB Tuesday, MLUA attorney Stephen J. Holroyd asked regional director Daniel Silverman to investigate three specific allegations that the two major leagues improperly affected the outcome of the election. According to Holroyd, NL and AL officials threatened to act ''in a disparate and harsher manner'' toward the umpires if they opted to retain Phillips' union while promising ``harmonious and beneficial'' treatment if they voted for a new association.

Umps Form New Union; Phillips Ousted

December 1, 1999
By RONALD BLUM

NEW YORK (AP) - Richie Phillips' 21-year reign as head of baseball's umpires is over. Just like 22 members of his union, he's out of a job. In a landslide vote, major league umpires formed a new union Tuesday that includes dissident AL umpires on its board.

The National Labor Relations Board announced the results of a mail ballot, with 57 umpires voting for the Major League Umpires Independent Organizing Committee and 35 voting to retain the Major League Umpires Association. One vote was voided because an umpire, whom the NLRB did not identify, signed the ballot, which must be secret.

"Today is a statement by all umpires that it's time for a change,'' said AL umpire John Hirschbeck, who helped lead the dissidents who overthrew Phillips. "We want a union that is run by umpires and advised by attorneys.'' Under federal law, a majority determined the result of the election. Dan Silverman, director the NLRB's New York region, will certify the election as official unless an objection is filed by Dec. 7.

Phillips was in New York, but didn't go to the NLRB for the vote count and was not available for comment, according to his staff in Philadelphia. His side was represented by NL umpire Jerry Crawford, the union president, and lawyer Pat Campbell. "The other union won. I'm upset,'' said Crawford, who added that it was likely Phillips' union would file objections.

Joel Smith, a lawyer for the dissidents, said the law allows objections to be filed by a party claiming there was illegal conduct that affected the outcome. Silverman would determine whether to reject the objection or call a hearing before one of his aides. Hirschbeck said that if Phillips had attended, he would have told him: "It's time for us to move on. Thank you for what you've done for us in our careers. Now it's time for major league umpires to move in a new direction.'' When the umpires splintered into factions in July, Phillips had the support of approximately 41 of the then-68 umpires. At least six of those umpires defected, more if any of the 25 newly hired umpires supported Phillips' union.

In the weeks leading up to the election, most AL umpires appeared to support the dissidents, who were organized by Hirschbeck, Joe Brinkman and Dave Phillips - who is not related to Richie Phillips. The dissidents accused Phillips of being autocratic and responsive only to the union board, heavily influenced by senior NL umpires. Most NL umpires backed Richie Phillips and Crawford, who sat with his elbows on the table Tuesday, clasping his hands, fidgeting, as the votes were counted. Brinkman said it would take about one year for a new union to gain support of all umpires. "I think they'll come back,'' Brinkman said. "It's just a matter of time. It's a healing process.''

Phillips and Crawford hoped to force owners into an early start to negotiations for a new labor contract when they launched their mass resignation strategy July 14. But when many AL umpires either refused to resign or quickly withdrew the resignations, the union cracked.

Owners hired 25 new umps from the minors leagues and accepted the resignations of the 22. Phillips' union filed a grievance to regain those jobs, and arbitrator Alan Symonette last week rejected the owners' motion to dismiss the case, scheduled for argument Dec. 13-16.
"Richie Phillips is very, very, very concerned about the 22 guys,'' Crawford said. "He's been pretty much out of the daily operation of the union. I don't think it was a strong indictment of Richie. They won. I guess they had a stronger campaign than we had.''

Umpires Pay Big Bucks

If it wasn't bad enough that the umpires' lead negotiator lost 22 umpires their jobs, it turns out the umps are paying him through the nose to do it. According to a form filed with the U.S. Department of Labor, the union's costs in 1998 came to an average of $5,756 for each of the 66 members of the union. For comparison's sake, the players only pay their union $4,575 for an entire season. That means the umpires are charged more than 25% more than the players, but the top players make 500% more money than the top umpires. But hey, the union has been such a big help, the money is worth it, right? But hold on a second, it gets worse. Annual union dues are only $500 per umpire, plus a $1,000 initiation fee, but umpires had to pay their union $351,922 in special assessments last year. So where's that money going? Where do you think? The bulk of it went right to their legal team, headed by Richie Phillips. The union lists no employees, but paid $406,293 last year in professional fees. And most umpires don't even know the details. "I've asked for the records. I've asked, in written form, for the expenditures, but have received no response," said AL umpire Dave Phillips, one of the umps opposed to the union leadership. "If you're one of Richie's guys, in his comfort zone, you get that information. If you're not, you get absolutely zero. That's one of the big, big issues." Richie Phillips and his staff, of course, don't think they've done anything wrong. "The major league umpires have other professionals, including accountants who prepare tax returns. There are other expenses of the Major League Umpires Association in addition to attorney fees." Yeah, like all the stamps necessary to mail resignations to Bud Selig. And it gets even worse. The $406,293 the union paid in professional fees last year is likely to be much higher this year, especially since they had to hire New York labor law firm Cohen, Weiss and Simon to try to drag their own butts out of the mess that they paid Phillips so much to get them into.© 1999 Jerk of the Week MLB to Fire Four Evaluators

Baseball plans to fire four employees responsible for evaluating umpires as a part of a reorganization designed to rein in umps, two senior baseball officials said Wednesday. The four employees, all former umpires, will be let go at the end of the season. They include Paul Runge, the National League's executive director of umpires and a former president of the umpire's union, and three evaluators: Jim Quick and Harry Wendelstedt of the NL and Don Denkinger of the American League. While the firings weren't announced, they were confirmed by two high-ranking baseball officials who spoke on the condition they not be identified. Surviving the purge for now are Marty Springstead, the AL's executive director of umpiring; Phil Janssen, the AL coordinator of umpire operations; and Tom Lepperd, the NL umpire supervisor.

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