Rarely is baseball faced with an ethical and financial crisis that has only one correct and simple solution. That, however is the case with the current umpires' holdout.
Of major-league baseball's 52 arbiters, 51 have not signed their contracts and threaten to sit out the season if their salary demands are not met.
The just and proper solution is this: Give the umpires everything they want. Then give them more. The men in blue still won't be getting their due.
Few stories in sports are as disgraceful as baseball's treatment of its umpiring staff. Or as little told.
Every labor demand made by the umpires in the past year is not only valid and belated but modest.
The response of baseball's owners, speaking through the two league presidents, has been cheap, vengeful and unworthy of the game.
Baseball has counted on the public's ingrained "Kill-the-Ump" mentality to take a legally correct but ethically nauseating hard line.
If fans understood the life of the average umpire -- what he endures, what he earns and how little he asks -- then the moguls of the game would be shamed into coughing up the pittance it would cost to bring dignity to umpiring.
No talk of demands means anything without a sense of the umpire's condition. Let us look at two typical umps: second-year man Ken Kaiser and veteran Ron Luciano.
"I was in the minors for 13 years," said Kaiser. "I thought about quitting 50,000 times, like we all do.
"In my last year in the minors ('76), I was making $650 -- a month, not a week. That's for five months a year.
"Just try to get an offseason job. It's murder. I was everything from a prowrestler, to a used-car salesman, to a bouncer in a bar. I tried to get an American Express card and they laughed at me. They told me I could make more money on welfare."
What is the princely major league salary that all rookie umpires receive after this brutal apprenticeship? Answer: $16,500.
Luciano, 41, president of the umpires association, is the most famous arbiter in the game today, a showman and comic who quotes Shakespeare.
"Umpires have kept this game honest for 100 years," says the former All-America football tackle (Syracuse) with a degree in mathematics. "We must have integrity, because we sure don't have a normal family life. We certainly aren't properly paid. We have no health care, no job security, no tenure. Our pension plan is a joke.
"We take more abuse than any living group of humans," he said. "If we're fired without notice, our only recourse is to appeal to the league president, and he's the guy that fires you. That's gotta be unconstitutional.
"If you ask for one day off in a seven-month season, they try to make you feel three inches tall... I once went four months without seeing my (now former) wife," said Luciano. "This job is perfect for broken marriages and alcoholism."
What does Luciano, who draws more fans to the park than many players. earn after five years in the minors and 10 in the majors? "Last season, I finally nudged over $30,000," he said.
So, what enormous demands did the umpires make last season before going out on strike for one day in August?
Three of their requests were simple: job security after three years in the majors, cost-of-living increases and increased disability benefits.
The fourth request caused laughter. The umps asked for the formation of one additional "relief crew" -- four men earning less than $100,000 a year total.
The rotating crew would allow each of the other 13 foursomes to have a total of three weeks of rest and recuperation spread over the 200-game season.
Naturally, baseball's brass called this "vacation," rather than a "sanity break," and the press and public swallowed that description.
"The presidents of the league's have left us know that they think, with our lack of education, we're lucky to have the jobs we have and be making the money we're making," said Bob Engel, past umpire's union president.
That is baseball's vicious scissors play. The sport grabs hundreds of young men in its minor-league umpiring net and encourages the best, promising them promotion.
Then, one day, the cream of that young crop wakes up in middle age with 20 years of professional umpiring behind it. Those men are untrained for any other job. And baseball says, "Take what we decide to give you and shut up, or we'll fire you and hire some jerk from a bar who can yell, 'Out' an 'Safe.'"
What are the 5i umpires, and their new lawyer, Richie Phillips, finally standing up and demanding?
A decent pension? More disability benefits? Job security? Or even a relief crew
Answer: None of the above.
The umps know they can't get them. They are locked into a collective-bargaining contract that runs through 1981. If they strike for standard union benefits, they will be hit with a court injunction, just as they were last August. National League President Cbub FeeNey has hinted he'll ask for one if his umpires don't report to camp today.
The arbiters have played their one loophole card, an ironic one. Baseball insists that each umpire sign an individual contract, not one linked to any union or grievance procedure. That way, the umps can be kept on a short rein. and fired on a moment's notice.
But nothing, the umpires feel, keeps them from hollding out as a group, with Phillips negotiating raises for each individual umpire. The key is that none will sign until all are satified.
"Some of the umpires are asking for almost 50 percent raises," said a source close to the negotiations on management's side of the table.
Well, bully for them. If every umpire in baseball got a 50 percent raise, it would cost baseball less than Pete Rose's annual $800,000 salary.