Every umpire is faced with continual minor crises of conscience. But for the last two weeks, Dallas Parks, career bush-league arbiter, has been wresting with a hugh one.
Today, Parks, 37, who for years feared that he was wasting his life working for $600 a month as a minor league umpire, worked his first big-league game.
Suddenly, Parks-a makeshift cres chief working behind home plate in these days of the major league umpires' strike-has everything he always wanted.
Parks has signed a three-year guaranteed contract with the American League for $20,000 per season - almost six times his minor league salary. The big leagues have hired nine such umpires from the minors, elevating them as cres chiefs.
"I'm here to stay," Parks said. "They'll have to drive me out of the big leagues with a gun.
Yet Parks is a man under enormous strain. In the eight days after the AL offered him the fairy tale, strike-breaking contract, Parks was contacted by "at least 20 umpires from each league. "At first they were gently trying to talk me out of crossing their picket line. But by the end, they were saying heavy things ... that when they came back, they would drive me out of the game. That I was cutting my own throat."
His mask, shin guards and chest protector beside him, Parks, from Adelphi, Md., suddenly felt the force of the mounting crisis.
"I had an unvle who treated me like a son ... kept me going when I wanted to quit. His name was Drummond Parks. Boy, would he be happy today," said Parks, looking across the small room at his father.
Then the tears started to pour down Park's face as he gritted his teeth.
"Jeez, I didn't want to do this," he said, running his hand through the hair of his 5-year-old son, Trevor, to help regain his composure.
"This had just been the most important day of my life ... and the toughest ... I'm just a life-long frustrated ballplayer who finally made the big leagues."
But he has done it in a way that obviously ties his insides in knots.
"I changes my mind five times in the eight days after (AL President) Lee MacPhail offered me the contracts," said Parks.
"I've got a son that has no yard to play in, a wife who works to support us. I'm 37 and I've been i the minors seven years. The last two years I've been the No. 1 umpire in the International League - the top of the minors. I made $3,600 for six months' work, seven days a week with a $33 per diem that's just barely enough to keep going.
"I know the odds were all against me. It's 1 to 100 against an umpire making the majors, even after you get to AA. The attrition rate is so small because nobody quits the big leagues.
"I don't want to sound like I'm using my family as a lever, because I have to stand up for my decision like a man, but I just can't believe any other man in my position wouldn't do the same thing."
The 50 striking major league umpires, who also have survived the Hades of the Minors, who also have families, who also think umpires have been underpaid for a century, dont't agree.
"They told me that if I stuck with them, they'd stand by me forever," said Parks. "But what does that mean? What have they ever done for me" And what are they ever going to be able to do for me? Baseball holds all the cards.
"I could still be in the minors five years from now, waiting for a sincere shot at the bigs. I didn't want to take another man's job, but look at my situation. In the minors I had no work benefits of any kind-medical, insurance, pension ... nothing. If you quit, it's like you never worked a day.
"Now I have a three-year contract that says I get a paid even if the strike is settled and I go back to the minors. But that's not going to happen.The only way I'm going back down is if I prove that I can't make it up here as umpire. If I don't mess up. I'm Here to stay. I firmly believe that. If anybody wants to try to run me out of the game ..."
No further word were needed. Bad blood had reached the boiling point in baseball's bitter and ugly umpire's strike. The nine new no-cut, guaranteed-salary umpires demonstrate baseball's knuckles-bared labor policy.
No great insight is needed to realize that baseball, which has used and discarded umpires before, is willing to do so again.
All 50 striking umpires, each holding out as an individual, know what the nine new umpires mean. Somebody is going to hire back only the umpires it wants, not the deadwood. And, perhaps, it is going to rehire only arbitors who hurry. Already, major league press releases refer to the 50 as "former umpires."
Baseball's treatment of its umpires has long been one of the sport's marks of shame, perhaps its most pernicious ethical cancer since segregation.
The game's latest stand-forcing AAA umpires working at near-slave wages to choose between their families and their conscience-is typical of baseball's amoral, century-old attitude toward labor relations.
Owners, bitter because of the salary gains of players, now are firing the first shot in the 1980 collective bargaining war with the Players Association. This is hardball; the owners and their mouthpiece league presidents say: Look how we've put the poor disorganized umpires on the rack and ripped them in four directions.
And at the center of this strife, standing on the pastoral green fields of spring, are nine men like Dallas Parks-uncertain, deeply torn, grown men accustomed to stress, on the verge of tears.
"i'm here to stay," Parks said again, looking at the young son who seems to be final tangible resolution to many abstract questions that are not his daily mental fare. "They'll have to run me out with a gun." CAPTION: Picture, Umpire Dallas Parks has called the Orioles' Gary Roenicke out after White Sox catcher Marv Foley made unassisted force play. Parks, who has toiled for years in the minors for little pay, is one of nine umpires promoted to help replace the striking major-league arbiters. By Richard Darvey-The Washington Post