"It's a sad day for me to be standing out here and a game going on inside. They checked us out. They have the FBI investigate. They talk about how we protect the integrity of the game. And what do they do? They pull guys out of bars to work the game."
Dave Phillips is 35 years old and has been a professional baseball umpire 17 years, the last eight in the American League. He has a wife and two daughters in St. Louis, a National League town, which means that for the seven months he is working he sees his girls maybe a total of two weeks.
Phillips said it was a sad day for him, last Wednesday when he and two dozen other major league umpires walked a picket line outside Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati. The Reds and Giants were inside with three sandlot umps and one veteran of the bigs who crossed his brothers' picket line.
It was a sad day.
For baseball, more than for Phillips, it was a sad day. Baseball is saying to its customers that all its talk of integrity has been so much hot air. It will run the games with unqualified amatuers rather than pay professional wages to umpires who earn them.
Of 52 major league umpires, 51 are on strike. The exception is Ted Hendry, an American League rookie who signed his 1979 contract before the strike was called. Paul Pryor, a veteran of 18 years in the National League, joined the striking umpires yesterday after working two games.
The umpires want higher salaries. Base pay ranges from $17,500 to $39,000. Each umpire negotiates his salary each year. On other working conditions - such as daily expenses, now set at $53 - the umpires are bound by a five-year agreement that runs out in 1981.
The baseball brass insist that the umpires have an obligation under the five-year agreement. Just as some team owners refuse to renegotiate players' contracts, baseball says it will not negotiate with the umpires.
The umpires say talk of "renegotiation" is baseball's way of painting the umpires as the villians of the piece. The umpires say salaries are renegotiated every year, and that is all they want to do now - except, for the first time ever, the umpires are working in concert to help each other. And that, they say, is what baseball cannot abide.
It is absurd that baseball has reduced its most loyal servants to walking a picket line while a second-shift sausage stuffer named Les Treitel works second base inside Riverfront Stadium. Treitel worked five years as a minor-league umpire before giving it up to work for a meat-packing house.
It is absurd that baseball, in giving the press the names of the sandlot umpires from the Queen City Umpires Association, recited facts clearly meant to convince the world that the game was in good hands. For instance, Roger Grooms "has umpired for 29 years," baseball said. And Mick Sharkey has been an ump eight years, "including three in professional baseball in the Midwest League and Western Carolinas League."
Well, la te da.
It is absurd that major league baseball won't pay its umpires a decent wage.
The umpires are not asking for Bowie Kuhn to name a candy bar after them.
"What we're asking," said Phillips, picketing in his AL burgundy umpiring jacket, "would cost each team in the major leagues about $20,000 a year."
That is pocket change. The Angels pay Rod Carew $20,000 for four days work. Umpires work every day from the first spring training game in March to Oct. 1.
The $53 daily expense money is ridiculous. The umpires, Phillips said, are not asking for an increase in the per diem now. They will live up to the five year agreement on that. Nevertheless, the $53 serves a useful purpose in demonstrating how umpires must live.
My Wednesday on the road cost The Washington Post $60.68. I skipped lunch, and had no laundry done, tipped no bellman, tipped no clubhouse boy, didn't call home and ended the night with a 35-cent soft drink instead of two or three belts.
And I was in Cincinnati, not New York or Los Angeles.
I spent $5,000 of my own money on daily expenses last season," Phillips said.
The pirates may give Dave Parker $20,000 for three days to bat. They won't give it to men whose daily integrity from Opening Day through the World Series has never been questioned.
"This would be my ninth year in the American League," said Phillips, who worked the 1976 World Series and is treasurer of the A.L. Umpires Association.
"An NBA official with nine years experience is paid $450- $500 a game.
"For nine years in NFL, an official gets $700 a game.
"Nine years in the American League gets you $180 a game.
"You don't have to be too smart at math to know why we're out here instead of in there."
He nodded toward the ball field.