FIFTY-TWO umpires want more pay-surprisingly little more-and have been making their protests known for a week. Another bad call and "who needs you?" is the attitude of the 26 club owners, who have signaled their other minions, the obedient ones to get on with the game.
As desingated umpire, the two league presidents rounded up a collection of honest souls from the minor leagues, colleges and semi-pros, conferring instant big-league status on that established group.
Team managers are trying to live with it, but it is with no gladness. their yelps have pierced the night from Balimore to Houston, ever since the season opened. It was the first time in 104 years the season began with an amateur hour. Too many green thumbs.
Both parties, the pouting umpires and the resolute club owners, claim to have the law on their side. The owners maintain they have a valid working agreement with the umps' association through 1981.
The umpires do not deny this but say this thing is not an association matter, that they are striking on an individual basis because they have not accepted new contracts, and that a Philadelphia judge has approved their right to individual action, and that the owners know this.
After a week it came down to mean strokes.The umpires say the two league presidents switched banks on them without notice, and that they have traced their savings plan money to the New York Equitable Life Assurance Company. So they are now-picketing that institution, too.
Frank Pulley, out of Easton, Pa., is a National League umpire of seven years experience. He says he is now beginning to feel the pinch and wants some of the $11,000 of his own money that's in that savings plan.
But like the other umpires he can't get any of it because the owners are being tough in this matter. In the plan, the clubs match the umpires' savings dollar for dollar up to 5 percent of their total wages.
According to Pulley, the raises the individual umpires want are modest ones. They are asking for only $1,000 a year for umpires with a range of from one to six years experience; $1,500 more for those with six to 11 years of seniority.
"That figures out to around $3 a day on an average, it's no big deal," Pulley said.
Sure, Pulley said, they can't help thinking about those monstrous salaries of the ballplayers, $800,000 a year for Pete Rose, $500,000 a year for a dozen others, with the pay averaging out to $100,000 a year for all of them.
"We're not pretending we are ball players," he said. "But we're professionals are we'd like a decent wage. Our first-year guys work for $17,500."
It's embarrassing when, for example, a prospective father-in-law asks a young umpire how much he will be making. Pulley's own pay is in the $25,000 bracket, not great for a father of three with college tuitions ahead of him.
Nor is the expense money the league allows the umpires all that wonderful, he said.
"We're suppoese to each pay our hotel bills and cab fares and tip the clubhouse boy $5 a game, all on our $53-a-day allowance, Pulley said.
ur hotel rates in Pittsburgh just went up from $27 to $40, so figure that out. The ballplayers get $29 a day just for eating money and they stay at the plush hotels and eat free in the clubhouse."
He said he had to dip into his pocket for more than $3,000 last year to meet traveling expenses.
The temptation is to ask what curious breed is drawn to the umpiring business, with all of its assured miseries. He is dommed to little dignity in honest toil. He has the capacity for arousing more bitterness than any other professional and is a most visible public enemy of the populace.
With every decision he makes, the poor devil is going to hurt somebody, and in a nine-inning game there are about 250 of them, all judgement calls.
And as if the umpires' villainy were not solidly established in the 70years before the coming of television to baseball, now look what happens. Those instant replays. When the umpire is right, they replay it once; when he is embarrassingly wrong, they replay it five times.
Yet there have been autocrats among the umpires, revelling in their authority and willing to brave the slings and arrows. The late Bill McGowan was one, and probably was the best of modern umpires. Two memories of McGowan in action are revived.
On one occasion, when a runner came back to first base after being called out, he told McGowan, "Bill, you know I was safe," and McGowan said, "That's right, you know you were safe, and I know you were safe, but my hand went up when you crossed the bag, and 35,000 people up there in the stands know you are out."
Another time, when a runner protested he was safe at first, McGowen advised him, "If you don't think you were out, look in the morning papers."
But mostly, Gilbert and Sullivan could be easily parodied to say an umpire's life is not a happy one. One day in Boston, after umpire Ed Rommel threw Washington Manager Ossie Bluege out of a game, a writer suggested that Bluege must have cursed him. Bluege said he didn't. Bluege said he merely told Rommel that what Bucky Harris called him last year went for him, too.