BASEBALL has been good to me and I have no complaints. But I must admit that the best thing the umpires did was to organize into a union. It was done in secrecy in 1963. The National League umpires organized first. We invited the American League umpires to come in but they weren't interested. Why, I don't know.
We guessed at the time that maybe Joe Cronin, who was then the American League president, threatened them. Five years later, after much grief, they woke up and joined our union and we changed our name to the Association of Major League Umpires.
Augie Donatelli deserves a lot of the credit. The union was Augie's idea and he did most of the hard work.
Many umpires never properly thanked Augie, but if it wasn't for him they wouldn't be getting the salaries and benefits they have today. Most of us were satisfied with the little we got. Augie was always telling us we were wrong. He would say, "They kick us around like a rubber ball because they know they can get away with it."
A lot of people resented Augie because of this, but he was right. We got a lot more respect, and more money, after we organized.
Augie and Shag Crawford, Al Barlikc, Stan Landes, Jocko Conlan, Mel Steiner, and myself were in on it from the beginning. We had our first meeting in Chicago and Jocko found a lawyer for us, Jack Reynolds, a big, friendly guy who was an experienced labor negotiator.
I as in favor of organizing, but I didn't want to do it without mentioning it to (Warren) Giles, the National League president. I said, "Let's take our complaints to Mr. Giles first. He's our boss. We should tell him what we're planning to do and maybe he'll help us."
Some of the other umpires, fellows who weren't at the meeting, agreed with me, but I was voted down. Maybe I was naive. I still think we could have given Mr. Giles thie courtesy. I never regarded him as our enemy.
When we announced we had organized, most of the people in the league office laughed at us. They didn't think we were serious. But we were.
There were two owners who did go to bat for us, though, Walter O'Malley of Los Angeles and John Galbreath of Pittsburgh. They were surprised when they discovered our salaries were so small.
Reynolds negotiated our 1964 contract and we were on our way. When he took over, our starting salary was about $7,500 and the average was about $13,000. Our pension was pitifully small, $150 a year for every year of service: a fellow who had been in the league 20 years got $3,000 a year.
Babe Pinelli, for example, put 22 years in and retired with a pension of $187 a month. Besides, part of our salary went into the pension fund so, in effect, we paid our pension along the way.
We also contributed half the costs for what even in those days was an inadequate medical and hospital program.
In the next 10 years we made a lot of gains. By the time Reynolds left us, there were considerable pension and hospitalization improvements, death benefits, including benefits for widows, and the starting salary was up to $12,500. We also got a better money deal for working the playoffs and thw World Series. In addition, we now have tenure after six years, that is, once an umpire is in the league for six years, he can't be dismissed without the league showing good cause.
John Cifelli, and attorney from Chicago Heights, Ill., replaced Reynolds. Cifelli did a good job for us, too, but was succeeded in the spring of 1978 by Richie Phillips.
I don't know much about Phillips, except that he's a young and aggressive Philadelphia lawyer who also represents the officials in the National Basketball Association. Cifelli got the starting wage up to $17,500; by this time some of the senior umpires were earning as much as $40,000. I was in the $40,000 bracket when I retired, pretty good considering I made $5,000 my first year in the league.
We couldn't have made all these gains if we hadn't stood together. Even with a union and with the help of professional negotiators, it wasn't easy. There were a lot of heartaches. Reynolds led us on a one-day strike in 1971. We struck the first game of the playoffs, the first strike by the umpires in baseball history.
We didn't want to go on strike and hurt the good name of baseball, but we were forced into it. They were taking good care of us at the time but not good enough. We were fighting for a contract.
Last year, in 1978, the umpires had another one-day strike but were immediately called back to work by a Philadelphia federal judge. There was a difference in the two strikes. The second one wasn't quite legal, because the umpires walked out when they were in the second year of a five-year contract.
It wasn't until after the 1968 season that the American League umpires joined our association. When they did, all hell broke loose and Joe Cornin, the league president, fired two line umpires, Bill Valentine and Al Salerno. Cronin insisted they were incompetent and managed to fool the courts, but he didn't fool the umpires or anyone else wise to the inner workings of baseball.
It was a sad chapter in the history of the grand old game. Salerno and Valentine got the ax for only one reason-because they had taken the initiative in organizing the American League umpires.
Our association brought charges against Cronin and the American League with the National Labor Relations Board. Salerno and Valentine also filed individual suits, each of them asking for about $2 million in damages. The thing dragged on and on and, in the end, we were the losers. The NLRB dismissed the charges for "insufficient evidence."
We found out who our friends were during the hearings. Only three American League managers came to the trial and testified in behalf of Salerno and Valentine. They were Eddie Stanky of the Chicago White Sox, Dick Wiliams, who then had the Boston Red Sox, and Alvin Dark of the Cleveland Indians. They surprised us. All of them were pretty tough on umpires, especially Stanky. CAPTION: Illustration, no caption