For the third time in three years, negotiations between major league umpires and baseball officials went down to the 11th hour as both sides tried tonight to avoid a strike by umpires on the eve of one of the game's glamor events.
Less than 18 hours before the beginning of the championship series, the sides were still far apart in their demands, according to National League President Chub Feeney.
Mary Lane, general counsel for the Major League Umpires Association, said from Philadelphia talks broke off late tonight with management offering $249,000. The umpires want $550,000 or 6 percent of the ticket sales from the first three games of the playoffs, 6 percent of the first four games of the World Series and 2 percent of television revenues.
"I'm hopeful," Feeney said, although earlier in the day National League umpire Paul Runge had termed a strike "definite."
If the umpires walk out, both league championship games would be played with substitute umpires -- probably from the college ranks, according to sources.
Similar intense negotiations before the 1981 All-Star Game and opening day of the 1982 season resulted in last-minute settlements. Because of those precedents, many in baseball assume that a late settlement is almost a foregone conclusion and that regular umpires will take their places Tuesday in Wrigley Field in Chicago and Royals Stadium in Kansas City.
However, umpires did go on strike for 50 days in 1979. That walkout was generally thought to have left the union too weak to strike again.
On the other hand, no agreement had been reached tonight as Feeney and American League President Bobby Brown held talks by telephone with the umpires' representative, Richie Phillips.
Earlier, Phillips, in Philadelphia, had said, "There have been no negotiations today at all. We're waiting to hear from them. We met last night in New York for several hours and they said they would get back to me.
"The negotiations are dead still right now."
Later tonight, Phillips said he spoke by phone with Brown, but said their talk had produced "nothing of importance."
Union spokesmen tried to create the impression that a strike was almost inevitable. For his part, Feeney said, "I hope that it's not too late to reach an agreement. You never have a strike until there's a strike. I don't know how this will turn out, but I'm still hopeful."
Peter Ueberroth's first day as the new commissioner hardly began auspiciously. "A few things are going wrong from the beginning," he said.
"We have presidents of both leagues and it's their responsibility. The commissioner's office is not involved and will not be involved," he continued. "The negotiations have been going on for months and months. I think they're both doing a good job. They're sincere.
"Oftentimes, in fact more often than not, negotiations with both parties in a labor dispute will go down to the wire."
"We negotiated until after midnight last night," Feeney said here tonight. "I don't know where Richie (Phillips) is right now, but I expect he'll be on the phone in a while. We've got everything hammered out except for this question of postseason pay.
"We've offered them increases from $10,000 to $12,000 for the 12 umpires who work the playoffs and from $15,000 to $17,500 for the six umpires in the World Series. We think that's fair," said Feeney of the $39,000 raise to a total of $249,000. "They're asking for a total package of $550,000 for the postseason and they'll divide it up themselves among all the (60) umpires.
"That's more than double what they're getting. We want to pay 'em fairly, but we want to pay the ones who work."
Umpires are used in the postseason on a rotating basis -- no umpire can be in the World Series more often than once every four years and can't serve in the playoffs two years in a row. Beyond that, however, umpires make postseason play on a merit basis. Feeney says baseball doesn't want to pay $550,000 and perhaps cut into the merit-incentive motive.
Runge, speaking from his California home, has a different perspective. "It (the strike) is definite," he said. "We told the umpires to go home. I think we've been forced into a strike. We want to work. We didn't want to go out . . . Every union man knows there is a limit to how far you can back off.
"A low blow to the fans? Well, they gave us a low blow. All season they didn't give any credence to our position."
The umpires' contract is up for renewal after the 1985 season. At present, only the postseason segment is negotiable. "We want a fair and more equitable distribution of the game's revenues," Phillips was quoted as saying Sunday night.
For perspective, the umpires' demand for a $300,000 raise for their union stands in contrast to the new TV contract -- $1.1 billion over four years -- that baseball has signed.
"The umpires are doing what they should do," said that famous umpire baiter, Earl Weaver, here today to do ABC-TV commentary. "They shouldn't be faulted. They're underpaid. Their pension plan is poor. It's a shame it has to happen like this. With all the money baseball is making, there ought to be enough for the umpires, too. I have to feel their requests are justified."
The man most likely to be affected by substitute umpires is first-game Detroit pitcher Jack Morris, whose temper was triggered many times during the regular season by calls he thought were bad. "I don't worry about the umpires," he said. "They're not exactly my buddies. I've got to worry about me."