Major league umpires called a strike on the first day of the baseball playoffs today, leaving four Big Ten college umpires to work the first game of the National League championship series between the Chicago Cubs and the San Diego Padres.
With the exception of former major league umpire Bill Deegan, who volunteered his services today, fill-in umpires who usually work college and amateur-league games also were used tonight in Kansas City, Mo., for the American League championship series opener between the Royals and Detroit Tigers.
There were no negotiations today between the major league umpires and the National and American leagues and none was planned.
At Wrigley Field today, two high school teachers, a food salesman and a jet plane salesman took the field for the National League game. Most likely, they will work the second game Wednesday afternoon.
The major league umpires are striking because they want an increase in pay for postseason games, even for the umpires who don't work those games.
Their absence today was the second time a strike by umpires has affected postseason play, the first coming in 1970. That strike was settled after amateur umpires were used in the first game of each playoff series.
Six umpires usually work playoff games, but only four substitutes were used today because "they are used to working that way," Blake Cullen, the NL supervisor of umpires, said. If the strike continues after the series moves Thursday to San Diego, local umpires there likely would be chosen, Cullen said.
Former umpires Al Barlick and Ed Vargo, who are on the NL staff as umpire supervisors, sat in the dugouts in case rules interpretations were necessary, but were not called upon.
The competency of the substitutes varied depending on who was making the postgame assessment. (All four umpires worked regular-season games at Wrigley Field in 1979 during the most recent strike by major league umpires).
There were no major controversies, but players from both teams said they felt that home plate umpire Dick Cavanaugh operated with a higher strike zone.
Many of the Cubs said they thought the umpires were trying their best and did well under the pressure of the situation.
The Padres, not surprisingly, were more critical. Catcher Terry Kennedy said, "It's a good thing they beat us that bad; that guy (Cavanaugh) was ridiculous behind the plate. He'll lose it for us or the Cubs in a close game. These guys are nothing but clowns from a college league. It was terrible both ways. Couldn't they scratch up anybody better than this?"
Chicago catcher Jody Davis said, "I felt like there were a lot of borderline calls and all of them seemed to be called balls. But (Cavanaugh) was doing as well as he could. He told me a couple of times that he missed pitches. There's a lot of pressure on these guys; they had to feel it, I'd think."
With the score so lopsided, no call by the substitutes was particularly controversial. But in the third inning, on a single by the Cubs' Leon Durham, Ryne Sandberg slid into third base and umpire Joe Maher was completely out of position -- yards behind the play in the outfield. There was no way he could make an informed call.
Maher said afterward, "I would have liked to have been a couple of steps closer. I went out (to left field) and didn't get back in time. But I didn't think the play was that close."
The first base umpire, Dave Slickenmeyer, didn't appear to get far enough into the outfield when Chicago's Keith Moreland made a lunging catch of Carmelo Martinez's bases-loaded drive in the fourth inning.
But Slickenmeyer, when asked how clearly he could see the ball, said, "It was just above the grass. I had no problems with the call. Nobody came out (of the Padres' dugout) and said anything."
Cavanaugh, who said he sold two turbo-props before the game, admitted, "I think I could have done a better job. They say you've called a good game if you've missed seven pitches. I missed three that I know of. I just blew it."
There was also a called third strike early in the game on San Diego's Steve Garvey, who before the game played down the significance of the substitutes. But after striking out, he shot an uncharacteristic long glare at Cavanaugh.
"He didn't say anything," Cavanaugh said. "I said it was in there and he accepted it. The next time up, he tapped me on the shoulder and wished me good luck."
All four umpires said they wanted the strike to end. Maher and second base umpire Joe Pomponi are high school teachers in the Chicago area.
But the umpires, who will reportedly earn the same $2,000 a day the regular umpires do, may be around for a while.
National League President Chub Feeney said the problem is "a larger pool of money for the guys who don't show up for work."
Peter Ueberroth, who took over from Bowie Kuhn this week as commissioner of baseball, said he, too, thought the major sticking point in the negotiations was "the umpires who don't work." He also indicated he would not get involved in future talks.
Richie Phillips, the umpires' representative, said he thought Ueberroth's office should be involved in the matter. "He's supposed to be commissioner of all of baseball, not just the owners," Phillips said.
The key issues in the dispute are pay and job security, areas that were covered only for two years in the four-year contract agreement reached April 5, 1982. Those parts of the contract expired when the season ended Sunday.
Phillips said the pay increase being offered now by the major leagues amounts to $39,000, to be divided among 61 umpires. "TV money has gone from $50 million in 1983 to $200 million in 1984," he said. "We are supposed to get a share of that."
He also said the union is asking for 6 percent of the live gate revenue from the first three games of the league championships and the first four World Series games. Also, the union is seeking 2 percent of the national television revenue from those games.