On a June night in Philadelphia, New York Mets left-hander Frank Viola thought he had struck out Phillies catcher Darren Daulton when plate umpire Frank Pulli appeared to raise his right hand on a 3-and-2 pitch. When Viola saw Daulton trot toward first, he inquired about Pulli's call.

"I thought the pitch was a strike, and I just asked what happened," Viola told reporters after the game. "I asked him what happened and he started screaming at me." Pulli, mask off, went toward the mound.

Unbelievably, it was Manager Bud Harrelson who restored order.

Have umpires declared open season on the players and managers? "Some of them are a little more sensitive than others," Montreal Manager Buck Rodgers said. "I think some umpires hold grudges and test some players."

Veteran American League umpire Al Clark does not agree. "I have been here 15 years, and I don't know of an umpire who holds a grudge against any player, team or organization."

But former Met Gary Carter, now with San Francisco, sees a double standard for some players. "There are times when umpires will try to show their authority to younger pitchers, to see how they react, to see if the rookie is going to make a big deal of it."

Neither league admits a conscious effort of stepped-up aggression by umpires, and many participants refused to discuss the issue with Newsday.

Pulli, who is said to have a short fuse, refused to be interviewed. So did Doug Harvey, the senior umpire in the National League, whom players refer to as "god" because of his authoritative approach. "He's human like anybody else, but he gives you the impression that he's never wrong," Carter said of Harvey. "If you see it one way, he sees it another, and that's the way it stands. There is no argument. There is no explanation."

Clark, however, discussed the player-umpire relationship freely. "Sometimes umpires are on edge. We have to earn our respect every day. We're not going to let people arbitrarily denigrate us on the field," he said. "I don't have any problem with a good argument; I believe that comes with the uniform. But when a player, coach or manager goes so far as to have to be ejected, then it's gone beyond that.

"The tolerance level is different for every umpire. Everyone thinks if you swear you'll be automatically ejected, but that's not so. We don't go to church for a living. We do put on jocks for a living. Everyone thinks the magic word is hyphenated. Well, it's not. The magic word is 'you' because anything after 'you' is personal. If someone yells at me, I'm going to yell back at them."

Players and managers always have believed it is their inalienable right to at least question an umpire's call. Now conferences often turn confrontational. White Sox Manager Jeff Torborg, a former major league catcher, believes umpires today are less tolerant.

"What I have seen is these guys will basically let you have your say, but they're not going to take as much as they used to," Torborg said. "I think the days when Billy {Martin} and Earl {Weaver} used to go at the umpires is over. They will not let you put on that kind of act any longer. These guys are willing to let you make your point as long as you don't show them up."

In an admission not shared by the league, National League umpire Eric Gregg said young umpires are indoctrinated by the veteran umps not to yield in arguments. "We teach young umpires that, when they come to the major leagues, they are not to take anything," Gregg said. "If you get into a situation you can walk away from, fine, but if you're getting challenged, you've got to hold your ground. We don't hold a grudge, but I will communicate better with a guy who is fair with me."

Nick Colosi, a former National League umpire who now observes and files reports with the league office on umpire performance, said the confrontational aspect is being forged by the players. "The ballplayers are making more money. Now they're trying to live up to it," he said. "They're looking for the call from the umpire and are going to argue a little more than usual. The umpires tell me the ballplayers are looking for everything, and if they can't accept your call, they're ready to fight."

Colosi did allow that umpires have "different personalities. Some guys have shorter fuses than others. It's like the strike zone. {Players} have to adjust to the umpires' strike zone; they also have to adjust to the umpires' personalities."

Gregg agreed that big salaries place pressure on players. "When they get into a situation that can go either way, they would like it to go their way, which is only normal," he said. "Will Clark is making $4 million a year. Of course he's going to have pressure on him."

Citing the recent controversy in which Orioles Manager Frank Robinson was suspended three days for bumping Drew Coble, using abusive language and making inappropriate comments to the media, Gregg defended the umpire's position. "I've known Drew Coble for years, and I also know Frank Robinson," he said. "I would lean more toward Drew. Frank's a hell of a manager. He just thinks everybody is out to get Frank. I dismiss that.

"Sparky Anderson is tough, Tommy Lasorda is tough, but with them, it's over the next day. Davey Johnson was good. If he had a beef, he would come out {of the dugout}, but he wasn't nit-picking like some other guys."

Gregg, who weighs more than 300 pounds, said umpires can take good-natured kidding and enjoy a certain amount of banter with the players and managers. "Guys like Mike Schmidt and Gary Carter have said, 'Eric, I don't care if you stand on your head and weigh 800 pounds as long as you get the plays right.' You don't miss plays with your weight. Tommy Lasorda may come out and say, 'You missed that call.' I'll say, 'Tommy, let's go!' He'll say, 'Are we on national TV?' and I'll say, 'No!' He'll say, 'See you later.' You know you can joke with me at times, but if I have a bang-bang play, you're not going to call me Rerun or Tons of Fun. I'm happy-go-lucky, but I'm not a clown."