Several more umpires rescinded their resignations yesterday, and at least three of them called for union leader Richie Phillips to be replaced. Meanwhile, Major League Baseball has considered giving umpires a deadline to change their minds or face termination even as minor league replacements were lined up.
Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, who has remained silent since 53 of the 66 unionized major league umpires quit last week, may announce his plans today.
Those resignations, which were to take effect Sept. 2, came as a preemptive strike. Umpires are bound by a no-strike clause, but believed they needed to do something because they are convinced owners will lock them out once the current labor agreement expires Dec. 31.
With Selig prepared to accept the resignations, five umpires changed their minds Tuesday, and several more decided not to quit yesterday, according to sources.
"I don't believe we're receiving good leadership from Richie Phillips," American League umpire John Hirschbeck told Bloomberg News. "That's my opinion, and I don't care who knows it. I think he should be replaced."
AL umpire Rocky Roe, who also called for Phillips to quit as union chief, said of last week's vote to resign, "You've got 58 or 59 Type A personalities in a small room, and we got worked into a frenzy. People say, `How could you guys do that?' You can correlate it to the Jonestown massacre. How in the world did they get people to suck down all that Kool-Aid?"
National League umpire Bruce Froemming, a union board member, said baseball officials were looking for a fight, but he agreed that Phillips had become the issue for some umpires. "This has become personal," Froemming said. "We're not divided."
Hirschbeck was one of 14 umpires who voted in February to replace Phillips with Baltimore-based agent Ron Shapiro. Another AL umpire -- Dave Phillips -- also called for Richie Phillips to resign. However, Pat Campbell, the union's associate general counsel, said most umpires still support Phillips.
"These guys are out on a limb now," Campbell said. "They know that a lot of people don't appreciate what they did. They have to wonder what reception they'll get."
Resigning positioned umpires to collect about $15 million in severance pay, allowing most umpires to receive packages valued between $100,000 and $400,000 if they leave their jobs voluntarily. The starting salary for umpires is $75,000 and nearly half earn more than $200,000.
Major League Baseball officials want more control over umpires in the new labor agreement, including the power to dismiss some umpires and promote others, according to sources.
Larry Barnett and Dave Phillips, the two most senior umpires in the AL with a combined 59 years experience, are among the five who rescinded their resignations. Roe, Dale Scott and Jim Joyce are the others.
Umpires have been increasingly upset with Sandy Alderson, major league baseball's vice president of baseball operations, and his associates over several issues, including last spring's re-defining of the strike zone and the recent suspension of NL umpire Tom Hallion for bumping a player.
They appear most upset by Selig's plan to shift control of the umpires from the individual league presidents to one central authority that would be responsible for the hiring, firing, discipline, evaluation and training of umpires.
Baseball officials believe umpires have become too confrontational in recent years and that many adhere to their own individual strike zones instead of the one outlined by major league rules. Players and managers have complained for years that some umpires were either not in shape to work a game adequately or that they had simply lost their zest for umpiring, but didn't want to give up the salaries and other perks.
Some umpires said they heard rumors that some of their colleagues had changed their minds about resigning, possibly to protect claims related to injuries.
"They're out to protect themselves. They're thinking of themselves," said Rick Reed, one of the AL umpires who has resigned. "In that light, we wouldn't think any worse of them at all."
Richie Phillips held another conference call with minor league umpires on Tuesday, and several leagues were lining up replacement umpires.
Baseball officials have been told that Phillips believes baseball has already decided to fire at least 20 umpires.
"There have been some comments that came out of New York that said, in effect, the best way to improve any staff is to get rid of them," veteran umpire Jim Evans told the Boston Globe. "It was a comment made to our negotiator. How many? I don't know. We don't think we're perfect. We think there needs to be better training, continuing education. But to say the best way to improve a staff is to fire people is just unfair.
"There are some different issues now because of the new hierarchy in New York and a different mentality against umpires. There hasn't been much communication. The issues are not financial. I'm sure that's what the public will think. The umpires are not being greedy or are after more money, more benefits, et cetera."