Major League Baseball promoted 10 minor league umpires to the big leagues today, sending the clearest signal yet that Commissioner Bud Selig has decided to accept last week's mass resignations.
All 10 of the umpires have been working as vacation fill-ins, but they were notified that they will be added to the major league staffs permanently beginning Sept. 1.
The decision to hire the minor league umpires was made today during a meeting in Milwaukee with Selig, National League President Leonard Coleman, American League President Gene Budig, Chief Operating Officer Paul Beeston, Executive Vice President Sandy Alderson and five lawyers.
Meanwhile, the current umpires appear divided in their support of Richie Phillips, the leader of the Major League Baseball Umpires Association. Fifty-three of the 66 unionized major league umpires quit last week, believing that baseball would lock them out once their labor contract expired in December. Their current labor agreement prohibits them from striking.
However, several umpires have since tried to rescind their resignations, and some have called for Phillips to step down. Thirty-three of the 36 NL umpires plan to quit, according to a tally taken by the Associated Press, but only about half of the 32 AL umpires are quitting.
Bloomberg News reported that AL umpire Tim Welke, a 16-year veteran, resigned from the union's board in protest. Welke told Bloomberg that five more umpires tried to rescind their resignations, and that at least 10 others were considering the same action.
"It's all crumbling," Welke told Bloomberg News. "It's all coming apart."
However, union officials said most umpires are standing firm and some others could return to the fold.
"The numbers who still support us are staggering," said Pat Campbell, association general counsel.
Pressure has been intense for both sides, and several umpires appear to be wavering. Among the latest umpires to try to withdraw their resignations are Gary Cederstrom, Al Clark and Chuck Meriwether, all of the AL. But AL ump Greg Kosc resigned, withdrew his resignation, then quit again.
"A lot of this is all posturing, negotiating tactics," AL umpire Tim McClelland said. "You have to take it with a grain of salt."
McClelland has not tendered his resignation, but said he intends to do so. "I'd like to see us keep the solidarity," he said. "We're all fighting for the same thing -- to get a new agreement. Some feel one way is the way to go, some feel the other way is better. We all want to be on the field."
Fifty-one umpires held a 3 1/2-hour conference call this morning to discuss their position, and NL umpire Bruce Froemming said there is more solidarity than has been reported.
Still, some umpires disagree with Phillips's strategy.
"I am adamantly opposed to this kind of leadership," AL umpire Dave Phillips said. "There are times when you pull out your gun, your mortar and go winner-take-all. But communication and negotiation are the most important ingredients we need."
Richie Phillips said he isn't surprised that some AL umpires have declined to go along with the mass resignations.
"They do not like me personally, do not like my style and believe I'm too confrontational a lawyer," he said. "The media is providing them with a forum. Fifty-five guys say Richie Phillips is the greatest thing that ever happened to officiating in any sport and has won battle after battle after battle for us since 1978."
NL umpire Terry Tata said: "There's a little splinter group out there, but hopefully they'll see the error of their ways and walk in unity with us. If we were united 100 percent, baseball would be at the table with us talking right now. I really believe that."