Major League Baseball hired 10 additional replacement umpires today even as more veteran umpires changed their minds about quitting. However, one veteran umpire said tonight that negotiations aimed at settling the dispute already have begun.
"I think we'll know something in the next day or two," said the umpire, who requested anonymity. "We're hearing it's going to get worked out, but we don't know the details yet."
Asked what would happen to the 20 replacement umpires who have been hired, he said: "I have no idea."
Commissioner Bud Selig and Richie Phillips, the leader of the Major League Baseball Umpires Association, will be in Cooperstown, N.Y., for this weekend's Hall of Fame induction ceremonies, but it is unclear whether they will meet.
With the numbers still changing, it is believed that 23 of the 32 American League umpires have decided to remain on the job. However, 33 of 36 National League umpires are sticking by their resignations, according to a count by the Associated Press. Of the 32 American League umpires, 11 never quit, and 12 others have rescinded their resignations.
But with 42 umpires scheduled to leave Sept. 2, baseball officials may be prepared to open negotiations with Phillips. Previously, officials on both sides indicated Selig was prepared to accept the resignations.
Selig has remained silent throughout the dispute, watching from the sidelines as support for Phillips and his idea of mass resignations appeared to be waning.
"This is not one or two," said AL umpire Mike Reilly, who withdrew his resignation today. "This is a big group out there now who have rescinded their resignations."
Reilly said his decision was "based on my family and what I can do best to support them. I have four kids, 12 to 7."
Rick Reed, Tim Tschida and Larry Young also withdrew their resignations today, according to sources. Al Clark, the fourth member of that crew, rescinded his resignation Thursday.
NL umpire Bruce Froemming said, "The only news I heard today is that dialogue could open the whole thing up, when people get off the position that they won't talk to our counsel."
Phillips continued to try to unionize minor league umpires, who make up all 20 replacement umpires. Phillips said the National Labor Relations Board will be asked to hold an organizing election on behalf of minor league umpires. He previously said 220 of 228 minor league umps voted to form a union.
Umpires announced mass resignations last week, saying Major League Baseball intended to lock them out once their labor agreement expires Dec. 31. The agreement prohibits them from striking.
Baseball has made no secret of its unhappiness with the state of umpiring. Officials want more power to promote the best umpires and dismiss the worst ones. Umpires became angry this spring when Sandy Alderson, baseball's newly hired vice president of operations, sent umpires a memo seeking to redefine the strike zone. They also were upset when NL umpire Tom Hallion recently was suspended for bumping a player.
Some umpires began to reconsider their positions to quit once it became apparent Selig would accept the resignations. Baseball has told umpires that those who have rescinded their resignations will be allowed to remain on the job.
One of the minor league umpires who accepted the offer of a promotion worked a big league game in Houston today with three veteran umpires who have submitted their resignations.
"There's really no decision," said the umpire, C.B. Bucknor. "They're offering me a job, so I'm going to take the job."
Besides Phillips, the others who rescinded their resignations are Rocky Roe, Dale Scott, Jim Joyce, Chuck Meriwether, Gary Cederstrom, Reilly, Clark, Young, Tschida, Reed and Larry Barnett in the AL, Wally Bell and Jeff Nelson in the NL.