Baseball's umpires admitted defeat yesterday by announcing they were withdrawing their letters of resignation. However, about one-third of 68 major league umpires probably will lose their jobs since baseball has accepted some of the resignations and hired 25 replacements from the minor leagues.
In all, 42 umpires announced they were withdrawing their resignations. Fourteen had already rescinded their resignations, and 12 others never resigned to begin with.
Umpires union chief Richie Phillips announced the decision, less than two weeks after he orchestrated the mass resignations as a preemptive move in a coming battle with baseball over a new collective bargaining agreement. Because their labor agreement prohibited them from striking, the umpires decided to resign in a move they believed would force baseball to reopen negotiations rather than pay the millions of dollars in termination pay the umpires would be owed.
What they apparently didn't anticipate was baseball's decision to accept the resignations and move quickly to hire replacements.
"They turned their backs on us," National League umpire Bruce Froemming said. "Obviously they think they're going to get a better deal somewhere else."
Sources indicated that American League President Gene Budig informed nine AL umpires Monday that their resignations had been accepted: Drew Coble, Jim Evans, Dale Ford, Rich Garcia, Ed Hickox, Mark Johnson, Ken Kaiser, Greg Kosc and Larry McCoy.
NL President Leonard Coleman likely will send similar notifications to 13 NL umpires this week.
Umpires began to rescind their resignations within days of announcing the strategy. By Monday, with their strategy a shambles, the union sued baseball in federal court asking that they be given until Sept. 2 to rescind the letters of resignation.
When U.S. District Judge Edmund V. Ludwig yesterday declined to issue a temporary restraining order preventing owners from accepting the resignations, the union switched tactics again and abandoned the resignation strategy altogether. The umpires apparently believed that even if they might eventually prevail in court, the fight could drag on for months.
Commissioner Bud Selig declined to comment. Phillips issued a statement saying, "A group of very fine umpires stands very tall and will hold their heads high forever.
"They are to be admired for their resolve and courage. They are confident that they will eventually prevail in this very unseemly affair that was deliberately provoked by Major League Baseball."
Phillips repeated claims that Major League Baseball was guilty of unfair labor practices and said complaints would be filed with the National Labor Relations Board.
Some umpires, who declined to comment, speculated the failed resignation strategy will cost Phillips his job. He survived a move to oust him last winter and eventually signed a five-year extension. However, baseball officials believe there will be a renewed push for new union leadership.
"You need solidarity," NL umpire Angel Hernandez told the Associated Press. "I'm sure there will be turmoil down the road."
Baseball officials have sought for several years to have more control over umpires, including the power to promote the best minor league umpires. They would like to shift supervision of umpires from the individual leagues to Sandy Alderson, Major League Baseball's newly hired vice president of operations. Baseball officials also believe umpires have become too confrontational and at times don't hustle. The officials also were embarrassed last summer by reports that umpires were collecting autographs and other memorabilia from star players.
As for umpires, they have been upset by a variety of recent actions, including an order from Alderson to change the strike zone last spring. Umpires say they believe Alderson didn't follow the prescribed chain of command for such a change.