Thirteen National League umpires lost their jobs today as baseball continued a dramatic overhaul of its lineup of men in blue. Nine American League umpires were notified earlier this week that their resignations had been accepted, giving the sport at least a 32 percent turnover when the resignations take effect Sept. 2.
Meanwhile, the umpires remain deeply divided in their support of their union chief, Richie Phillips. Fourteen umpires released a statement criticizing Phillips for "a flawed and doomed strategy" while others blamed baseball for refusing to negotiate.
"It's really very sad," AL umpire Joe Brinkman said.
The umpires who lost their jobs today were veterans Frank Pulli, Joe West, Eric Gregg, Tom Hallion, Terry Tata, Bob Davidson, Gary Darling, Bruce Dreckman, Bill Hohn, Sam Holbrook, Paul Nauert, Larry Poncino and Larry Vanover.
"I think the conduct of Major League Baseball is reprehensible and oppressive," Phillips said. "What they've really done here is attempt to execute surrendered prisoners. I absolutely vow to fight to the death in this case. . . . ."
Pulli, 64, has been a member of the NL staff since 1972 and had been planning to retire after the 2000 season. "It's a slap in the face. This is what I deserve after 28 years?" Pulli said. "I'm ready to go to war."
Two weeks ago, 56 of 66 unionized umpires submitted letters of resignation designed to force Major League Baseball back to the bargaining table before the current labor agreement expires Dec. 31. Instead of bargaining, baseball prepared to accept the resignations and hire replacements from the minor leagues. Within days of the mass resignations, several umpires tried to withdraw their resignations and others claimed they had never signed the letters to begin with. By late last week, it was clear the strategy had failed.
On Monday, the union asked a federal judge to give the umpires until Sept. 2 to change their minds. When the judge refused, the union tried to withdraw the resignations of the final 42 umpires on Tuesday. By then, baseball had already hired 25 replacement umpires from the minor leagues and was deciding which umpires would keep their jobs.
When Commissioner Bud Selig named Oakland A's President Sandy Alderson a vice president of baseball operations for the sport last winter, one of his mandates was to improve the umpiring. Dozens of baseball executives believe umpires have become too confrontational -- and at times too lazy -- in recent years. The officials believed the strike zones of umpires were too inconsistent, and in the end, they believed it was time for some new blood.
While Phillips has lost substantial support, some umpires blamed Selig and Alderson for their problems. "This is a plan by Bud Selig and Sandy Alderson to break the union," said NL umpire Steve Rippley, according to the Associated Press. Rippley learned that he had kept his job but might retire.
Bloomberg News reported that player agent Ron Shapiro, who has been supported by several umpires as a potential replacement for Phillips, today questioned Phillips's tactics for the first time publicly.
"It's about a failed bargaining strategy," Shapiro said at a book store in Philadelphia where he was promoting his book, "The Power of Nice," about negotiating strategies. "I've talked to six top labor attorneys and they said what Richie did doesn't make sense to any of them. It doesn't make sense to me."