Twenty-two major league umpires lost their jobs last night as part of a deal struck between representatives of their union and baseball's owners.
With a federal judge urging the sides to settle during a second straight marathon negotiating session, the Major League Umpires Association agreed to withdraw a lawsuit against the owners and a complaint filed with the National Labor Relations Board in exchange for a package of salary and benefits for the departing umpires for the remainder of the season.
The owners agreed to allow an arbitrator to hear the dispute and to pay $1.42 million in postseason bonuses to the 71 umpires on the major league staff after last night's changes.
While union leaders held out hope they could win the jobs back through arbitration, the process normally takes months, meaning the 22 umpires -- almost one-third of baseball's 68 permanent big league umps -- will be gone indefinitely.
Several of them conceded they do not expect to get their jobs back. Baseball already had hired 25 replacement umpires when it accepted the 22 letters of resignations.
"The 22 resignations stand," Commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement, "and the new umpires are permanent employees. . . . We are proud to have them on board."
Union president Jerry Crawford said the umpires accepted the deal because it is "the best we can come up with."
"We still have the 22 guys' lives on the line," Crawford said. "It gives us a chance to fight another day."
Several umpires said they understood the sides were working toward an agreement that would allow the 22 umpires to work the remainder of this season.
"They took that off the table this morning," said Susan Davis, an attorney for the umpires.
American League umpire Mark Johnson left the courthouse in Philadelphia in tears after learning of the decision, and union head Richie Phillips once more criticized baseball for a fight the umpires picked when they submitted mass resignations on July 14.
"We think that it's a shame for baseball," Phillips said. "Baseball will suffer from the loss of these enormously talented people that the commissioner's office has arbitrarily determined to hurt."
Among those who awoke out of work this morning were some of baseball's best-known umpires, including Richie Garcia and Ken Kaiser in the AL and Frank Pulli and Eric Gregg in the National League. Some umpires, including Greg Kosc, who worked last night's Baltimore-Tampa Bay game, went to the field only moments after learning that they might be working their final game.
Garcia, one of the game's most respected umpires, said his union didn't consult with the rest of the affected umps about the deal.
"Unfortunately, there wasn't any time," he said. "The lawyers come in, say this is what they've got. You have 15 minutes to decide."
The $1.42 million payment apparently was the key to the deal. Union leaders apparently are free to distribute it as they would like. However, normal severance payments could be deducted from the money, according to a statement released by Major League Baseball.
In addition, the union agreed to abide by the "no-strike" provision of the current labor agreement and not to harass or threaten umpires who refused to turn in letters of resignation.
Kosc and the others submitted letters of resignation as part of a labor strategy designed to force baseball owners to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement. Instead, the strategy fell apart and the letters of resignation were set to take affect at midnight last night.
The outline of the deal was struck after U.S. District Judge J. Curtis Joyner gathered representatives of both sides for a second straight day of marathon meetings.
The lawyers had gathered for a hearing on an injunction request by the umpires. Instead, Joyner attempted to mediate a settlement.
Umpires submitted mass resignations on July 14 in an effort to force owners back to the bargaining table. Umpires resigned rather than call a strike because their current labor agreement, which expires Dec. 31, forbids them from striking.
The strategy didn't work because 27 umpires either refused to sign letters of resignations or quickly rescinded them. In the end, baseball hired 25 new umpires from the minor leagues and accepted the resignations of 22 veteran umps.
Phillips defended the strategy, saying owners had decided to lock out the umpires after the current agreement expired.
Baseball's leaders have made no secret of the fact that they want more control over umpires. They want the power to promote the best umpires and demote the worst ones. They also want a more unified strike zone instead of the one that's now essentially determined by each umpire.
However, baseball's executives apparently never dreamed that umpires would hand in letters of resignation, thus giving management the freedom to overhaul their roster of umpires.
Some umpires skipped their assigned games yesterday to attend the anticipated hearing in Philadelphia. And with their futures being debated inside, they were philosophical.
"Everybody has bills," Garcia told the Associated Press. "Everybody has kids in school. Anybody who works for a living understands what that's like. What they don't understand is why we did what we did. The hardest part is that people are laughing, saying, `Hey, you resign, you lose your job.' Well, all we were trying to do was get baseball to the bargaining table. It didn't work. But none of us saw what was coming.
"I love my job. It's all I've ever wanted to do."