Dissident umpires met with their peers today and emerged certain they have enough votes to get rid of Richie Phillips and form a new union.
"I feel very confident that we have enough backing to support it," said American League umpire Joe Brinkman, a key force behind the group of dissidents fed up with the Major League Umpires Association and Phillips, its head since 1978.
A day-long meeting was attended by 52 of the 93 umpires, Brinkman said. Umpires will be mailed ballots Friday by the National Labor Relations Board and can choose among the current union, a new one or neither. The ballots will be tabulated Nov. 30 in New York.
"Leaving here today, I'm extremely optimistic that we will achieve our goals," said John Hirschbeck, another key member of the Major League Umpires Independent Organizing Committee. "Our biggest goal is to have a union that's led by umpires, for umpires. We want a union that is free, open and accountable."
The dissident umpires blame Phillips and union president Jerry Crawford for the union's strategy of mass resignations, which backfired in July and cost 22 umpires their jobs. A half-dozen of those 22 attended today's meeting.
"The ultimate goal is to get a new union organized and get a relationship with Major League Baseball so that we can get a collective bargaining agreement for the upcoming year or years," Brinkman said. "In the past, it's just been confrontational, where baseball couldn't deal with us and we couldn't deal with baseball."
The new union, according to its proponents, would be run by the umpires and depend on the advice of lawyers such as Baltimore-based Ron Shapiro, who helped organize the meeting and has served as an adviser to the dissidents. Shapiro, the agent for Cal Ripken, said emphatically today that he would not serve as head of the new union.
If the new union does indeed become a reality, one of its top priorities will be taking care of the umpires whose resignations were accepted Sept. 2.
"The biggest concern today was the 22 umpires who are now out of jobs," Hirschbeck said. "We told them that the new independent organizing committee feels that every one of their jobs are important to us. We care about them, their families and the future."