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Where does Pete stand on umpires?


Where the Major League Umpires Association is making a serious mistake comes with its failure to surround ballparks with picket lines. Maybe they already know it would be a waste of time.

The umpires say they may send pickets to the front but it will only be a tentative presence. The most compelling reason why the umpires aren't going to demonstrate is they realize their striking protest would be a failure . . . ignored by the players, press and public, which would be unfortunate.

Richie Phillips, who heads the umpires' organization, says if pickets are used, they will be "informational in nature and not designed to keep anyone out of the ballpark." Such a weak stance isn't going to do them any good.

What bothers Phillips the most is he's aware the fans would treat the umpires as if they weren't there.

The baseball players liked to present themselves as a union and, unfortunately, Peter Angelos, the union attorney who owns the Baltimore Orioles, quickly bought into the idea. He went against his fellow owners, siding with the players and opposing management's side of the issue in the long work stoppage that closed down Major League Baseball.

Now that the umpires are in a similar situation, it will be interesting to see the reaction of Angelos, who refused to use replacement players with the Orioles. Would he now allow the Orioles, under any circumstance, to cross the picket line and play games with scab umpires officiating?

And would Angelos himself, out of union loyalty, stay away from the games? The same thought also occurred to reporter Hal Bodley of USA Today, who wondered what stance Angelos might take. But Angelos says he needs more information.

"Until I get that, I don't have a position on it," he said.

It seems, on one hand, if Angelos didn't want replacement players he wouldn't want replacement umpires. That would seem to be almost automatic since his affection and respect for unions has been long established and well documented.

Therefore, it's surprising that Angelos, if he's truly committed to the principles of the brotherhood of unionism, would even think of allowing his Orioles team to play an exhibition tomorrow in Port Charlotte, Fla., against the Texas Rangers. Think of it: Angelos' own team on the same field with strike-breaking umpires.

That smacks of hypocrisy. By this time, by way of sheer precedent, you might expect Angelos would be issuing a statement along the lines that under no circumstances would he permit the Orioles to come in remote contact with anyone goingagainst the regular umpires union. Certainly his players should not be contaminated by playing games with nonunion umpires.

Is Angelos permitting himself to engage in an act of duplicity by allowing the Orioles to play games controlled by umpires that aren't card-carrying members of the union? To do that has all the signs of partaking of a double standard. He would eventually have to try to explain why it's permissible for replacement umpires to work games but unthinkable for replacement players to play.

Hopefully, Angelos can gather information in a hurry because the Orioles are ready to begin their exhibition season. His team could be victimized by nonprofessional calls. After all, someone needs to think of the long tradition and dignity of the game. Angelos should stand behind the regular umpires at all cost, the same as he defended the regular players.

The "union" umpires' contract expired Dec. 31. The umpires are currently requesting a salary raise amounting to 53 percent. In all truth, the umpires are grossly underpaid compared to what the players, many of them inept, are earning. The pay raise is miniscule and deserves to be adjusted . . . upward.

As of now, umpires in the majors make between $60,000- $175,000 a year, with all travel, hotels and meals being covered by their per diem expenses. They also get a two-week vacation, with pay, in season, to protect against burnout.

Their jobs aren't as important as doctors and nurses or even air-traffic controllers. Still, they get time off during the regular schedule to go fishing, play golf or cut grass.

If Angelos was outraged by the thought of replacement players, then he ought to take up the cause of the umpires with similar diligence and determination. You can't support one group and ignore the other.

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