Orioles owner Peter Angelos, who stirred up a controversy by refusing to hire replacements during the players strike, officially has notified the American League of his plans to field a team while major-league umpires are locked out.
Angelos told the league he doesn't believe the Orioles have legal grounds to refuse to take the field during the dispute, which began Jan. 1, when the 64 major-league umpires were locked out by the National and American leagues.
"We believe the Orioles' opposition to replacement players was well supported. . . ." Angelos said in a letter addressed to the league and dated April 11.
But, the owner continued, "The situation involving the umpires clearly is not covered by the provisions of the American League Constitution or the Major League Agreement to which the Orioles looked for guidance in the replacement player dilemma."
During the player dispute, Angelos rejected the owners' plans to hire substitute players, even when threatened with fines and possible seizure of the Orioles franchise.
The owner said he wasn't required to under Article 3.8a of the AL Constitution, which says an owner can lose his franchise for failing to play "unless caused by strikes, unavoidable accident in travel, or by some other cause which such Member is not responsible, including but not limited to acts of God."
Reached yesterday, Angelos declined to comment on the letter or to amplify why he believes the AL Constitution does not apply to the umpires' situation. The American League president, Gene Budig, did not return a call to his office.
Bob Opalka, a lawyer for the umpires union, said the group had no problem with Angelos' stand on the umpires labor dispute. "His point is well-taken. You're talking about different sorts of employers, different unions," Opalka said.
In his letter to league officials, Angelos offered his help in resolving the dispute, saying, "the Orioles stand ready to serve in whatever constructive role the team or its representatives can play."
Opalka said he didn't know whether Angelos had been involved in negotiations, but believed the owner had been in contact with umpires chief negotiator Richie Phillips.
Angelos has been put in a potentially awkward situation by the umpires dispute. A plantiff's attorney, Angelos has earned millions of dollars representing union members.
During the players strike, Angelos' critics said he took his stand to protect his relations with those clients. He disagreed, saying he was protecting the integrity of baseball.
Though overshadowed by the players dispute, umpires have been at odds with baseball owners almost as long. In December, representatives of the umpires were told that members were being locked out and that expected $20,000 year-end bonus checks would be withheld because the postseason was canceled.
Major League Baseball hired replacement umpires who have been working during spring training. Meanwhile, negotiations continue with the owners offering the umpires roughly a 3 percent pay raise per year. The umpires union has asked for a 53 percent salary increase over the eight-year span from 1991 to 1998.
The average salary for major-league umpires is about $125,000, with the most experienced members earning $200,000.