The most significant confrontation in this year's baseball playoffs will not take place inside the ballparks of any of the eight cities whose teams are still playing. It will happen in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia today, when officials for Major League Baseball attempt to block the umpires from going out on strike.
Richie Phillips, who heads the umpires union, said last night that, barring an injunction, the battle isn't over. The umpires want Orioles second baseman Roberto Alomar to serve a harsher penalty immediately for spitting at umpire John Hirschbeck last week in Toronto.
"If the court issues the injunction, the umpires will work," Phillips said. "If the court doesn't order the injunction, the umpires will be out for as long as Robbie Alomar is playing in the playoffs."
Earlier in the day, Phillips said that the umpires would work through last night's Dodgers-Braves National League playoff game, then await the court decision today.
"We are walking out after the last game [last night]," Phillips said. "We're not making any progress toward a settlement. There's no room for compromise. They could offer us everything in the world, and they've offered us a lot, and there's nothing that would change our stance."
Pat Campbell, associate counsel for the umpires, said he doesn't expect Judge Edmund Ludwig to grant the temporary restraining order needed to keep the umpires from carrying out their threat to strike. Nor does Campbell anticipate a split in the ranks.
"We have been in communication with the umpires working the playoffs, the board and all the other members and there is unanimous support for the actions we've taken so far," Campbell said by telephone from Philadelphia.
"What the umpires have said is that basically they want to work, but that doesn't mean they're going to work regardless of what happens [in court]."
At least one umpire believes that they will be working under an injunction today.
"Richie said that [about walking out] because we want to force them to make us work," said Rich Garcia, an American League umpire. "We want to alert the world we will fight for what is right."
Major League umpires voted to strike last Monday over what they viewed as too lenient a penalty for Alomar's actions. Alomar received a five-game suspension from American League president Gene Budig for spitting at Hirschbeck.
Alomar, who issued a written apology to Hirschbeck a couple of days later, announced his plans to appeal the suspension before dropping the appeal Wednesday night. Budig then said that Alomar will serve out the penalty for the first five games of the 1997 season, a plan which the umpires had deemed unsatisfactory.
Attorneys for the umpires are confident that Ludwig won't issue the injunction based on the fact that the judge didn't issue one on Tuesday, when the two sides were in court on the same matter.
At the time, Ludwig suggested that a strike could be averted if Budig could hold a hearing to discuss Alomar's suspension. The hearing, which had been scheduled for yesterday in New York, was canceled when Alomar dropped his plans to appeal.
Campbell accused the Major League Players Association of "gamesmanship" in the way Alomar eventually wound up dropping his appeal.
Campbell said Budig had initially told the umpires union that there would be a "substantial" fine added to the original five-game suspension.
However, the only money that has been mentioned were $50,000 donations both Alomar and the Orioles pledged to make to Johns Hopkins Hospital and the Kennedy Krieger Institute to help further research into the rare genetic disorder that killed one of Hirschbeck's sons in 1993 and still afflicts another.
Unless he announced his intention to appeal, Alomar would have missed the last two regular season games -- including the extra-inning, playoff-clinching victory over the Blue Jays last Saturday in which he hit the deciding home run.
While many believed Alomar's decision to drop the appeal would quiet things down, it seems only to have enraged the umpires further.
"I don't think that's the spirit of an effective discipline system," said Campbell. "There comes a time when you have to do what's right."
It isn't clear what legal action, if any, officials for Major League Baseball will take should Ludwig fail to grant an injunction and the umpires do violate their contract and go out on strike.
Acting commissioner Bud Selig, who will be in Philadelphia for the hearing today, said, "Our main objective is to construct a solution. We need to solve this."
A spokesman for Selig said yesterday that replacement umpires had yet to be called, but would be on the job should the regulars go out. The umpires who do strike risk losing their jobs.
Rich Levin, director of public relations for Major League Baseball, said that he wasn't at the meeting in Judge Ludwig's chambers Tuesday, but added, "To my understanding, the subject of the injunction never came up."
Levin said that hiring replacement umpires will be done by the respective leagues. Asked if he thinks an umpire strike is possible, Levin said, "We believe there's a chance."
Budig was not available for comment yesterday. He also is expected to be in Philadelphia today.
Bob Willman, a former minor-league umpire who was brought in to work Game 1 of the Orioles-Indians series had the regular umpires gone on strike, said from his home in Atlantic City that Marty Springstead, supervisor for American League umpires, told the four-man replacement crew at Camden Yards to "keep your bags packed."
Though Willman received $1500 in salary and $212 per diem for hotel cost and meals, as well as having his travel costs picked up and tickets provided to the first game of the series, he would rather keep his night job -- dealing high-stakes games at a hotel casino.
"I'd like the extra money, and it would be fun and exciting," said Willman, whose current umpiring duties are on the college level. "But I'd rather sit here and watch the game on television and not be involved in this controversy. It's ugly."
The controversy could get even uglier today.
Pub Date: 10/04/96