Umpires get called out by sympathetic judge Rules to prevent strike, but agrees with argument

THE BALTIMORE SUN

PHILADELPHIA -- Officials for Major League Baseball received the temporary restraining order they were seeking yesterday to keep their umpires from striking. The umpires received sympathy, but that's all, from U.S. District Court Judge Edmund Ludwig.

It took only 45 minutes for Ludwig to grant the injunction preventing the Major League Baseball Umpires Association from walking out during the 1996 playoffs over what the umpires viewed as too lenient a penalty against Orioles second baseman Roberto Alomar, whose five-game suspension for spitting at umpire John Hirschbeck will go into effect next season.

It will take longer for all the parties to come to some sort of $H understanding. At least until Nov. 14, the date acting commissioner Bud Selig has set for a summit between the umpires, management and the Major League Baseball Players Association in Phoenix.

Though Ludwig ruled in favor of Major League Baseball, he was clearly on the side of the umpires.

"To not grant the injunction would cause irreparable harm to the JTC ballclubs," he said. "I find there would be no risk of monetary loss. I agree with much of the arguments made on behalf of the umpires. I understand very much why the umpires have reacted this way.

"As an umpire myself [in the court of law], I understand their authority and dignity is at stake. There is no realistic replacement for the major-league umpires. These umpires are the best. To an extent, it is a compliment to them to issue the restraining order."

Ludwig's words rang hollow with Richie Phillips, the head of the umpires union. Phillips had hoped that an injunction wouldn't be granted, and that replacement umpires would have to be used.

Even more hollow were the words offered by Selig, who in speaking to the court turned to Phillips and told him how vital umpires were to the game. Selig called the events of the past week a "trying and sorrowful experience for everyone."

Said Phillips: "We don't agree with the judge's decision. The judge said a lot of awfully nice and wonderful things about the umpires. If baseball felt the same way as the judge, we wouldn't be here in the first place."

Needless to say, baseball officials were elated by the judge's decision. With an appeal unlikely, and the injunction in place through the end of the playoffs, it means that the umpires will have to settle for a more structured set of penalties to be agreed upon at or after the summit.

"Our umpires are the very best," said American League president Gene Budig, who made the decision to suspend Alomar for five games after the incident at SkyDome on Sept. 27.

Asked about the public sentiment that seemed to side with the umpires, Budig said testily, "I am not going to second-guess myself, if that's what you're asking."

Selig said the improved communication from the past couple of days would be a steppingstone to more meaningful dialogue.

"We're going to establish codes of conduct so that the Roberto Alomar incident never happens again," he said. "Our umpires are the very best and their participation in the postseason is very critical."

But it didn't sound as if the leaders of the two groups involved were any closer to settling their differences.

"Don [Fehr] has a duty to represent the players," said Phillips. "I expect them to defend Alomar. They often defend the indefensible, so it comes as no surprise to me."

Said Fehr: "Richie knows better than that. He knows he's wrong. He's clearly out on a limb. On the other hand, the no-strike clause in his contract is explicit."

Pub Date: 10/05/96

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