The changeover was accomplished with relatively little fanfare. Twenty-five new umpires took the field throughout the major leagues yesterday to replace the 22 major-league umpires who lost their jobs in an ill-fated power play by the Major League Baseball Umpires Association.
Jim Reynolds and Marty Foster, both with previous major-league experience, joined the crew that lost Ed Hickox and Greg Kosc midway through the series between the Orioles and Tampa Bay Devil Rays at Camden Yards. The same scenario was being played out in ballparks in both leagues as Major League Baseball took advantage of union chief Richie Phillips' disastrous mass resignation strategy to gain the upper hand in a long-running power struggle with the umpires union.
It could be only a temporary triumph, however. Union officials continue to express confidence that they will find a way -- either through arbitration or collective bargaining -- to get the 22 reinstated.
"We lived today to fight tomorrow," said the union's chief litigator, Susan Davis, soon after the settlement was announced on Wednesday night.
They probably didn't have a choice. Major League Baseball, in effect, paid the umpires to go away, even though their bargaining position was extremely tenuous. The owners, under the stubborn prodding of U.S. District Court judge J. Curtis Joyner, finally agreed to pay the departing umpires through the end of the year, hand the union about $1.4 million in postseason bonus money and allow the dispute to be decided in arbitration.
What happens next is anybody's guess. The arbitration process could take several months, virtually guaranteeing that the terminated umpires will not be rehired before the collective bargaining agreement between the umpires union and Major League Baseball expires on Dec. 31.
That means that the owners conceivably could use some of those jobs as bargaining chips in their continuing attempt to gain greater control over the umpires -- perhaps the only real hope that any of the idled umpires will get the opportunity to come back.
However, there have been indications that it might be possible for the umpires to get eight of those jobs back.
There has been preliminary talk this year about going to full-time five-man umpiring crews next season. If that were to happen, according to one baseball official, eight more umpires would have to be hired. It would seem logical for those eight to come from among some of the more highly rated umpires who lost their jobs.
In the meantime, however, umpires have to decide the fate of their union in general and of Phillips in particular.
Some umpires fear that as long as Phillips is in power, the owners will continue to take a hard line against the union, perhaps locking out the umpires after the current labor contract runs out.
"If nothing changes, I don't see us going back to work next season until June or July," said Joe Brinkman, who is the leader of a union faction that has called for new union leadership. "If Richie is gone, then that will change considerably."
The Associated Press, citing management sources, reported yesterday that the dissident faction may petition the National Labor Relations Board to form a new union.
In the meantime, Phillips desperately needs to find a way to succeed in arbitration where he failed in court, and it won't be easy. The umpires squandered much of their legal recourse when they voluntarily resigned July 14. They twice attempted to get the federal courts to issue an injunction preventing the owners from accepting the resignations, but had trouble defending their own de facto strike threat when their existing collective bargaining agreement expressly prohibits them from going on strike during the term of the contract.
Nevertheless, most of the umpires who have been displaced remain loyal to Phillips, and blame the disintegration of the resignation strategy on a group of umpires who refused to stand with them.
"I'm not going to second-guess myself or second-guess Richie Phillips," well-known umpire Richie Garcia told reporters after the unpalatable settlement was announced. "We didn't succeed not because we resigned, but because we broke apart as a union."
The Associated Press and the Philadelphia Inquirer contributed to this article.
The following have been named full-time umpires:
Ted Barrett, C. B. Bucknor
Eric Cooper, Mark Carlson
Fieldin Culbreth, Phil Cuzzi
Lazaro Diaz, Paul Emmel
Mike DiMuro, Andrew Fletcher
Doug Eddings, Greg Gibson
Mike Everitt , Marvin Hudson
Marty Foster, Ron Kulpa
Bill Miller, Alfonzo Marquez
Brian O'Nora, Anthony Randazzo
Jim Reynolds, Brian Runge
Bill Welke, Mark Wegner