By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Their strategy was so bad that they now claim it wasn't serious. The major league umpires' mass resignation last month dared the lords of baseball to make do without them and, well, the lords said "ok." Now the umps claim they never really meant to resign, they were just trying to jump-start contract negotiations. No dice, say the lords you're out!
Well, at least some of them are. Twenty-two of the 50-odd umpires who offered their resignations will be sent packing this week unless there is some sort of last-second intervention. Major League Baseball selected those 22 and let 30 or so others slide. Which poses the question, why those 22? Why did the baseball big shots choose them?
The boys at MLB aren't saying, but you'd think that while they're deteriorating the umpire's union membership they'd at least get rid of the worst of the lot. But that doesn't appear to be the case.
Just before this season started, the Major League Players Association released the results of a survey it conducted on the umpires. The survey asked players, coaches, and managers to rank the umps, and by all accounts it is a sober assessment of the men in blue. Even Sandy Alderson, who has considerable oversight over the umpires as executive vice president of baseball operations, thought those who took part "were serious in their effort and tried to be as systematic and objective as possible."
According to those rankings, MLB is about to get rid of some of the best umpires it has . . . along with some of the worst . . . and some in between. In fact, there's no discernible pattern to the umpire firings, uh, resignation acceptances.
For instance, the despised Ken Kaiser, rated 32nd and last in the American League, is on his way out. But Rich Garcia, ranked third among AL umps despite the Jeffrey Maier thing, is going down too. As are Drew Coble (sixth), Mark Johnson (15th), and Dale Ford (28th). Things are just as scattered in the National League: Eric Gregg (rated 35th out of 36) is outta here, as is Frank Pulli (fifth). In the middle are the likes of Bob Davidson (12th), Sam Holbrook (22nd), and Terry Tata (29th).
Not that MLB is supposed to follow the survey in deciding whom to get rid of or that it should get rid of anybody at all (the firings ain't exactly a great display of sportsmanship) but what criteria are the baseball honchos actually using?
Like we said, MLB is keeping mum. But some umpires believe that it has deliberatly targeted those who are active in their union. "It certainly looks that way," said Jerry Crawford, the top-rated NL ump. Of course, Crawford's resignation wasn't accepted, and, as president of the umpire's union, he is one of the union activists. But the resignation of his union vice president, Garcia, was accepted. And those umpires who have been most vocal in their criticism of the union John Hirschbeck, Joe Brinkman, and Dave Phillips (each from the AL) are keeping their jobs.
So is baseball involved in a naked union bust? Appearances say so, and given the source, it wouldn't be a shock. But if baseball is going to bash labor, couldn't it have gotten rid of the ever-inconsistent Charlie Williams, the NL's worst-rated ump?