Three more umpires to regain jobs as baseball resolves 5 1/2-year dispute

Friday, December 24th 2004, 3:51 pm
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ Three more umpires will be rehired by major league baseball and six more will split $2.3 million in severance pay as part of a settlement of the nasty dispute that cost 22 umps their jobs in 1999.

The umpires will be brought back as part of a new five-year labor contract that was agreed to Wednesday, a deal that also settles the 1 1/2-year-old grievance umpires filed over a computer system baseball has used to evaluate plate umps.

Bob Davidson, an 18-year major league veteran, will get the next big league opening. Davidson, 52, umpired last season in the Class-A Midwest League and worked behind the plate in 77 games. He made $13,000 in the minors, but would get a $274,993 salary if he is back in the majors before opening day, which is likely.

``I can't tell you what a wonderful Christmas gift baseball gave me,'' he said Thursday during a telephone interview. ``Working in the low minor leagues was very humbling, to say the least. One thing I learned: I need baseball ... more than baseball needed me.''

Many of the umpires had financial hardships since losing their big league jobs in September 1999. Davidson, who was on the road from April 4 to Sept. 20, missed the graduation of his daughter, Andrea, from Colorado State.

``They would have given me the time off, but at the time I couldn't afford the plane ticket,'' he said.

Tom Hallion and Ed Hickox will get two of the first five vacancies. That would raise the number of rehired umpires to 11, half the total who lost their jobs when a mass resignation strategy backfired. Hallion and Hickox also have been umpiring in the minors.

Six umpires will receive severance pay and health benefits for themselves and their families under Wednesday's deal. Jim Evans, Dale Ford, Eric Gregg, Ken Kaiser and Larry McCoy will get $400,000 each and Mark Johnson, who had less service time, will get $325,000.

Rich Garcia, who became an umpire supervisor in 2002, said he likely will get severance pay and be included in the umpires' benefits plan.

``I think it's a big step in the right direction,'' Garcia said. ``I think this will bring a lot of healing to the situation that has gone on the last five years. It was an ugly issue.''

Still to be resolved is back pay for five umpires rehired as part of a partial settlement in 2002. A federal appeals court ruled Gary Darling, Bill Hohn, Larry Poncino, Larry Vanover and Joe West were entitled to the money, but baseball has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case.

Richie Phillips, head of the former union, is pursing his own lawsuit against baseball.

``This whole thing would have been resolved a long time ago had Richie Phillips pursued the interests of the umpires he misadvised rather than his own personal interests,'' said Rob Manfred, baseball's executive vice president of labor relations.

Phillips, whose Major League Umpires Association was replaced by the World Umpires Association in late 1999, did not return a message left at his office in suburban Philadelphia.

``The union is particularly happy that in this agreement we were able to clean up some of the unfortunate consequences of the 1999 fiasco,'' WUA lawyer Larry Gibson said.

Details of the labor contract and grievance settlement were first reported Wednesday by The New York Times.

The contract calls for 5 percent annual increases. Next year's salary scale ranges from $87,859 to $357,530, the maximum going to umpires with 27 years of major league service. In addition, up to 15 umpires can decide from Feb. 1 to April 30 whether to accept a retirement package.

To resolve the grievance over the computer system, baseball agreed that umpires whose ball-and-strike calls are rated below standard by Questec will be evaluated by umpire supervisors based on videotape and in-game inspection.

Gibson said that after the Questec scores were adjusted last season by supervisor Frank Pulli, all umpires met standards.

``The agreement is quite acceptable,'' Gibson said.