The absence of 22 veteran umpires who lost their jobs Thursday was hardly noticed on the field as many of their replacements worked their first games as permanent members of the majors.
A few hours before the departures of the veterans became official at 6 a.m., an opponent of the union leadership said he expects the other umps may be locked out until next summer unless Richie Phillips is toppled.
There were no problems involving the 25 new umpires during Thursday's four afternoon games, and none of the veteran umps who kept their jobs walked out in sympathy with the terminated 22, whose best chance to get back on the field is winning in arbitration.
"It's difficult," Phil Cuzzi, one of 13 new NL umps, said in San Francisco before working the Phillies-Giants game with two other newcomers.
"I have the plate today. I'm going out to work the best that I can. I don't know what to expect from the other guys. We have a young guy coming up from Triple A. He's never worked a game in the big leagues before. It's just hard that he would have to look to me as an experienced guy. I'm not."
That umpire, Jim Wolf, was called up from the minors as a fill-in for union president Jerry Crawford, who had been with Phillips on Tuesday and Wednesday at federal court in Philadelphia.
The first game for Wolf, who wasn't among the 25 permanent new umps, involved the Phillies, for whom his brother, Randy, pitches.
"I have butterflies big-time," Jim Wolf said. "I've got a swarm in there."
As part of the deal agreed to Wednesday night in Philadelphia, the 22 stopped work but will be paid for the rest of the year. Whether they resigned, as owners say, or were fired, as the union says, will be decided by an arbitrator at a date not yet determined.
The Philadelphia branch of the American Arbitration Association gave each side a list of 15 arbitrators Thursday. If umpires and owners can't agree on one, they will take turns crossing out names until only one remains.
Baseball's lawyers are expected to try to convince the arbitrator not to decide the case, arguing that even if umps were terminated, their labor contract leaves those decisions up to league presidents, with no appeals.
Without the 22 umps, managers weren't sure what to expect in the season's remaining 4@1/2 weeks.
"The quality may not be what we're used to," New York Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "There is less of a problem with balls and strikes, safe and out. How will they handle working in front of all these people? Some of the umpires will be overwhelmed and maybe guys like myself will try to take advantage of it. That's where the danger is."
"Ideally you would like to understand what the young umpires are going through. But if something happens in the eighth inning of a close game, you throw that all out the window."
AL ump Joe Brinkman, a leader of the grup trying to replace Phillips, predicted owners would lock out umpires on Jan. 1, just as they did in 1995 when the previous labor deal expired.
"If nothing changes, I don't see us going back to work next season until June or July," Brinkman said. "If Richie is gone, then that will change considerably."
It appears opponents will attempt to petition the National Labor Relations Board to form a new union, according to several baseball lawyers who spoke on the condition they not be identified.
Thirty percent or more of eligible union members are needed to petition the NLRB to conduct an organization election. Depending on whether the 22 count, there are either 71 or 93 umpires, meaning 22 or 28 umpires are needed on a petition.
"That's a legal matter," Brinkman said. "I wouldn't be opposed to it at all. The whole thing is to get the family of umpires together again with good representation. I wouldn't fight another fellow umpire from voting, but they might be better off not voting."
Ultimately, the NLRB determines who is eligible to vote.
Meanwhile, a management official said Phillips' comments caused owners to change the terms of the proposed agreement between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. Initially, the deal would have given commissioner Bud Selig the discretion to use any or all of the 22 for the rest of the season, even though he didn't intend to.
Phillips, who didn't return a message left with his secretary Thursday night, cited that clause and told some of his members Tuesday night that he had saved their jobs, according to the official, who spoke on the condition he not be identified. Selig then decided to insist that the agreement state the 22 would work no more.
Sandy Alderson, baseball's executive director of operations, didn't want any deal, several people familiar with the talks said Thursday. Alderson disagreed with management lawyers Rob Manfred and Bob DuPuy, who directed the talks.
The umpires' departures resulted from the union's failed strategy of mass resignations, designed to force an early start to negotiations for a contract to replace the labor deal that expires Dec. 31.
Instead of negotiating, baseball accepted the 22 resignations and hired 25 replacements from the minors.
"The notion that you can quit and keep your job is absurd," San Diego Padres owner John Moores said. "I think the real story in this is, is major league baseball going to be responsible for the rules of the game or are they going to have to negotiate with the union over the umpires' conduct and the rules of the game?"
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