Owners Squeeze Umps

A day before the start of a hearing that will determine whether 22 umpires get their jobs back, baseball owners said the union hadn't shown proof it lived up to the agreement reached in federal court.

Meanwhile, umpires are scrambling to raise money to pay their legal bills. According to a memo sent by union president Jerry Crawford to umpires on Oct. 6, umpires owe $123,261 to a New York law firm, $11,768 to a New York public relations firm and an unspecified amount to a Philadelphia law firm.

A lawyer for the owners sent the Major League Umpires Association a letter Thursday asking for a copy of the $100,000 bond the union agreed to obtain as part of a settlement approved by a federal judge in Philadelphia.

Under the deal, the 22 umpires are paid through Dec. 31, but if they lose the grievance, the money will be reimbursed from their termination pay or, for those umpires who don't qualify for termination pay, the $100,000 bond.

"Now that we are about to commence the arbitration," lawyer Howard Ganz wrote, "I request that you provide us with a copy of the bond the MLUA has obtained."

Neither union head Richie Phillips nor union president Jerry Crawford returned telephone messages Thursday.

As part of the settlement, owners agreed to allow umpires to file a grievance claiming the 22 umpires were illegally terminated Sept. 2.

Owners said they accepted the resignations of the 22 after the umpires' failed mass-resignation plan, and will ask Friday that arbitrator Alan Symonette dismiss the case, arguing it is beyond the scope of the authority granted umpires in their labor contract.

The agreement, owners said in their legal brief, "clearly and unambiguously gives the league presidents sole discretion over such decisions."

Umpires retained Susan Davis and her New York firm, Cohen, Weiss & Simon, in August prior the suit and paid the firm a $65,000 advance. While umpires originally intended to use Davis in the grievance hearing, they instead will be represented by a Philadelphia-based lawyer, Tom Jennings.

In his memo, Crawford asked umpires to assign their $20,000 postseason bonuses to the union to pay those bills. It's not clear how many complied.

"We cannot walk away from our obligations to these firms," Crawford said in the memo, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press. "We cannot walk away from our commitment to the 22."

Phillips is battling dissident umpires, who want to form a new union and have Ron Shapiro, the agent for Cal Ripken, negotiate their next labor contract. Mail voting starts Friday, and the National Labor Relations Board will announce the results Nov. 30.

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