Phillips Out As Umpires' Head


Richie Phillips is out of a job, just like 22 of his umpires.

In a landslide vote, major league umpires ended Phillips' 21-year reign as their head, forming a new union that includes many of the dissident AL umpires on its board.

The National Labor Relations Board announced the results of a mail ballot Tuesday, with 57 umpires voting for the Major League Umpires Independent Organizing Committee and 35 voting to retain the Major League Umpires Association. One note was voided because an umpire, whom the NLRB did not identify, signed the ballot, which must be secret.

"Today is a statement by all umpires that it's time for a change," said AL umpire John Hirschbeck, who helped lead the dissidents who overthrew Phillips. "We want a union that is run by umpires and advised by attorneys."

Under federal law, a majority determined the result of the election. Dan Silverman, director the NLRB's New York region, will certify the election as official unless an objection is filed by Dec. 7.

Phillips was in New York, but didn't go to the NLRB for the vote count and was not available for comment, according to his staff in Philadelphia. His side was represented by NL umpire Jerry Crawford, the union president, and lawyer Pat Campbell.

"The other union won. I'm upset," said Crawford, who added that it was likely Phillips' union would file objections.

Joel Smith, a lawyer for the dissidents, said the law allowed objections to be filed by a party which claimed there was illegal conduct that effected the outcome. Silverman would determine whether to reject the objection or call a hearing before one of his aides.

When the umpires splintered into factions in July, Phillips had the support of approximately 41 of the then-68 umpires. At least six of those umpires defected, more if any of the 25 newly hired umpires supported Phillips' union.

In the weeks leading up to the election, most AL umpires appeared to support the dissidents, who were organized by Hirschbeck, Joe Brinkman and Dave Phillips who is not related to Richie Phillips. The dissidents accused Phillips of being autocratic and responsive only to the union board, heavily influenced by senior NL umpires.

Most NL umpires backed Richie Phillips and Crawford, who sat with his elbows on the table Tuesday, clasping his hands, fidgeting, as the votes were counted.

Brinkman said it would take about one year for a new union to gain support of all umpires.

"I think they'll come back," Brinkman said. "It's just a matter of time. It's a healing process."

Phillips and Crawford hoped to force owners into an early start to negotiations for a new labor contract when they launched their mass resignation strategy July 14. But when many AL umpires either refused to resign or quickly withdrew the resignations, the union cracked.

Owners hired 25 new umps from the minors leagues and accepted te resignations of the 22. Phillips' union filed a grievance to regain those jobs, and arbitrator Alan Symonette last week rejected the owners' motion to dismiss the case, scheduled for argument Dec. 13-16.

"Richie Phillips is very, very, very concerned about the 22 guys," Crawford said. "He's been pretty much out of the daily operation of the union. I don't think it was a strong indictment of Richie. They won. I guess they had a stronger campaign than we had."

Under labor law, the old union will continue to argue the grievance.

"We won't interfere," said Ron Shapiro, a Baltimore-based agent who advised the dissidents. "We'll do everything we can from a legal standpoint to support it."

Phillips led umpires through a seven-week strike in 1979, a four-game strike during the 1984 postseason and a strike of several hours that caused many to miss 1991 season openers. In addition, umpires were locked out for the first eight days of the 1995 season.

When he took over, rookie umpires earned $17,500 and the most senior veterans made $40,000. This year, they made a minimum of $95,000 and up to $282,500, including postseason bonuses they all receive.

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