Less than two weeks after saying they would quit en masse, umpires turned around and sued baseball Monday for the right to withdraw their resignations.
In a 14-page complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia, the Major League Umpires Association also accused the American League and the commissioner's office of saying they intend to withhold termination pay of up to $400,000 per umpire.
Umpires, whose resignations are set to take effect Sept. 2, also claimed baseball has offered them up to $2 million in future gains if they join a dissident group in the union that is trying to fire its negotiator, Richie Phillips.
They also said several baseball officials are spreading "false and misleading statements to umpires about deadlines to accept resignations, deadlines to offer rescissions of resignations and deadlines to reject rescissions of resignations."
Umpires chose the resignation tactic because their current labor deal has a no-strike clause, and they fear owners would lock them out after it expires.
However, their position has been weakened by the decisions of 23 of 32 AL umpires who say they will stay on. Only three of their 36 NL counterparts say they will remain.
Owners have hired more than 20 new umpires from the minor leagues as of Sept. 1. The Triple-A umpires had been working as vacation fill-ins in the major leagues.
While no additional withdrawals of resignations were received Monday, one baseball official, speaking on the condition he not be identified, said several NL umpires had called baseball to say they were considering reversing course and staying on.
The case was assigned to U.S. District Judge Edmund V. Ludwig, who three years ago issued a court order that prevented umpires from striking in the postseason. Umpires threatened a strike after Roberto Alomar spit at umpire John Hirschbeck and was given just a five-game suspension.
This time, umpires want a court order that gives them until Sept. 2 to withdraw their resignations. They also want Ludwig to declare that owners have engaged "in numerous and serious unfair labor practices" and to declare that mass resignations are a legal strike.
Thus far, 14 of the 56 umpires who resigned have withdrawn their resignations. The baseball official said the sport would continue to accept withdrawals, but only until all vacancies are filled.
At least four more minor league umpires were hired Monday, another baseball official said.
In an unusual twist, umpires accused owners of wrongfully agreeing to give Larry Barnett more termination pay than the labor contract requires.
Barnett, who with 31 years of service is baseball's senior umpire, agreed to retire after this season for $550,000 $150,000 more than the AL was required to give him.
The AL also has been negotiating for the retirements of Dale Ford, Ted Hendry, Ken Kaiser and Durwood Merrill, the suit said.
he current labor agreement is set to expire Dec. 31. Umpires asked the court to declare that the current labor agreement was abandoned by the AL and NL because commissioner Bud Selig is trying to shift supervision of umpires from the leagues to Sandy Alderson in the commissioner's office.
Phillips declined comment, as did Selig.
Ludwig, however, did not immediately set a date for a hearing.
©1999 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed