Orioles told not to look for local fill-in umpires

April 05, 1991|By Mark Hyman

The National and American leagues are busily recruiting replacement umpires to work next week's regular-season baseball games in case of a strike or lockout, but the search apparently hasn't taken them to the Baltimore area.

The Baltimore Orioles have been advised not to look for local umpires, a break from the policy used the last time major-league umpires left their jobs during the regular season in 1979. And officials of several local umpires' associations say they haven't been -- and don't expect to be -- contacted about working major-league games.

Meanwhile, major-league umpires and the two leagues still are attempting to reach a settlement. Yesterday, negotiators for the two sides met for six hours and will resume their talks today.

Robert Kheel, the negotiator for the two leagues, declined to comment after the meeting.

"The only progress that was made was that the union made additional enormous concessions to the owners," umpires union head Richie Phillips said.

Bob Aylward, Orioles vice president for business, said yesterday that the team was informed this week that "the league is making arrangements for umpires" if a strike or lockout keeps the major-league umpires off their jobs Opening Day.

That means the Orioles will have a much-diminished role in the selection of the replacement umpires than during the '79 strike, when umpires were off their jobs for 80 days. In that situation, the Orioles were asked to submit a list of local umpires to the American League. The league then paired three of the local umpires with one minor-league umpire to work all the games at Memorial Stadium.

This time, the replacement crews would not include a minor-league umpire, a decision that was prompted by the resentments directed at them after the strike by returning umpires.

For umpires from the Baltimore area, the more significant change appears to be that they will not be involved much, if at all.

Bob Roesner, commissioner of the Mason-Dixon Collegiate Umpires Association, which provides umpires for many local college games, probably would be among the first to hear if local umpires were being put on alert. Except for a few conversations with Aylward, Roesner has heard nothing.

"I don't have the slightest idea [where replacement umpires will come from]. I don't think any of us do," said Roesner, who worked about 20 Orioles games at Memorial Stadium during the '79 strike. He speculated that the leagues might be looking to retired umpires and to a "select group" of college umpires who work the Division I playoffs of the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

Roesner and Aylward did say, however, that local crews would be ready to work the Orioles' weekend exhibition games at RFK Stadium in Washington if the regular umpires walked off their jobs. Although their contract expired Dec. 31, the umpires have continued to work spring-training games.

There were differing opinions about whether local umpires should cross picket lines to work major-league games. When he and other locals worked in 1979, Roesner said: "Our feeling was that nothing is bigger than the game. And that if we didn't do it, someone else would."

Ray Ruffing, president of the Southern District Baseball Umpires Association, which officiates games at the Naval Academy, the University of Maryland and Washington-area schools, was opposed vehemently.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," he said. "But it comes down to do you want to honor your profession or feed your ego?"

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