Major-league umpires have voted not to work in baseball's postseason because of what they consider a lenient penalty given the Orioles' Roberto Alomar for spitting on an umpire, a member of the umpires union executive board said last night.
However, umpire Tim Welke also said he expects Major League Baseball to seek an injunction that would force the umpires to honor their union contract and go back to work in the American League and National League playoffs, which begin today. "We anticipate an injunction," Welke said, "and will work if necessary."
Rich Levin, executive director of the Major League Baseball public relations department, would not confirm or deny that baseball would seek an injunction. "All I can say is, they have a contract, and they're expected to work," said Levin.
On Saturday, Alomar was suspended five games by American League president Gene Budig for spitting in umpire John Hirschbeck's face after being ejected from a game in Toronto on Friday.
If the umpires don't work today, they run the risk of being dismissed for violating their contract, and league sources confirmed that Major League Baseball has replacement umpires ready if needed.
Should the regular umpires work today's playoff game between the Orioles and Cleveland Indians at Camden Yards, Alomar would be under great scrutiny. A veteran umpire said Alomar will be subject to what umpires call the Billy Martin Rule, named after the volatile manager: If Alomar complains in any way or shows any lack of courtesy, he'll be ejected immediately.
Alomar last night issued an apology through the Orioles to Hirschbeck, along with a charitable pledge of $50,000, matched by the Orioles, toward research into the disease that killed Hirschbeck's young son three years ago.
But Welke, scheduled to umpire in the Orioles-Indians series, said the umpires union will not accept Alomar's apology and will ask that Alomar's $50,000 pledge be rejected.
"We felt that shows that if you've got a lot of money, you can buy your way out of trouble," said Welke.
Alomar got into trouble Friday in Toronto, where he spat in Hirschbeck's face after Hirschbeck ejected him for arguing a called third strike. Alomar has said -- and Hirschbeck denied -- that the umpire called him an obscene name before Alomar spat in his face.
After Budig suspended Alomar, the second baseman appealed. The AL and the Major League Baseball Players Association are in agreement that the suspension can be served only during the regular season, so any penalty must wait until the start of the 1997 season.
The umpires wanted a greater penalty, and they want Alomar to serve his suspension immediately. "He should serve the suspension now," said Welke. "He's accountable for what he did."
The night of the on-field confrontation, Alomar said he did not regret spitting, and added that Hirschbeck's demeanor has changed since the 1993 death of his 7-year-old son, John, who suffered from a genetic disease called adrenoleukodystrophy.
When Hirschbeck heard these comments, relayed by reporters Saturday morning, he charged into the Orioles' clubhouse, threatening to kill Alomar -- who was 15 minutes away from reading a statement in which he was to apologize for the reference to Hirschbeck's son.
Alomar talked yesterday with club officials, who met in the law offices of owner Peter Angelos, and last night, the Orioles issued the apologies and pledges.
The statement said, in part: "I wish to take this opportunity to apologize to John Hirschbeck and his family for any pain and embarrassment that my comments and actions may have caused them.
"I deeply regret my disrespectful conduct toward a man that I know always gives his utmost as an umpire. Certainly, he has worked at least as hard as I have to make it to the majors. Notwithstanding what occurred, I have great respect for him and his profession.
"I'm sincerely sorry that my actions deeply offended John and, by engaging in indefensible conduct, I failed the game of baseball, the Orioles' organization and my fellow major-leaguers. Umpire Hirschbeck will agree, I am prepared to extend my apologies to him personally at a time and place convenient to him.
"I can say, with all sincerity, an incident like this will never happen again."
Orioles general manager Pat Gillick said Alomar's statement had nothing to do with the umpires association's demand for a stronger response from Budig.
"Robbie's basically upset about [the incident], and wanted to issue an apology," said Gillick. "It was something he was going to do Saturday prior to the game, until Hirschbeck [went into] the clubhouse. He was going to apologize then, but after what happened, he didn't feel like it."
Welke disagreed. "Budig set that up," Welke said. "He brokered the deal. The apology was coerced. We voted not to accept the apology. We do not condone it, and we do not want the money accepted for the research."
Budig could not be reached for comment, nor could Richie Phillips, counsel for the umpires union.