Players, umpires to form disciplinary study group No sweeping changes made for unruly behavior

February 05, 1997|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

Major League Baseball's disciplinary summit failed to produce any change in the way the sport handles unruly players, but representatives of the Major League Baseball Players Association and the umpires union agreed to form a study group to examine baseball's disciplinary system.

The meeting, held yesterday in West Palm Beach, Fla., was part of an agreement reached in federal court last October to prevent a postseason boycott by umpires, who were outraged that Orioles second baseman Roberto Alomar was allowed to postpone the five-game suspension he received for spitting on umpire John Hirschbeck.

A sweeping increase in the disciplinary power of the league presidents was not expected, but the Major League Baseball Umpires Association apparently hopes the meeting is the first step toward a system in which players cannot serve suspensions at their convenience and continue to be paid.

"We had a full and frank discussion with the views of all parties being fully aired," said acting commissioner Bud Selig. "We believe that this meeting has been productive and are holding out hope for future progress in developing better relationships among all parties."

In short. They came, they talked and they left. Pitcher David Cone and outfielder Brian McRae represented the rank-and-file players. Umpires Jerry Crawford, Bruce Froemming and Dave Phillips participated in the meeting along with union chief Richie Phillips. Major League Baseball was represented by Selig, American League president Gene Budig and National League president Len Coleman.

There really wasn't anything concrete that could be accomplished, since the disciplinary system that governs the players is outlined in the collective bargaining agreement between the players and owners and the system governing the umpires is outlined in their labor contract with management. There was talk about expediting the appeals system, and making players serve suspensions during the postseason, but neither plan would be likely to survive a grievance by the players union.

There is nothing in the Basic Agreement between the players and owners to prevent the league presidents from imposing suspensions more quickly or compelling players to serve them during the postseason, but the players union probably would be able to argue successfully that such changes would be a deviation from customary practice.

There was no indication from the player representatives that the players union would voluntarily agree to change the appeals process or the postseason precedent.

"There may be some way to speed up the process, but you can't take a person's rights away," McRae said. "You can't be convicted of something without having the opportunity to appeal."

The Alomar incident focused attention on the process. Budig quickly suspended him for five games, but Alomar appealed and was allowed to play in the final two regular-season games as well as in the postseason.

Suspensions are appealed almost as a matter of routine, and players often withdraw their appeals later, when it is more convenient -- for the player or his team -- to accept punishment.

The umpires also are upset that a 1996 arbitrator's ruling forces teams to pay players with unguaranteed contracts during suspensions, but that also is a subject of collective bargaining and cannot be changed without the cooperation of the players union.

It is unclear what the study group will be able to accomplish. The owners and players formed an economic study committee after their 1990 labor dispute and it did nothing to prevent the labor war that began in 1992 and ended in November.

Pub Date: 2/05/97

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