The umpires strike back

NO. 1 STORY OF THE YEAR

March 30, 1997|By PETER SCHMUCK | PETER SCHMUCK,SUN STAFF

The Major League Baseball Umpires Association has announced that its members will be much quicker to eject players, coaches and managers who get out of line during the 1997 season.

That announcement, made early this month, was the latest fallout from the Roberto Alomar/John Hirschbeck spitting incident last September in Toronto. The umpires still believe that Alomar was dealt with too leniently and are trying to flex their combined muscle the only way they can - on the field.

Off the field, the umpires union does not have nearly the same clout as the Major League Baseball Players Association, a fact that became obvious when American League president Gene Budig suspended Alomar for only five days after the second baseman spit on Hirschbeck at SkyDome during the Orioles' final regular-season series.

Budig could have come down harder, but may have been intimidated by the ability of the players union to circumvent his authority. Earlier in the year, the union threatened to go to court to overturn the five-day suspension he levied against Albert Belle and got it reduced to two games.

Umpires union chief Richie Phillips tried to turn the Alomar situation into a public relations coup, but instead turned the postseason into a circus and may have actually eroded public sympathy for the umpires. Then a much-publicized umpires summit during the winter did little to defuse the tension.

Now, the umpires say they are going to take matters into their own hands, a plan that could backfire if they make good on that threat. The fans don't come to see the umpires, and they certainly don't pay 1990s ticket prices to see their favorite players ejected in the first inning.

Pub Date: 3/30/97

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