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NPR's All Things Considered
Broadcast 23/08/1999, Story 17

Time is running out for twenty two baseball umpires

They submitted their resignations last month hoping to speed up contract negotiations that baseball officials when that strategy failed in the umpires announced they had changed their minds major league baseball said it was too late

The umpires is scheduled to lose their jobs next week

The umpires union has appealed to the national labor relations board in the meantime at twenty two other fires continue to work and to wonder about the future

N. p. r.'s tom goldman spoke with one of them and prepared this report

Major league umpires lead a strange life they were in the most public of places in front of thousands of people millions if you include television viewers yet unless there's controversy over a close play or a bit of showmanship on writers generally are invisible quietly policing the game in which the players attract all the attention but when twenty two year veteran umpire joe west showed up last week to work a game in phoenix arizona

Reporters were waiting for him in one of the agricultural ministry would be that that that i don't remember the contaminated area that indicates that way out of a talk show west

And twenty one of his colleagues have been big news ever since they receive a certified letters in late july announcing the resignation had been accepted of course it wasn't supposed to work out this way nearly three quarters of the major league umpire submitted their resignations to try to force baseball officials to negotiate rather than risk losing the umpires of the season wound down to the playoffs

But the plan backfired the umpires union split on the resignation strategy and baseball took advantage of the situation sending a clear message that we can live without some of you officials accepted twenty two of the more than fifty resignations and hired minor league replacements the result of what was just another season for joe west has turned into a possible

Farewell to work for baseball's singing umpire

Well in chicago at wrigley field in the closet and i was in tears and and and probably a partisan one of those he was glad you're never coming back to you but uh that the truth of the matter is we have friends roundly we have family um yeah and there's a there's a distinct possibility that the that may be my last game in wrigley field in front of our time i mean my last name it

The phoenix will not leave me here in our town you know you know if you really you really is going to go to jail where is the big burly man who's nicknamed countries jail because he loves and lives country western music

And yet the grand ol opry performed with merle haggard and buck are willing and in nineteen eighty four released this album called blue cowboy

I don't know where you can use it may be his passion but major league of hiring has been his job since he was just twenty three years old now forty six west says he grew up in the big leagues some of his peers saying he grew into one of the best as a sign of his skills up until last season west was the only major league umpire to be assigned to the playoffs every year since nineteen ninety two

Why then it was his resignation accepted and others were not

Perhaps baseball is fed up with west bringing his cowboy reputation on the playing field he was reprimanded in nineteen ninety four throwing a player to the ground during a bench clearing brawl and again in nineteen ninety seven for wearing cowboy boots wall of hiring the world series but west depends what some call his confrontational style with a bit of a umpire in history

There are no of course as confrontational as al gore was his job cocom wants to scale hubbard was a roll hall of fame of course you go and look in the hall of fame it's it's tough guy didn't take any guff off anybody who does not respect and the joan lunden saying you cross your it done

West says he and his kinder gentler colleagues are not losing their jobs because of anything they did on this

The old he

That's because major league baseball is determined to break an old nemesis the umpires union i think they'd

Put me on their list is because i was loyal to the union i think that would frankly on the list is because he was loyal to the union of war two world series in the last uh seven years by police who work for his career the jury take his word before we get to the world series between us and the fires

With twenty two jobs in jeopardy and our prayers openly warring with each other for the unions failed strategy of the veil of silence has fallen over this highly charged situation baseball officials have said they decided on the twenty two based on merit

That officials have a collaborated on the criteria but in phoenix where joe west was some firing several fans who served quite well as baseball's proxy

Until last may be at this time and i think several of these guys don't come to light bonfires and uncertain place so maybe they are a little bit that their prime time maybe it'll wake of the guys that

Well so they're out what was the last year the sports illustrated ran a cover story being told the umpire because of all there's a balance among the worst of a series of events in organized baseball televised history of a lot of them are likely to get a double take place in ending the issues that they are inconsistencies in

Joe west says he is an angry

At the minor league replacement they have jumped at the chance to fill rare vacancies of the major league level and still insensitive he says how difficult it is for the outgoing veterans but last disagrees that the transition will be sued the games he says important gains at the end of the season will be affected

The players have a comfort zone they they know the umpires they know that they can't answer no partially think they know they can pay a certain number of certain certain things and then when they're unsure of the deal part is they don't know what they can do

And they don't play as well west says he's still comfortable with his union's long time legal counsel which he phillips it was phillips who first organize the empire's twenty years ago and led them to have better way of life salaries now range from seventy five thousand dollars a year to two hundred twenty five thousand but

They include

Some umpires now say phillips must go because of the box resignation strategy phillips says he will fight to the death to say that twenty two jobs there have been private negotiations to resolve the problem but they've gone nowhere

So if joe when some parents rear ends next week

Well i guess i have to go on tour with a laggard

But by the west is already quite yet to turn full time to settle in guitar he said if the national labor relations board fails to say the empire's jobs there might very well be what he called a d. day for solidarity when sympathetic umpires refuse to work until the twenty two are reinstated and in baseball he says would have to think carefully about whether you really can't live without its most experienced officials

This is tom goldman n. p. r. news washington

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