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baseball

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Down to their final out

Umpires' injunction request put off until Wednesday

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Posted: Tuesday August 31, 1999 11:41 PM

 

PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- The court fight by baseball umpires to save 22 jobs will go down to the final day.

After seven hours of conferences in federal court, the hearing on the umpires' request for an injunction was put off until Wednesday by U.S. District Judge J. Curtis Joyner.

"Today was devoted to the judge asking both sides to consider some issues," management lawyer Rob Manfred said Tuesday night as the sides left court. "We'll consider them overnight and come back in the morning."

Union lawyer Susan Davis made a virtually identical statement, leading to speculation the judge asked them to refrain from substantive public comments. The umpires' usually loquacious union head, Richie Phillips, declined comment.

"He is using every last-ditch effort to get things settled and get the guys back," AL ump Joe Brinkman, a leader of the anti-Phillips faction, said at Yankee Stadium, "This is a last-ditch effort for him, too. I don't think baseball will deal with him after the shenanigans he pulled and the position he put everybody in with this strategy."

A group of umpires, many scheduled for termination as a result of the umpires' failed mass resignation strategy, spent the day pacing the eighth-floor hallway rather than patrolling bases and working the plate.

Among them was the AL's Richie Garcia, perhaps the best known of the umpires scheduled to be let go by baseball after Wednesday's games.

Eric Gregg, the NL umpire known for his 300-pound-plus frame, wore a three-piece suit with two-tone, wing-tip shoes and spent much of the day trading old baseball stories with his colleagues.

Nearly two dozen lawyers were in a courtroom, ready for the hearing to start at 1:30 p.m. EDT, but Joyner summoned the top lawyers for each side to his chambers, three floors below.

After meeting with the judge for 1 hour, 15 minutes, the umpires' lawyers caucused with their clients for about a half-hour, then went back for a meeting that lasted more than 2 1/2 hours. After a 45-minute break, the sides met with the judge for another 1 1/2 hours, then left for the night.

Some of the umpires were missing games they had been assigned to Tuesday night, among then union president Jerry Crawford, Joe West and Mark Johnson. Ed Hickox spent the afternoon in court, then went to Baltimore to work his game.

Umpires want Joyner to issue a court order preventing baseball from letting the 22 go. Baseball claims it accepted their resignations, but umpires now say they never really intended to quit, that the letters they sent to the American and National leagues last month were merely symbolic.

It appeared Joyner wanted to first try to help the sides settle their differences rather than start the hearing.

In a brief filed with the court Tuesday, owners said all the umpires' legal arguments were meritless.

"Although the union attempts to cast its request for injunctive relief as a single reluctant plea for judicial intervention by only the most immediate of circumstances, this in fact is the third application the union has made," the brief submitted by the leagues said.

The union sued baseball in Philadelphia last month, then withdrew the case after Judge Edmund V. Ludwig refused to issue a temporary restraining order.

Umpires then filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board and asked it to obtain an injunction, but the agency has not yet made a ruling.

"I hope to have something tomorrow," said Daniel Silverman, the NLRB's New York agency regional director.

The controversy began July 14 when umpires announced mass resignations, effective Sept. 2, saying they wanted to spark an early start to negotiations for a labor contract to replace the one that expires Dec. 31. But the plan collapsed when 27 umps either failed to resign or quickly rescinded their resignations.

Baseball then hired 25 umps from the minor leagues and accepted 22 resignations.

Umpires told the court in their papers that the union would collapse if they don't get an injunction. Many AL umps oppose Phillips, and the 22 departing umps contain many of the union leader's strongest supporters.


 
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