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Veteran umpire Clark fired by MLB

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Posted: Friday June 22, 2001 3:20 PM
Updated: Friday June 22, 2001 9:03 PM

NEW YORK (AP) -- Al Clark, a major league umpire since 1977, was terminated by the commissioner's office this week for improperly using plane tickets in violation of his union's contract, baseball officials said.

Sandy Alderson, executive vice president of baseball operations in the commissioner's office, confirmed Clark's termination but would not get into details.

"My only response is that he is no longer employed by major league baseball," Alderson said Friday.

News of the Clark's departure was first reported Friday by the New York Post, which said Clark was under investigation for issues related to memorabilia.

However, three baseball officials familiar with Clark's departure, speaking Friday on condition they not be identified, said the termination was due to the improper use of plane tickets.

It was not immediately clear if Clark was fired or agreed to leave. News of Clark's plight quickly spread among umpires.

"He's a good friend of mine, and I have a lot of respect for him," said Mike Reilly, who heard the news when he got to the ballpark Friday.

None of the officials would discuss how many times Clark allegedly misused tickets.

Major league umpires are given first-class tickets to travel to their assignments. The baseball officials said the commissioner's office concluded that Clark exchanged one or more tickets for economy class, which would allow him to either profit from the difference or use the difference for other travel.

Baseball's labor contract with its umpires, agreed to last year, says tickets can be downgraded only with prior approval and if the purpose is to use the difference in fares to return home for off days between series. The contract prohibits downgrading for "financial or other gain, including leisure travel."

Plane tickets became an issue in recent years among NBA referees, who were allowed to downgrade to economy. They got in trouble, however, for failing to declare the difference on their taxes.

Last November in Minneapolis, NBA referee Ken Mauer was convicted of three counts of tax evasion and one count of obstructing the administration of federal tax law.

Mauer was sentenced in April to five months in jail, five months of home detention, three years of supervised release and 800 hours of community service.

Twenty other NBA officials pleaded guilty to similar conduct. Most were fined a few thousand dollars, put on probation and ordered to pay back taxes. Some also had to serve short periods of home detention. The NBA reinstated several of them.

Clark, who lives in Williamsburg, Va., could not be contacted by phone. Joel Smith, a lawyer for the World Umpires Association, declined comment.

Under Alderson, baseball has adopted a tougher policy on policing its umpires. Twenty-two were let go in September 1999 following a failed mass resignation. They are still trying to regain their jobs in a federal lawsuit.

The 53-year-old Clark, who is in his 26th season, was baseball' fifth-most senior umpire. He umpired in the World Series in 1983 and 1989 and was the plate umpire for Nolan Ryan's 300th win.

In 1998, Clark denied profiting from the sale of baseballs autographed by David Wells that were said to be from the pitcher's perfect game for the New York Yankees. Clark said that while he was present when Wells signed the balls, they were for a friend, Rich Gressle, who sold six baseballs to a memorabilia dealer for $300 each.

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