SI Vault
Edited by Robert W. Creamer
June 13, 1988
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June 13, 1988


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Richie Phillips, general counsel of the Major League Umpires Association, is amazing. Last week New York Yankee manager Billy Martin, acting like a hysterical child, tried to kick dirt on umpire Dale Scott during a game. When the packed dirt wouldn't give, Martin scraped up some in his hands and threw it on the umpire. He was out of the game, of course, and subject to punishment by American League president Bobby Brown. Martin had been fined $300 earlier in the season for kicking dirt on another umpire and had avoided punishment for his involvement in a row in a topless bar in Texas, in which he was injured. Billy seemed on his way, once again, to self-destruction.

Criticism of Martin grew after Brown, a former teammate, let him off this time with a slap on the wrist—a $ 1,000 fine and a three-game suspension. Most baseball people had assumed that Martin would get at least seven to 10 days. After all, the generally better behaved Pete Rose got 30 days for his run-in with an umpire on April 30. Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda said, "I like Billy, but what he did was really worse than what Pete Rose did, because it was premeditated. The umpire could have lost his eyesight."

But then the amazing Phillips opened his mouth. He issued a resolution, approved by the chiefs of the seven American League umpiring crews, that not only strongly criticized Martin but also declared that Brown had "abrogated his responsibilities as American League president." The statement concluded by declaring that the umpires would "take strong measures" to control Martin's behavior.

Phillips elaborated by saying, "For Martin to stay in the game from now on, he's going to have to behave like an altar boy, sitting there with his hands folded and lips shut. Every time for the next couple of weeks that he comes out of the dugout, he'll be ejected. Then we'll review the situation." He said that the umpires would act as vigilantes and would "impose our own suspension" on Martin.

The arrogance of the umpires' statement and Phillips's imprudent remarks suggested that the umps want to be a power unto themselves and not subject to the league's direction or authority. That stance had the unfortunate effect of taking the heat off Martin. Forget that Martin's abusiveness has a long history—this was the sixth time in his managerial career that he has been suspended—or that in the latest incident he kicked dirt on an umpire not initially involved in the play. Martin has complained of being victimized by umpires, and in this incident, at least, the TV replay clearly showed that the umpire had erred. Some people might think that if umpires could be that wrong in calling a play and as pompous as they were in their reaction to Brown's disciplinary measure, then perhaps there might be something to Billy's complaints about them. In short, Phillips did the impossible. He almost made it seem that Martin was right in playing the martyr. He also gave the unsettling impression that the umpires will be prejudiced against the Yankees for as long as Martin manages.

In the hours before his return Monday night, Martin remained behind a guarded clubhouse door in Yankee Stadium, while on national TV Phillips called him "the quintessential recidivist in baseball" and reasserted the umpires' intention to chase him at the slightest provocation. They never got the chance. Coach Chris Chambliss presented the umps with the Yankees' lineup card, and Martin never left the dugout during a 3-2 loss to the Boston Red Sox that was devoid of controversial calls. But after the game Martin said that he would sue Phillips on unspecified grounds and that he would not be restrained from expressing himself. "You can't gag an American." Martin said.

It didn't happen Monday, but sooner or later Martin and the umpires will test one another on the field. No one will come out of it looking good. Not Martin. Not Brown. And not the umps.

It all started with the Rolaids relief awards in baseball, which led to, among other cute commercial tie-ins, the NBA's Master Lock Defensive Player of the Year award. Now even Major League Volleyball has one: the DHL Uninterrupted Service Trophy, awarded by the DHL Worldwide Express company to Wendy Stammer of the Arizona Blaze for having the best serving average in the league for the 1988 season.


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