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E. M. Swift
August 20, 1979
Veteran umpires have made life unhappy for the rookies who crossed the picket lines last spring and then went to work
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August 20, 1979

Odd Man Out On The Diamond

Veteran umpires have made life unhappy for the rookies who crossed the picket lines last spring and then went to work

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Some veteran umps apparently think the obvious slights are the best kind. Last month, during a game in the Houston Astrodome between the Astros and the Dodgers, a foul ball struck rookie home-plate Umpire Lanny Harris in the throat. While the Houston trainer examined him, the three veterans stood impassively at their positions. "That was——," L.A. Shortstop Bill Russell said afterward. "The guys in the dugout really got on the third-base ump."

On another occasion, the four umpires were gathered around home plate when one of the veterans clapped his hands as if to end the discussion and send everyone to his position. Rookie Dave Pallone immediately turned and ran out toward second base. The others remained at home plate.

Pallone, 27, has been a favorite target of the hazing. One day in June he opened his bag in the umpires' dressing room in Candlestick Park and found a padlock on his mask, his cap mangled and the straps of his shin guards cut. "Obviously the elves didn't do it," says supervisor Cullen. "I asked the guys in his crew point blank and nobody said anything. What can you do? I couldn't fine everybody."

Nor is it known who the guilty party was in an incident involving American League rookie Derryl Cousins. Shortly after the walkout ended, he arrived in his Minnesota dressing room to find the word "Scab," instead of his name, written above his locker.

Locker-room hazing is not nearly as important as conflict on the field, of course. "I don't agree with what the new umpires did. I never will," says American League crew chief Dave Phillips. "But professionalism should go to the forefront in games. My crew and I do not believe in treating the rookies any differently once we cross the white lines." True to his word, Phillips came to the defense of rookie Dallas Parks several times last week, most notably in an argument involving those two notorious umpire baiters, Earl Weaver and Billy Martin.

At the heart of this controversy is the veteran umps' belief that the rookies cost them money last spring and made the walkout unnecessarily lengthy. They argue further that the rookies have taken jobs that should have gone to other, better qualified minor-leaguers. To be sure, the major leagues did not sign the eight best minor league umps. The National League was turned down by the first five minor-leaguers it contacted, and the American League was rebuffed by one of its top five. Only two of the eight were considered highly promising from the beginning, John Shulock and Fred Spenn. "I couldn't live with myself if I treated the rookies like nothing ever happened," says Billy Williams. "They took advantage of what we were doing to get to the majors. They cost other minor league umpires—better umpires—a chance to be here. Ask [Steve Fields] if he could have gotten to the major leagues any other way. If he says he could have, he's a liar and I'll tell him that to his face."

At the same time, the veterans have only respect for a young umpire named Dan Morrison, who turned down an American League contract in the spring but came to the bigs as a sub when Lou DiMuro was injured. "I wanted to make it on my own ability and not by defying these other guys," Morrison says. "And I figured that when I made it I was going to be here for 20 or 25 years and I would have to get along with these guys."

Morrison was confident that he could reach the top on his own. Others, not as sure of themselves, took their opportunities when they came. "It was a tough decision," Fred Brocklander says. "I'm going to be 39 years old and, if I had said no, that was it. I had struggled emotionally and mentally all those years in the minors and I had persevered. I felt like I was in the middle."

Brocklander says the crucial factor in his decision was the relationship between the major league umps and their poor cousins in the minors. "They never took us into the Umpires Association," he says. "If they had, I never would have worked while they were out."

Brocklander and the seven other outcast umps are still not welcome. With but 52 members, the association is one of the most elite unions in the country. There is no evidence that the veteran umps remember their roots beyond the passing down of an occasional used chest protector or travel bag to a Triple-A hopeful. "They don't give a damn about the minor leagues," says Dallas Parks, who waited seven years for his chance. "They leave the minor leagues and forget about them."

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