During the 32-day spring training lockout that ended on March 19, no one gave much thought to how the cancellation of spring games would affect major league umpires. Each ump in fact lost roughly $100 per day in salary. And because the lockout dragged on long enough to force baseball to revise its 1990 schedule, umpires now face the prospect of a grueling summer. The regular season will start a week late, extend three days longer into October and include numerous makeup games to be played on what were to be off days.
The umpires tried to persuade baseball officials to compensate them for the lost pay and to take steps to ease their workload, but to no avail. Thus the Major League Umpires Association announced last week that as a protest, its members would not work any spring training games, though they will work the entire regular season. When the first preseason games were played on Monday—25 days late—minor league umps were behind the plate.
"They've shown a total lack of respect for umpires," said National League ump Bruce Froemming of baseball's owners. "They just finished discussions with the players about millions of dollars, but they can't discuss a $35 issue with us." Froemming was referring to a dispute over certain per diem payments to umps.
Veteran American League umpires Dave Phillips, Jim Evans and Jim McKean say that another key point of contention is the availability of the eight roving umpires, who fill in each year, starting in mid-May, when regular umps are allowed to begin taking vacation days. Because the lockout added so many makeup games, the umpires want the rovers to be allowed to fill in for them more often, and as early as April. Without increased help from the rovers, the umps say, some crews may have to work 80 or more consecutive days this season.
The umps' demands don't seem unreasonable. It would be foolish for baseball to wear down its umpires and thereby risk hurting the quality of their work. And the owners can easily afford to reimburse the 60 major league umps for the total $100,000 or so in pay they lost during the lockout. As Froemming puts it, "Heck, that's a cocktail party for the signing of a million-dollar player."
THE 17% SOLUTION
The most fought-over issue during the baseball lockout was eligibility for salary arbitration. Players wanted eligibility after two years; the owners wanted to keep the three-year cutoff. In a compromise, the new basic agreement provides that 17% of players with between two and three years' major league service (about 15 a year) will be eligible for arbitration. These lucky 17-percenters will be the two-to three-year players with the most service, provided they spent at least 86 days on a big league roster the previous season.
The benefits of arbitration can be dramatic (graph). After last season, players who had just over three years' service and filed for arbitration landed much larger raises than those who fell just short of three years and thus were ineligible for arbitration. Pittsburgh Pirate pitcher John Smiley, for example, who qualified for arbitration by 35 days, won his case and boosted his salary from $230,000 to $840,000. St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Joe Magrane, who had a better season than Smiley but fell eight days short of qualifying for arbitration, received an increase from $185,000 to $300,000.
It's impossible to say for sure who will be in the first group of 17-percenters come the end of this season, but based on current service, the top candidates include Chicago Cub first baseman Mark Grace, Cleveland Indians shortstop Felix Fermin and Kansas City Royals catcher Mike Macfarlane. This group should be pleased to learn that the 162 big leaguers who filed for arbitration after last season got raises averaging $430,000, or 102%.