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Thursday, July 18
Updated: July 19, 7:53 PM ET
Baseball looking to discipline Hirschbeck

Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Baseball wound up in federal court for the second time this week, suing umpires Thursday in an attempt to discipline union head John Hirschbeck.

In an eight-page complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, the commissioner's office said Hirschbeck told a member of his umpiring crew not to warn a pitcher for intentionally throwing at a batter. Management asked for a declaratory judgment that its attempt to discipline Hirschbeck was not subject to arbitration.

The commissioner's office also asked for a permanent injunction preventing the union from taking the dispute to arbitration. The case was assigned to U.S. District Judge Allen G. Schwartz.

Larry Gibson, a lawyer for the umpires' union, countered that his side never attempted to arbitrate over discipline to Hirschbeck, who has headed the umpires in bargaining for the past 2½ years. Instead, he said the suit really was about management's reliance on a computerized evaluation system the union claims is inaccurate.

"This lawsuit is part of the continuing clumsy efforts of the commissioner of baseball to stifle legitimate criticism of the Questec ball-and-strike system,'' Gibson said. "The World Umpires Association and its technical consultants have serious reservations as to whether this system can reliably determine the path of baseballs thrown by major league pitchers in actual game situations.''

Rob Manfred, executive vice president for labor relations in the commissioner's office, accused Gibson of "trying to spin the WUA out of its agreement that discipline would be handled without arbitration.''

"This is sophistry at its best,'' Manfred said. "This is their after-the-fact attempt to make it arbitrable.''

On Tuesday, commissioner Bud Selig and Jeffrey Loria -- the current Florida owner and former Montreal owner -- were sued in federal court in Miami by former Expos limited partners who accused them of mail fraud and wire fraud under federal anti-rackeetering laws. Selig and Loria denied the charges.

The dispute with umpires, who have been fighting baseball off an on for more than two decades, stems from a "warning letter'' sent to Hirschbeck on May 10, accusing him of misconduct during an April 28 game in Cincinnati.

Ralph Nelson, a vice president in the commissioner's office, said Hirschbeck told plate umpire Mark Carlson that day not to issue a warning to Cincinnati's Gabe White after a pitch sailed over the head of San Francisco's Barry Bonds, according to the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press.

Gibson said Carlson determined the pitch was not intentionally thrown at Bonds and never asked Hirschbeck for help on the call. Nelson also accused Hirschbeck of generally telling his crew not to issue warnings without his consent, a charge Gibson denied.

In addition, the lawsuit said baseball's computerized umpire evaluation system showed "a high percentage of missed calls of balls and strikes'' by Hirschbeck during a May 4 game, a performance "clearly not commensurate with abilities,'' according to Nelson.

The umpires' union attempted to file a grievance over the matter on May 29, asking for seven different remedies.

On June 7, baseball told the union the dispute wasn't subject to arbitration and asked for dates Hirschbeck could attend a hearing before Sandy Alderson, executive vice president of baseball operations in the commissioner's office. On July 2, the union told the commissioner's office it was contacting the American Arbitration Association.

In addition, the WUA is angry veteran umpire Bruce Froemming was not picked for last week's All-Star game in Milwaukee, his hometown.

"Finally, after all of these years, it comes to Bruce Froemming's city,'' Gibson said. "Bruce is told he does not get it because his Questec numbers are not as good as Gerry Davis' numbers. That violates our understanding that this device, which is not accepted, which has not been proven to be accurate, is not to be used this year.''

Manfred countered that the union and management has agreed that "we would use the Questec system to improve umpire performance'' and that "any use has been "consistent with the agreement.''

Hirschbeck did not return a call from the AP on Thursday seeking comment.

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