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Friday, May 11
Arbitrator orders rehiring of nine umps

Associated Press

NEW YORK – Nine of the 22 umpires terminated by baseball two years ago following a failed mass resignation were given their jobs back Friday by an arbitrator.

Major league baseball was ordered to rehire Drew Coble, Gary Darling, Bill Hohn, Greg Kosc, Larry Poncino, Larry Vanover and Joe West.

In addition, arbitrator Alan Symonette ordered baseball to take back two umpires who have said they intend to retire: Frank Pulli and Terry Tata.

Baseball also was ordered to give the nine back pay for the time they missed.

Left out were 13 umpires, including well-known faces such as Richie Garcia and Eric Gregg.

"It's not a good day. It's only a sad day," West said. "I feel like a plane went down with a lot of my friends."

Symonette began hearing the case Dec. 13, 1999, and testimony dragged on until Aug. 29, 2000. The sides then spent months working on legal papers, and Symonette took several months to write his decision.

"I'm saddened by the fact that 13 of my colleagues and a lot of good friends apparently are not going to have jobs at this time," Larry Young, an umpire crew chief, said in Chicago. "My whole crew is down in the dumps right now. ... We were hoping we could all get back together. We were hoping they all would be reinstated."

Several of the umpires let go had economic hardships. Gregg said he borrowed money from present and former umpires to pay his mortgage.

"It's been hell for them," veteran crew chief Ed Montague said in Toronto. "They haven't had a paycheck in almost two years."

Commissioner Bud Selig's office, which pushed for a hard line on the umpires, had a mixed reaction.

"While feeling vindicated that its core position that the umpires resigned and that MLB had the right to hire replacements was upheld, we are at a loss to understand the arbitrator's conclusions with respect to some of the National League umpires," the commissioner's office said in a statement.

"Major league baseball will thoroughly examine the opinion and consider what further action is appropriate."

Arbitrator's decisions generally are difficult to overturn in court unless the side appealing can show bias.

"I am obviously very pleased for the nine umpires who got their jobs back with back pay and very disappointed about the 13 who didn't," said Pat Campbell, who argued the case for the 22.

If baseball balks at rehiring the umpires, they would have to seek a federal court order to get Symonette's decision enforced.

"It's really too early to tell what's going to happen," umpire Tim Welke said.

Symonette, according to two lawyers familiar with decision, concluded in his 100-page opinion that former National League president Len Coleman "abused his discretion" in not clearly explaining why certain umpires were fired.

Coleman had said he would make his decisions based on "merit" and "skill," invoking words in the umpires' collective bargaining agreement, but gave no rationale, Symonette said.

Symonette gave an umpire-and-umpire analysis on which umpires to bring back. He decided Coleman was justified in not rehiring Gregg, criticized by many in baseball for his weight and wide strike zone and Hallion, criticized for his "temperament."

Symonette noted that West also had temperament problems, but ordered him rehired.

As for the AL umps, Symonette concluded Coble and Kosc didn't quit because they never resigned in writing but upheld the other AL terminations.

With the returning umpires added in, more veterans will be on the field.

"I'm glad. Those guys are all good umpires," Atlanta Braves pitcher Greg Maddux said. "It's unfortunate that it had to happen the way it did, but it's nice to have them back. You can't teach experience."

Last September, as part of negotiations for a new labor contract, baseball had offered to rehire 10 of the 22 at the major league level, rehire three at the minor league level, give four buyouts and allow the other five to retire.

Richie Phillips' Major League Umpires Association rejected that offer, preferring to take its chances with Symonette.

The 10 who would have been rehired in the majors under the offer, according to two lawyers speaking on the condition they not be identified, were Coble, Darling, Bob Davidson, Bruce Dreckman, Jim Evans, Garcia, Tom Hallion, Hohn, Poncino and Vanover.

Hired at the minor league level would have been Ed Hickox, Sam Holbrook and Paul Nauert.

Dale Ford, Ken Kaiser, Larry McCoy, Pulli and Tata would have retired; and Gregg, Mark Johnson, Kosc and West would have been given buyouts. Pulli currently is working as an umpire supervisor.

"You'd like to have 22 of them back," AL umpires Tim McClelland said. "My sympathy goes out to the guys who are not coming back. I'm happy for the guys that are. I've just been hoping that everybody gets their job back."

At the behest of Phillips, umpires submitted mass resignations in July 1999, pushing for an early start to negotiations to replace the labor contract that ran through that December.

Most AL umps either quickly withdrew their resignations or failed to resign, causing the strategy to collapse. By then, owners had hired 25 new umps from the minor leagues and got rid of the 22. Phillips' union agreed to the arbitration as part of the settlement of a federal lawsuit that followed.

The umps opposed to Phillips formed a new union, won a federally supervised vote, and replaced the MLUA in February 2000. They agreed to a new labor contract Aug. 31 that allowed owners to merge the AL and NL umps into a unified staff.

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