Owners ratify agreement with umpires
World Series staffing rules addressed in new contract
PARADISE VALLEY, Ariz. -- Major League Baseball owners unanimously approved on Thursday a new five-year contract with the World Umpires Association that will extend to Dec. 31, 2014. The deal was agreed upon in principle last month only eight days before the old one expired on Dec. 31.The owners approved the deal as part of the agenda on Thursday morning during the first quarterly meeting of the year, attended for the first time by 28 of the 30 general managers. Commissioner Bud Selig extended the invitation and said that the two days went so well that he intends on having the GMs return when the owners meet again in May in New York. The umpires have their annual meeting in Scottsdale, Ariz., on Monday and Tuesday and also are expected to ratify the agreement. "We hope and expect that to happen," Selig told the media after the meeting. The umpires' agreement was one of two action items on the agenda, the other being a $1 million contribution by MLB to help earthquake victims in a ravaged Haiti.
About the contribution to UNICEF, which is coordinating the aid to Haiti, Selig said: "You see these things on TV and you hear about them. I sat in my little office here yesterday watching everything that was going on in Haiti, and it's heart-breaking. It makes you realize how lucky we are. This is something that we should do and have to do."I told the owners today what I always say -- baseball is a social institution. We do have social responsibilities, and we should be glad we're in a position to do the things that we do." The owners and the umpires' union were in negotiations all last year on this new deal, and for the second consecutive time came to an agreement without acrimony. MLB declined to speak about the specifics of the deal until the umpires also ratify it, but it has been learned that as part of the agreement, Selig will have more flexibility to dictate expansion of instant replay and that umpires will now be able to work in successive World Series. Under the old agreement, the six umpires who called a particular World Series would not be able to do so again for two years, although they were available to work the Division Series and the League Championship Series the next postseason. That flexibility alone will allow baseball to use its best umpires throughout the playoffs on a rotating basis, although umpires still won't be able to work successive series in a given postseason. As far as replay is concerned, it now covers boundary calls on home runs -- fair or foul, in or out. That issue was negotiated with umpires outside of the regular collective bargaining in 2008, and the program was put in place in September of that year. Selig said recently that he would consider expanding replay after a spate of missed calls plagued the first two rounds of this year's postseason. He reiterated on Wednesday that the matter would be addressed on Thursday during the first meeting of the 14-man Special Committee he assembled to discuss MLB's on-field issues. The World Umpires Association was certified by the National Labor Relation board on Feb. 24, 2000, and it became the negotiating arm of the umpires. Its first president was John Hirschbeck, who was replaced by veteran umpire Joe West this past April. The certification came after the dissolution of the old union -- the Major League Umpires Association. In 1999, led by President Richie Phillips, 50 of the 66 umpires resigned as a negotiating ploy to move along collective bargaining. Some rescinded their resignations, but MLB ultimately accepted the resignation of 22 umpires, thus breaking that union. Since then, 11 of those 22 umpires have been reinstated, including Bob Davidson, Tom Hallion and Ed Hickox, who were added during the successful negotiations of 2004. Thus, MLB concluded the past decade for the first time since the 1960s without a work stoppage involving either the players or the umpires. Under the leadership of Rob Manfred, MLB's executive vice president of labor relations and human resources, the owners have negotiated successfully with unions of both entities four times since the players threatened to strike for the last time in 2002. "If somebody would have told us, particularly me, having lived the work stoppages of '72, '73, '81, '84, '85, '90 and '94, that we would have 16 years of labor peace with the players and the umpires, I'd have said they would be crazy," Selig said. "This has been good. That's why the sport has grown. I don't think anyone realized the damage we were doing to the sport. People were tired of reading and hearing that stuff every day."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.