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Steerrrike - Week three

Major league umpires support minor league brethren

Major league umpires support minor league brethren

April 26, 2006|by BOB PARASILITI

HAGERSTOWN

Umpires traveled to Hagerstown on Tuesday to ask for nothing more than they demand when they are behind home plate working a baseball game.

They don't want anything too low or too high ... just something in the zone.

Umpires from across the country and from different levels of baseball joined forces in front of Municipal Stadium in a show of solidarity during a minor league baseball umpires strike that has reached its third week without signs of a resolution.

Major League Baseball umpires representing the World Umpires Association (WUA) and minor league umpires from the Association of Minor League Umpires used Tuesday morning's game between the Hagerstown Suns and Lake County Captains as the stage for the first of several possible public protests.

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"We are hoping to raise awareness that the minor league umpires are on strike," said Jeff Nelson, a major league umpire and secretary/treasurer of the WUA. "The big league umpires are here trying to show support for livable wages and a reasonable per diem for these umpires."

Umpires at the highest level of minor league baseball - Triple-A - are paid an average annual salary of $15,000 and receive a per diem of $25. Minor league umpires' hotel rooms are provided, but they must make their own travel arrangements.

Major league umpires make a base salary ranging from about $92,000 to $375,000 and receive a per diem of $368, from which they must pay for their own lodging.

Andy Roberts, president of the Association of Minor League Umpires, said minor league umpires have been paid the same salaries for the last 10 years. The organization took a pay cut in the mid-1990s and had a wage freeze, he said.

The Association of Minor League Umpires has 220 members.

"For umpires, it's two years in the minors for every one year for a player," said Nelson, who umpired at Municipal Stadium in 1992. "That's why we have to get living conditions up to an acceptable level. A lot of guys end up staying with their parents. We are trying to get good, quality umpires in and, if it doesn't improve, no one will want to get in."

Nelson was one of four major league umpires who joined the picket line of 20 striking minor league umpires. Nelson was scheduled to work Tuesday night's New York Yankees-Tampa Bay Devil Rays game in New York, while veterans Dale Scott, Dan Iassogna and Ron Kulpa were scheduled to work the Washington Nationals-Cincinnati Reds game in Washington, D.C.

"Thursday will be 21 days for the strike, and we were negotiating in good faith in collective bargaining before that," Roberts said. "We had the authority to strike before, and we didn't report for the opener. We have had 100 percent support off the field."

Negotiations broke off between the minor league umpires and the Professional Baseball Umpire Corporation on Jan. 31. The minor league season began April 6 with local high school and college umpires.

"It is very frustrating," Scott said. "If no one crossed the lines, it would shut everything down and the situation would be over."

"It's frustrating to see someone who has not worked their way up calling the games," said Iassogna, who worked games at Municipal Stadium in 1994.

Fred Nastri, coordinator of the Freestate College Umpires Association, which has provided umpires for Suns and Frederick Keys games during the strike, understands the intent of the strike but isn't sure the message is totally clear.

"The amateur umpires empathize with their plight," Nastri said. "But there is a difference between a union working to get better conditions, retirement and long-term benefits and an organization.

"The issue is that this is a trade they are all working for. The average umpire has just as much a chance to make it to the majors as a player. Many of these umpires are just coming out of the academy, while many these amateur umpires who have been working these games have 20 to 25 years of game experience."

The sides are scheduled to meet with a federal mediator today and Thursday in Cincinnati. If an agreement isn't reached, the umpires have scheduled a second demonstration Saturday in Lexington, Ky.

Tim Daub, 26, a minor league umpire from Baltimore with three years of experience, joined the demonstration and said he thought that the major league umpires' involvement could only help.

"We respect them so much," Daub said. "They have been in our shoes, and we are following them. They lived this life and they scratched by to make it. This isn't a panic move. We had a good faith contract and this is well thought out."

Paul Chandler, a 31-year-old Triple-A umpire from Seattle with 10 years of experience, said there is more at stake than just a labor agreement.

"I came from Seattle, and this was a jaunt," Chandler said. "At this point, it's not for me or the next Triple-A guy. It is for the guys in A ball trying to move up. We have not been vocal enough, and that was our job today."

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