SI Vault
Edited by Jerry Kirshenbaum
October 15, 1984
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October 15, 1984


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Who was right in the baseball umpires' strike? Reflecting on the strike, which ended on Sunday with the umps and leagues agreeing to let new commissioner Peter Ueberroth resolve the areas of dispute in binding arbitration, SI's Jim Kaplan concludes that the answer to that question is a judgment call. He writes: "The leagues were justified in resisting the union's demand that shares of the playoff pool be paid to umpires who didn't work the playoffs. The umps were right in demanding that firings no longer be appealed to the very men who do the firing, the league presidents. But the issue wasn't the issues; it was the presence of substitute umps for seven of the two leagues' eight playoff games.

"To the relief of everyone but the strikers, the fill-in umps blew few critical calls, although the strike zone often seemed to take some strange shifts. As a result the not so indispensable strikers lost not only money but also face. But baseball lost something, too. Instead of being able to concentrate fully on the games, fans were needlessly distracted by questions of whether or not the stand-in umps were qualified and whether the regular ones were justified in striking.

"As usual, the two leagues behaved as if they were on different planets. Uniformity? National League president Chub Feeney used only four umpires from the amateur ranks to replace the usual playoff complement of six umps. Feeney also told managers Jim Frey of Chicago and Dick Williams of San Diego to keep their beefs to umpires as brief as possible. By contrast, American League president Bobby Brown used six-man crews and had no rules of etiquette for managers Dick Howser of Kansas City and Sparky Anderson of Detroit.

"Also as usual, the commissioner took a detached view of the situation. This time the guilty party wasn't Bowie Kuhn but Ueberroth, the president of the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee who replaced Kuhn on the eve of the playoffs. Asked the next day if he would try to end the strike, Ueberroth replied, 'Certainly not in my second day. Maybe further ahead.' That raised the wry question of why baseball hadn't postponed its playoffs until its new commissioner was ready for the job. Although Ueberroth eventually stepped in as arbitrator, he took pains to say he was doing so only on invitation of the disputants. By some muddled reasoning, he seemed to think that intervening on his own would have been uncommissionerly.

"But the most important as-usual was that, once again, baseball had failed to deliver its best product. It isn't just that real fans don't enjoy labor disputes or other sideshows with their baseball. It's also that during showcase events like the league championship playoffs, the game's higher-ups shouldn't have been gambling that they'd get lucky and that the substitute umps wouldn't mess up. As Williams said, 'If we have the best teams, we should have the best people controlling them.' "


From The Province in Vancouver, B.C. of Oct. 5, 1984:

"EDMUNDSTON, N.B.—Former Triple Crown winner Ron Turcotte pleaded guilty to night hunting in provincial court here yesterday."


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