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1999 Major League Umpires Association mass resignation

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Title: 1999 Major League Umpires Association mass resignation  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Joe West (umpire), World Umpires Association, Eric Gregg, Richie Phillips, Laz Díaz, Dale Ford, Rich Garcia, Fieldin Culbreth
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

1999 Major League Umpires Association mass resignation

The 1999 Major League Umpires Association mass resignation was a labor tactic used by the Major League Umpires Association (MLUA) against Major League Baseball (MLB) in 1999. Unable to strike because they had a labor agreement in place at the time, more than 50 umpires resigned in an attempt to force negotiations with MLB for a new labor agreement. However, MLB accepted the resignations of 22 umpires and hired new ones. The union membership became fractured on the issue, and 42 of the umpires tried to rescind their earlier action, but the MLUA was unable to retain the jobs of the 22 umpires whose resignations were accepted. The incident led to the decertification of the MLUA and the formation of a new union, the World Umpires Association (WUA).


Entering the 1999 MLB season, the union was dealing with disagreements with MLB on a variety of issues. The league sought to make it easier to replace umpires, and proposed a restructuring of the umpiring system; instead of MLUA members answering to the American and National Leagues, MLB wanted them under the control of the commissioner. In addition, MLB wanted changes in the strike zone that umpires called during games, which the umpires and MLUA leadership objected to.[1] The MLUA also had a complaint against the Major League Baseball Players Association, when it released a survey of players, which included umpire ratings, publicly.[1] During the season, there were numerous disputes between umpires and MLB owners. One involved Tom Hallion, who was suspended for three days by NL president Leonard Coleman after bumping a player.[1] Another regarded the amount of pay owed to umpires who officiated the exhibition game between the Baltimore Orioles and Cuban national baseball team.[2]


On July 14, the umpires held a meeting in Philadelphia. There, they held a vote proposing a strike, which passed; however, a collective bargaining agreement was still in place. With that in mind, the union decided on a different course of action: a mass resignation by umpires. Richie Phillips, the MLUA's leader, announced on July 15 that 57 umpires would resign, effective September 2.[1] According to umpire Dave Phillips, the resignations were intended to force negotiations with MLB to gain a new contract, effective at the start of 2000.[3] Richie Phillips added that MLUA members stood to gain about $15 million of severance pay.[1] The union intended to have the leagues negotiate in the future with a newly formed corporation, to be created after the mass resignation occurred.[4]

Out of the 68 MLB umpires, all but two were members of the MLUA. Fifty-four of them sent letters of resignation to the two leagues.[3] Within a week, several of the umpires moved to rescind their earlier actions. One of them, Dave Phillips, said that "Most people in that room thought they (the resignation letters) were going to be signed but not sent."[3] He said that the umpires thought they could rescind any time before September 2, which was not the case. In response, Richie Phillips called his views "nonsense".[3] The union filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Philadelphia on July 26, seeking to allow withdrawals. One day later, the MLUA's request for a temporary restraining order was turned down by judge Edmund V. Ludwig. Later that day, the 42 umpires whose resignations were still active rescinded as a group.[5]

The leagues accepted the resignations of 13 umpires from the National League and 9 from the American League, hiring replacements from the minor leagues.[6] On August 3, the union filed unfair labor practice charges against MLB with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).[7] A week later, the MLUA dropped the suit it had filed in federal court in July.[8] The president of the MLUA, Jerry Crawford, left the prospect of a strike open.[9] In response, the presidents of the two leagues threatened to fire any umpire who took part in a strike.[10]

On August 27, the MLUA requested arbitration from the American Arbitration Association, but both leagues turned it down. The MLUA then returned to U.S. District Court three days later, in hopes of obtaining an injunction against the leagues' acceptances of the resignations. Instead of the quick ruling the union was seeking, judge Curtis Joyner desired negotiations between the sides, which he oversaw. On September 1, the parties agreed on a severance package, which confirmed the loss of the 22 umpires' jobs.[11] The MLUA pledged not to strike in the agreement.[11]

MLUA division and decertification

A group of remaining umpires was critical of the mass resignation and moved for the creation of a new union and decertification of the MLUA in October; the Major League Umpires Independent Organizing Committee, the name the group went by, primarily consisted of American League umpires.[12] The Organizing Committee's main motivation was to force out Richie Phillips.[13] Joe Brinkman and John Hirschbeck publicly supported the idea of a new union with different leadership; Brinkman said, "There's no room for Richie Phillips in this new organization."[14] Phillips, along with his backers, criticized the umpires seeking his ouster, saying they were at fault for what happened in July.[14]

Ballots were sent to all umpires in early November, allowing the umpires to vote on whether they wanted the MLUA or a replacement union to represent them. Those whose resignations had been accepted were sent ballots in the decertification election, as were the new hires.[13] On November 30, the NLRB tallied the votes and revealed that the Organizing Committee had garnered 57 votes, as opposed to 35 for the MLUA.[15] The MLUA appealed to the NLRB, but a hearing officer upheld the results on January 21.[16] One final appeal was issued by the MLUA, but a three-person NLRB panel rejected it in February,[17] and certified the WUA as the umpires' new union.[18]


Although the MLUA was no longer representing active umpires, it still did so for the 22 who lost their jobs. In negotiations for a new labor agreement, which was signed in September 2000, the MLUA turned down an offer from MLB owners that would have seen 13 umpires brought back.[19] An arbitrator ordered in December 2001 that nine of the twenty-two umpires be reinstated, and MLB reached an agreement to do so in February 2002; four of the umpires retired with back pay.[20] Three umpires were rehired by MLB in 2002, and Rich Garcia was given a supervisor position. In late 2004, a labor agreement between MLB and the MLUA gave jobs back to three more umpires, while the remaining six gained severance pay.[21] By that time, half of the terminated umpires were working again in MLB.[22]

Below is a table summarizing what happened to the 22 umpires who made up the mass resignation effort.

Umpire Year born Status
Drew Coble 1947 Retired with back pay; never returned to major league umpiring
Gary Darling 1957 Rehired in 2002
Bill Hohn 1955 Rehired in 2002; worked through end of 2010 season before retiring for health reasons
Greg Kosc 1949 Retired with back pay; never returned to major league umpiring
Larry Poncino 1957 Rehired in 2002; retired in 2007 after injury
Larry Vanover 1955 Rehired in 2002
Joe West 1952 Rehired in 2002
Frank Pulli 1935 Retired with back pay; never returned to major league umpiring; died 2013
Terry Tata 1940 Retired with back pay; never returned to major league umpiring
Eric Gregg 1951 Retired; never returned to major league umpiring, and died in 2006
Paul Nauert 1963 Rehired in 2002 with no back pay
Bruce Dreckman 1970 Rehired in 2002 with no back pay
Sam Holbrook 1965 Rehired in 2002 with no back pay
Richie Garcia 1942 Never returned as an umpire but worked as MLB umpire supervisor until he was fired in 2010
Bob Davidson 1952 Rehired in 2007
Tom Hallion 1956 Rehired in 2005
Jim Evans 1946 Retired with severance
Dale Ford 1942 Retired with severance
Ed Hickox 1962 Rehired in 2005
Mark Johnson 1950 Retired with severance
Ken Kaiser 1945 Retired with severance
Larry McCoy 1941 Retired with severance


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