Saturday, June 03, 2006

Minor league umpires settle strike, but questions remain.

I've been trying to figure out which side "won" the minor league umpires' strike and I have to admit I'm still a bit perplexed.

The umpires settled the strike earlier this week, agreeing to an extra $100 per month across all levels and what amounts to about an extra $90 per month in their meal money. The per diem will increase in each of the contract's five years.

The numbers don't sound like a lot, but then again, the umpires really weren't asking for much. The top minor league umpires barely make $15,000 and rookie league guys are down in the $5,000 range.

So the extra hundred is at least statistically significant. But the extra salary barely covers the increase in their health care deductible – a point the umpires were eager to make during the strike.

It looks like the sides were arguing over a small sum, which begs the question, why was there even an argument? Minor league baseball is making more money than ever. And even if it wasn't, it was certainly in Major League Baseball's best interest to have the professionals behind the plate.

Look no further than the game in Birmingham last month where the Barons pulled their team off the field because they felt the umpires had lost control of the game as an example of what could happen with inexperienced umps. Major league clubs have too much invested in their players to let something like that happen.

In addition, I've had several managers and scouts tell me the strike zone inconsistencies made it difficult to evaluate how well their players were progressing – especially pitchers.

From the management side, it just seems more cost effective to have paid the minor league umpires to be there at the start of the season.

They say all good deals leave both sides a little upset. That's probably the case here. It's just hard to image this deal took so long.

Minor league umpires will return to the field no later than June 12. Each individual league sets the date. Florida State League commissioner Chuck Murphy doesn't expect them back before the 12th because the league needs the time to work out administrative and travel difficulties.

Those of us who revel in some of the craziness caused by the replacement umpires have a few games left with the high schoolers calling balls and strikes. If lucky, we may get one more performance like the confusion in Jupiter on Wednesday.

Come the 12th, however, I think everyone will be pleased the men in blue will be back to normal

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