Minor league baseball begins season with replacement umps

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PEARL, Miss. (AP) – A big question surrounded the mysterious replacement umpires working the Double-A Mississippi Braves’ season opener.

Who were those guys?

Minor league baseball’s season began across the country Thursday with regular umps striking over wages and working conditions, and fill-in umps taking their place.

At a Southern League opener in suburban Jackson, secrecy shrouded the three-man crew calling the night game between Mississippi and the Huntsville Stars.

“The replacement guys, I’m confident they’re going to umpire to the best of their abilities,” first-year Mississippi manager and former big leaguer Jeff Blauser said. “They have a lot of pride, obviously, in what they are doing. And they have a lot of passion for the game, or they wouldn’t be here.”

Still, there wasn’t much made known about these replacements. Their names weren’t announced over the loudspeaker. They weren’t mentioned on the team-distributed scoresheets. They wouldn’t even identify themselves to – or discuss their new jobs with – reporters.

Each league was responsible for assembling its umpiring pool, with many believed to have come from the junior-college and college ranks.

Major League Baseball sent a memo to its teams on March 29 requesting that franchises and staff be patient with and respectful of the replacements.

The replacements filled in for the regular minor league umps, whose contract expired after last season. The union voted last month to authorize the strike and boycotted spring training.

The union was formed in 2000 and has about 220 members in 16 leagues. The umpires say their salaries average $15,000 at Triple-A, $12,000 at Double-A, $10,000 in full-season A-ball and $5,500 in rookie leagues.

George Yund, a lawyer representing the Professional Baseball Umpire Corp., has compared minor league umpiring to an educational program rather than a lifetime career and has said umps receive annual raises because of increased service time even though the scale itself hasn’t increased.

Yund has said umps refused to work rather than accept a 42 percent increase in spring training compensation, arranged by the PBUC with major league baseball. But Andy Roberts, president of the Association of Minor League Umpires, has said any management-offered increases in the contract would be wiped out by rises in health care payments.

The union has filed unfair labor practice charges with the NLRB.

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