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DANA PARSONS

Judges Rule Umpires' Gripes Are Clearly Out of Order

July 16, 1999|DANA PARSONS

Fed up with how they're treated by players, managers and baseball executives, major league umpires announced this week they'll resign Sept. 2 and not work the last month of the season.

Their bombshell had an immediate, unexpected ripple effect: Orange County's 105 Superior Court judges announced Thursday they too will doff their robes Sept. 2 and not work the rest of the season.

"We're going fishing," one Orange County judge said. "We're tired of all the bickering. All day long, it's 'I object, I object, I object.' It's very stressful work. No matter what decision you make, somebody goes home unhappy."

If the judges thought the umpires would rally behind them, though, they were mistaken. Instead, the judges' announcement touched off a heated war of words as to which arbiters had the tougher job.

"The umpires' idea of a stressful decision is whether a runner tagged up before the catch," a judge said. "That's not much different than us making tough rulings on things like inadmissible hearsay."

"Anyone who watches Perry Mason reruns knows what hearsay is," an umpire sniffed. "We make split-second decisions in front of 50,000 people, most of them drinking beer. You can't plea-bargain a play at the plate. Besides, I'd be right a lot more often if every time a tough decision came along, I could take 15 minutes to go into a back room and make my call."

Each side said their job was the more dangerous.

"I don't see umpires needing armed bailiffs standing by while they call the game," the judge said. "I even know judges who have guns on the bench."

"Considering that the bailiffs usually doze off in midafternoon, how dangerous can the job be?" the umpire retorted. "Besides, tell me the last time someone spit on a judge."

"Having a second baseman mad at you is hardly the same as having a triple murderer mad at you," the judge said. "And let's not forget, judges have been verbally threatened over the years, some with death. We've even had contracts taken out on us."

"I hear, 'Kill the umpire!' about three times a week," the ump said. "That's a terrorist threat. You never know if the next time will be the real thing."

"Umpires have total control," the judge said. "The most I can do is hold lawyers in contempt. And even then, I have to use a certain decorum. I can't stick my chest out and scream. An umpire can kick a player or manager out of the game. You know how many times I've wanted to yell, 'You're outta here!' to a lawyer?"

The umpire harrumphed. "Nobody gets in a judge's face," he said. "I'd love to have a judge know what it's like to have somebody like Tommy Lasorda calling you a 'pig-headed fool' from two inches away, especially after he'd had garlic toast for dinner."

"Being called a pig-headed fool," the judge said, "is nothing compared to an appellate court writing, 'Trial court's inexplicable decision to let that testimony stand clearly prevented the defendant from receiving a fair trial. Therefore, the judgment is remanded to the lower court.' Unless I'm wrong, no umpire has ever had a decision remanded. What I wouldn't give to have a job like that."

"It's not as great as you think," the ump said. "Judges have power, and they're respected. If we have so much power, how come we're not?"

"This is nonsense," the judge said. "How in the world can someone complain about a six-figure salary for umpiring games? Tell the umps to join the real world."

"Real world?" the ump said. "Those judges don't know how good they've got it. They sit all day in a climate-controlled room and can take a stretch whenever they feel like it. They get to wear nice robes and take 90-minute lunches.

"Do you know how much I'd give," the umpire said, "if just once I could hear someone refer to me as 'Your Honor'?"

Dana Parsons' column appears Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Readers may reach Parsons by calling (714) 966-7821, by writing to him at the Times Orange County Edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626, or by e-mail at dana.parsons@latimes.com.

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