Honestly, one of the aspects of this whole shutdown that hadn’t even crossed my mind is what it meant for the umpires. They always say that a good umpire is one that you don’t even notice, so I guess there was a whole association of them right now. Even Angel Hernandez hadn’t popped up in the news.
That changed yesterday for me, but unlike some issues with baseball, it seems that the time period between public consciousness of an issue and its resolution was really swift. Ken Rosenthal wrote an article at The Athletic Thursday that laid out the issues between the umpires’ union and MLB. Unsurprisingly, the root of it was money. MLB was looking to use this time to cut the umpires’ salaries by 35%, reasoning….well, let me just quote from the article.
The league’s position is that players and umpires must share in the losses the $10.7 billion industry is incurring.
Now, thankfully, later on in the article Rosenthal indicates that the umpires pushed back on that, saying that when business is booming, the umpires don’t get to share in that. Which is exactly the argument to make, in my opinion. This idea that everyone needs to tighten their belts has some merit, don’t get me wrong, but it seems really disingenuous for baseball to say “we’re all in this togther” when the money stops and “we don’t have to pay you anything” when billions of dollars start rolling in. Look at the free agent markets as of late. Does that feel like a “share the wealth” situation? However, you know everyone is going to share the pain whenever we resume some sort of normalcy.
There are some interesting things in that article, just from a business point of view. For instance, umpires are paid all year round, not seasonally like players are. I wouldn’t have expected that, given there’s not much umps can do in the winter. I mean, they can host camps and such, but that’s more for them as a side business. MLB doesn’t have them out there doing official business in the winter. (Though would a show on MLB Network with various umps talking about strange or controversial plays in the past be interesting? I’m not sure.) Also, everyone gets a postseason bonus, even if they don’t get a postseason job. They also only get paid for a maximum of seven spring training games, but given that their contracts aren’t tied to the game calendar as much, that’s not a big deal I guess.
I also thought it was interesting that the umps had enough self-awareness this time to realize they didn’t want to be the holdup on baseball coming back. I still remember the disastrous (for them) strike of 1999 (wow, it’s been that long ago? I’m so old) and how that turned into MLB just firing most of the umps. They hired some back, but it gave MLB a chance to weed out some of the bad ones and made the umpires’ union look foolish. Unsurprisingly, they aren’t looking for anything like that to happen again.
However, yesterday afternoon Jesse Rogers put out on Twitter that the league and the men in blue had come to an agreement for the 2020 season. The umps will take a pay cut but also get what’s been termed “a seat at the table” when the decisions relating to health and safety are made. I assume that means they’ll get a little bit of input on whether the season resumes. Also, in good news, MLB reserves the right not to use instant replay this season. Hopefully that’s something that will stick. I know a lot of things will but I’d be very happy not to have to spend 5 minutes debating whether a guy’s foot was an inch off the bag while he was being touched.
The umps do have a thankless job, having to be on the road all the time, always on the field (even in the heat), and being yelled at consistently by fans. Not saying that they don’t deserve some of the yelling but definitely not as much (and none of the abuse) as they get. However, there was no way they could get out of this without giving up some money, not with the way everyone is suffering. I’m glad that the two sides came to an agreement and I hope that the players and owners can use this as an example of how to not ruin everything in the middle of a pandemic. We’ll see if they do.