Baseball and Umpires Settle Grading Dispute

Published: December 24, 2004 

Major League Baseball's labor negotiators are on a roll. Following their peaceful negotiation of a labor agreement with the players union in 2002, they quietly concluded a new five-year agreement with the World Umpires Association yesterday. 

The agreement, which will run through the 2009 season, is subject to ratification by the umpires and the owners.

The two sides even resolved their dispute over use of the computerized QuesTec system in grading umpires.

The union, whose members have always questioned the system on the grounds that it is flawed, filed a grievance last year challenging baseball's use of the system to evaluate umpires beyond simply recording balls and strikes. The union maintained that QuesTec could not evaluate umpires fairly or accurately. Management contended that the system worked well.

Under the new agreement, which will replace the agreement that expires next Friday, QuesTec will continue to be used to grade umpires but will not be the only system for evaluation. If an umpire meets ball-and-strike standards under QuesTec, no other system will be used.

But if an umpire falls below QuesTec standards, his performance will be analyzed by other means - videotape analysis of his strike zone, live observation by umpiring supervisors - to determine his status.

Economically, umpires will receive a 5 percent raise. Under the expiring contract, the most senior umpires earned $340,000 this year.

Working out a labor agreement before the existing one expires is rare in baseball. The 2002 agreement with the players union was the first negotiated peacefully after eight consecutive negotiations resulted in strikes or lockouts. 

In an earlier form, the umpires union also clashed heatedly with management. Those instances occurred when Richie Phillips, a Philadelphia lawyer, led the Major League Umpires Association. But after Phillips conceived a failed resignation strategy in 1999, a group of umpires challenged his leadership and succeeded in throwing out Phillips and the union, replacing it with the World Umpires Association.