The World Umpires Association ratified an new labor agreement with Major League Baseball on Monday that will give them at least five more years of making the right call 99.6% of the time and getting the business from fans, owners, announcers, columnists, beat writers, bloggers, your Aunt Helen, managers, players, and peanut vendors the remaining 0.4%:
"It wasn't unanimous, but it was the most overwhelming vote I've ever participated in," said Joe West, the veteran umpire who is president of the umpires' union. "Everyone is very happy and pleased that we could work through this. This was a good day for baseball and a good day for the umpires. We will make every effort to keep baseball and professional umpires first. We will all work hard to make it right."
Translation: Country Joe West is just happy they included a clause that covers any medical expenses stemming from stomach-stapling surgery. So, what exactly is new in this plan?
As part of the agreement, Commissioner Bud Selig will have more flexibility to dictate expansion of the instant replay system and umpires will now be able to work in successive World Series. There was also a modest pay raise that increases over the course of the contract and buyouts that will allow veteran umpires the ability to retire early.
Emphasis mine. Of course the emphasis is mine, MLB.com doesn't embolden certain passages in their press releases.
But what does this mean, umpires will be allowed to retire early? Wouldn't they get a benefits and pension plan if they stayed in the game until a certain retirement age was reached? Or is this merely a ploy for baseball to force early retirement on aging umpires whose aging judgment they feel has declined enough to warrant dismissal?
The way it works now, umpires are not like players, because they can stay in the game as long as they want. Umpire skills, unlike player skills, don't fall off a cliff at age 35. They do, however, sometimes fall off a cliff at age 55, which is why Bud Selig and his boys decided the only way they can persuade an old fart like Ed Montague to take a trip to Shady Pines would be to drive a dumptruck full of money up to his door.
Don't forget that this is still a young union, only in existence since 1999, the year former Major League Umpires Association president Richie Phillips led his minions into ill-fated tilt at the windmills of relevance. That was the old, stronger and centralized union. This is a new union, well under the thumb of Herr Selig. Still, a union is a union is a union and the umpires are well-compensated for their full-time job and in far better shape than most organized labor in this country.
So if you start to see a handful of veteran umpires getting their gold watches a bit early and heading off into the sunset in a brand new Cadillac, you'll know who nudged him in the right direction. Exactly, the robot umpires.