Umpires Break Off Talks With Baseball Over Checks
By Danielle Sessa and Scott Soshnick
Aug. 6 (Bloomberg) -- The World Umpires Association broke off negotiations with Major League Baseball over background checks sparked by a betting scandal involving a pro basketball referee.
The umpires want to know more from baseball about collecting and distributing personal data, how often the checks would be run and what activities might trigger action, Lamell McMorris, a spokesman for the organization of major-league umpires, said in an interview.
Baseball's chief labor negotiator Rob Manfred said talks were halted because the umpires wanted to add an extra official to playoff games in exchange for providing consent to a credit check.
Baseball is increasing its scrutiny on game officials as National Basketball Association referee Tim Donaghy is investigated by federal authorities over betting on games and providing information to others.
``We understand certainly the need for background checks, we just want to make sure it's a fair process,'' said McMorris, who also represents the NBA referees. ``Poor planning on their part does not constitute an emergency on our part.''
Umpire representatives met with Manfred on Aug. 2 about background checks for all major- and minor-league umpires. The World Umpires Association sent a letter to Manfred dated today outlining their concerns.
Manfred said he was ``offended'' by the umpires' demand that any agreement to background checks be tied to the addition of a seventh umpire for postseason games.
``The discussions became contentious and broke down over that economic demand only, not over any issue related to background checks,'' Manfred said on a conference call with reporters.
``We expressed a willingness to deal with every single enumerated concern that related to those background checks,'' he said. ``How the discipline was going to be handled, who would have the information, how they were going to be done.''
Baseball conducts full screens umpires when they are hired, Manfred said. The sport also monitors the off-field activities and associations of umpires and other baseball-related personnel, he said.
More than half of the 70 umpires have at least 10 years of experience, and 16 have worked for more than 20 years, according to the umpire media guide provided by baseball.
Manfred said the investigation into the NBA referee was the catalyst to the sport's request.
``Obviously this issue arose in the wake of the NBA issue and we had internal discussions about what matters we might undertake and this consent issue was one of those we decided to move forward on,'' he said.
The umpires want an additional referee in the postseason in case of injury or other problems just like the NBA does, McMorris said in a statement released after Manfred's conference call.
NBA Commissioner David Stern called the Donaghy probe the ``worst situation'' in his 40 years with the league. He said Donaghy was the only official under scrutiny. No charges have been filed in that case.
The NBA started annual background checks on its referees during the 2004-2005 season that examines their credit, debt, bank accounts and civil and criminal litigation, Stern said. It also uses observers at every game to monitor calls referees make. Any sort of gambling is prohibited except betting at race tracks during the offseason.
Stern said the league will be reviewing all the rules governing referees.
The National Football League can run background checks on officials every three years, according to USA Today.
The NFL reviews every official for accuracy and those who don't meet an acceptable level of performance aren't retained.
Baseball employs 10 observers with experience in playing, managing, coaching or officiating to evaluate performances by major-league umpires.
Umpires aren't allowed to bet on games.
Baseball's labor agreement with umpires expires after the 2008 World Series. The umpires are refusing to negotiate with baseball on any other matter that is not in the contract.