Umpires union chief Richie Phillips is pinning his clients' hopes of working baseball openers next week on their own credentials.
The umpires are working spring games without a contract. But Phillips filed an unfair labor practices charge against the American and National Leagues Tuesday, claiming the umps had not been sent their April paychecks and that replacements were being assigned to work the season openers."They were tabbed as the 60 best when they were brought in," Phillips said of the regulars. "There's no similar work force in the world. That's what's going to get it resolved."
The union chief said the umpires and baseball negotiators are far apart. Asked about the chances of a lockout, Phillips replied, "I think that right now they seem to be intent on it."
Phillips said that if umpires are locked out, they would set up informational pickets at ballparks but not interfere with fans attending games. Eight cities open the season on Monday; the others begin on Tuesday.
"The resolution of this dispute will not be determined on how many games can be disrupted or how many fans can be inconvenienced," Phillips said.
Talks were to resume today in New York. Robert Kheel, negotiator for the two leagues, said bargaining could continue until Monday morning before decisions are made. He said the major leagues would use amateur umpires in the event of a strike or lockout.
During the 1979 umpire strike, each crew had one minor league umpire and three amateurs.
"I'm hoping the gap will be bridged," Kheel said, "but if not, we'll have some tough decisions to make."
Boston Red Sox All-Star Wade Boggs did not like the idea of substitute umpires.
"It's a major concern," he said. "I don't want any umpires calling a pitch 6-to-10 feet off the plate a strike."
He said he hoped things were resolved quickly, then added about the amateur umpires, "They'll do the best they can."
"If they're going to miss them (calls) for us, they're going to miss them for them, too," Reds pitcher Norm Charlton said.
Kheel said in New York that he was unaware of the unfair labor practices charge.
"I'm obviously distressed that the association is wasting its time posturing with legal positions rather than spending it constructively at the bargaining table, where our differences have to be resolved," Kheel said.
Phillips called an agreement unlikely "if baseball maintains its present posture." He said it would be presumptuous of him to ask commissioner Fay Vincent to help resolve the situation.
"When Peter Ueberroth came in in 1984 as commissioner and the umpires were on strike, I didn't ask Peter Ueberroth to become involved. . . . He did, not because I asked him to, but because he saw that as his responsibility," Phillips said.
Richard Levin, Vincent's spokesman, said the leagues "are handling negotiations and they'll do what's best for the game. The commissioner's not involved with these negotiations."
Although Phillips did not provide specifics on contract differences, he said issues included compensation, pensions and postseason selection procedures.
"There's certainly enough time to conclude the negotiations," Phillips said.
Phillips' handwritten filing with the National Labor Relations Board said the leagues "unilaterally changed the terms and conditions of employment" by withholding April pay from the 60 umpires.
"In addition, the employer through this and other action has failed to bargain in good faith in violation of the National Labor Relations Act," the Major League Umpires Association said in the two-sentence complaint.
In February, Phillips had said negotiations were on schedule for a new contract to replace the one that expired Dec. 31. That contract included pay starting at $40,000, going to as much as $105,000 for umpires with 20 years of service.
Kheel said umpires had not received their April pay because the leagues "were waiting to see what will happen."