NEW YORK -- The fight between baseball and its umpires may reach the field next Thursday.
The American and National leagues have given the umpires' union a new schedule for work assignments, several baseball officials said Thursday, and after Sept. 1, it doesn't list the 22 umps whose resignations were accepted.
Baseball's lawyers say the resignations, which were effective Sept. 2, begin at the start of the day. The union contends that even if it is determined that owners legally accepted the resignations, they don't take effect until after that day's games.
Union president Jerry Crawford said Thursday the issue had not been raised yet with management but added that when umpires submitted their mass resignations in July, their understanding was they would take effect after games of Sept. 2.
Some baseball officials are worried that some of the departing umpires may create confrontations next Thursday, and attempt to work games.
Teams have been told to have alternate umpires in ballparks ready to work the games, just in case of a mass walkout. Some of the NL umpires who are not scheduled to depart have discussed striking in support of their colleagues.
"We figure we have some options," Crawford said. "I don't think I'm ready to tell the world what we'll do."
Only eight games are scheduled for next Thursday: Philadelphia at San Francisco and St. Louis at Milwaukee in the NL, and six games in the AL.
Umpires have filed unfair labor practice charges against the leagues, and now claim their mass resignations were caused by their anger at management and were merely symbolic, not an attempt to force an early start of bargaining for a new labor contract.
The strategy backfired when 27 umps either didn't resign or quickly withdrew their resignations. Baseball then accepted the resignations of 22 umps and hired 25 replacements from the minor leagues.
Umpires want the NLRB to seek an injunction in federal court in New York that would keep the 22 umps at work, and NLRB regional director Dan Silverman said last week the agency would try to let the parties know its thinking before Sept. 2.
If the NLRB doesn't seek an injunction, the umpires' union may try to get one on its own in federal court in Philadelphia.
"I think that once we exhaust all our options as far as the legal grounds, we'll certainly go back to our counsels and see where we are," Crawford said.
The leagues sent a letter to all umpires, but its contents weren't immediately known. The umpires were scheduled to receive the letter Friday by overnight mail.
"It's my understanding that it's another one of their scare tactics," Crawford said. "I don't know what's in the letters but I'm sure that it's nothing nice."
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