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Thursday, February 28, 2002
Five umpires will return; back pay still pending

Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Five major league umpires regained their jobs Thursday after a 2½-year struggle against the commissioner's office.

Gary Darling, Bill Hohn, Larry Poncino, Larry Vanover and Joe West will start working spring training games Monday, the commissioner's office said. The five have not officiated major league games since Sept. 2, 1999, when 22 umpires were terminated by baseball after their failed mass resignation.

As part of the agreement, which followed a lengthy arbitration case and lawsuit, umpires Drew Coble, Greg Kosc, Frank Pulli and Terry Tata will retire, and get their back pay no later than March 31 and be restored to the umpires' benefit plan.

The umpires who are returning, however, will not get their back pay, for now. The status of their back money depends on the lawsuit, which is before the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia.

Baseball is seeking to overturn a decision by U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III, who ordered the rehiring of the nine umpires covered by Thursday's agreement. The Major League Umpires Association, the umpires' old union, is seeking to have the circuit court order the other 13 umpires rehired.

If Bartle's decision is not overturned, the five rehired umpires would get their back pay and benefits. If it is reversed, baseball could terminate them and wouldn't be responsible.

In his Dec. 14 ruling, Bartle upheld a decision made last May by arbitrator Alan Symonette. In addition, Bartle also ordered new arbitration hearings for Paul Nauert, Bruce Dreckman and Sam Holbrook, and upheld the termination of 10 umpires -- Bob Davidson, Tom Hallion, Jim Evans, Dale Ford, Richie Garcia, Eric Gregg, Ed Hickox, Mark Johnson, Ken Kaiser and Larry McCoy.

Many of the umpires not covered by Thursday's agreement have sued baseball in a separate case that seeks their termination pay and pensions. No date has been set for trial.

After the failed resignation plan, which began during the 1999 All-Star break, umpires replaced the MLUA with a new union, the World Umpires Association, which is run by umpires who had opposed Phillips.

Pulli agreed two years ago to become an umpiring supervisor and will remain in that role.