Baseball INSIDER / Why's Richie Safe?

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If umpires' union chief Richie Phillips wants to do

something for the people he represents, he should resign. Phillips cost 22 men

their jobs with his lame miscalculations.

Phillips has shown no remorse for his poor judgment, and actually sounds as if

he wants to keep on fighting. But in reality, the battle is over.

Considering that about 40 percent of the umpires now oppose Phillips, his

departure is inevitable. Still, he'd make things easier by leaving quickly and


After giving away the house, the umpires were fortunate to negotiate continuing

paychecks through the end of their current contract, which runs through the

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end of this year. But of course, Susan Davis handled those negotiations, not


Phillips' big plan to have his umpires quit to try to force baseball's hand was

such a fine idea that all the umpires who resigned eventually took back their

resignations. Too late, as it turns out, in 22 cases. Phillips made it worse by

explaining that the resignations were only a ploy, which surely would not have

played well with a judge or arbitrator. Baseball executive Sandy Alderson gave

the umpires fair warning by saying their proposed plan was "either a threat to

ignore or a promise to accept." As promised, baseball accepted.

Phillips said baseball was wrong to accept the resignations even though it was

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the umpires' idea to resign. Nothing Phillips said ever made any sense during

this whole episode.

Some folks had called upon baseball to show unheard-of compassion toward the

ousted men, but baseball had waited for years for the chance to excise some of

its worst umpires. Before Phillips threw the game, only four new umpires had

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been hired in the American League in the past 14 years. So it's no wonder

baseball was anxious to make changes. It's only the sport's good fortune that

the umpires saved it the trouble of a hard fight.

The umpiring is not likely to get worse, as some fear, because many of the

ousted umpires were among the least regarded (competent Drew Coble and Frank

Pulli are two exceptions). On average, the new guys are almost certain to be

better, given time. Mark Hirschbeck, one of the wise umpires who never

resigned, said he believes there will be no discernible difference in the

overall quality of umpiring when it comes to calling "balls and strikes, and

outs and safes."

Hirschbeck also said Phillips provided "bad leadership and a flawed strategy .

. . It's a shame, it really is."

Several umpires have called for Phillips to step aside, but some are standing

by him, even some who lost their jobs. When players go on strike, their leader,

Donald Fehr, does not draw a paycheck during that period. Given that Phillips

cost 22 men their jobs, he should lose his, as well. They all handed in their

resignations. Where's his? People compared it with Jim Jones and his misguided

followers taking the poisoned Kool-Aid at Jonestown. But at least Jones took

the Kool-Aid himself.

Stepping aside would be the right thing for Phillips to do. That's why we can

be pretty sure he won't do it.

Stan's the man

Reds reliever Stan Belinda has become one of the great stories of the year by

continuing to pitch after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. He only

briefly considered retiring. "It ran through my mind. But I've never been one

to give up," Belinda said.

His type of MS can go into remission, and he hasn't felt any symptoms recently.

But emotionally, it's another story. He doesn't know when the symptoms might

recur, and there is no cure. "It takes its toll mentally," Belinda said. "It

stresses you out. You've got to say, 'What's important?' Family and friends and

leading as good a life as you can every day."

Before MS was disgnosed and treated with medication, Belinda felt tingling up

and down his legs, and eventually all over his body. Medication has halted the

symptoms. "Life's a roller- coaster ride. As long as you stay on the ride,

you're going to have ups and downs," Belinda said. "God's blessed me a couple

of times with some good things. Unfortunately, I've had a couple of bad things

happen to me. I'm not going to just fall over dead. I'm going to go out and


Belinda, 33, has allowed five home runs in his last seven outings. His contract

runs out after this year, and he doesn't know whether he will get another one.

"Cincinnati has been great. I got struck, and they've been patient with me,"

he said. "But I understand. It's a business."

Cablevision talks slow

Sales talks between Cablevision and Mets co-owners Fred Wilpon and Nelson

Doubleday are said to have slowed in recent days. It's quite likely now that

nothing will be finished until after the season. It is believed that Wilpon and

Doubleday don't want any distractions during the Mets' fun run. The sale is

expected to go through, but one wonders whether they might have second thoughts

about selling if they're having that much fun.

Dodger blues

Word is there's tension between Dodgers manager Davey Johnson and general

manager Kevin Malone. Johnson has been telling people he'll need to have more

input in player moves this winter, implying that last winter's mistakes were

not his. Malone tried to set the record straight, telling the L.A. Times that

Johnson signed off on all the winter moves . . . It doesn't help matters that

Johnson probably knows that Malone would have selected a different manager had

Fox not made it clear that Johnson was its choice. Malone might have tried

Kevin Kennedy after failing to lure Felipe Alou, Tom Kelly and Dusty


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