The 2000 agreement with the World Umpires Association expires December 31st. There’s been remarkably little rumblings about this, which I hope is a good thing. The quality of umpiring has improved dramatically in four years since Richie Phillips botched a labor action (having agreed to not take collective labor action in the agreement his union signed with baseball, he encouraged umpires to resign together to force a new contract and MLB, sensing opportunity, accepted the resignations and… well, there’s a new union now).
The only substantial issue I can see is the conflict between MLB’s quest to make umpiring better through the application of technology (through Questec) and the union’s opposition to any evaluation based on what they believe is badly flawed technology.
This isn’t as simple as it would seem at first. The union, in trying to protect the interests of its current members, doesn’t want outside evaluation because it gives the evaluating body power over compensation and, potentially, promotion and post-season assignements. MLB wants umps to call the strike zone consistently, and is willing to apply technology to solve the problem.
What’s different about this year from 2000 and previous negotiations is that WUA’s consistently demonstrated that they’re willing to improve the quality of their work, and their work has made the game itself better. If they and baseball can look at this contentious issue and try to find a way to incorporate advancements with the goal of making umpiring better, there’s an agreeable compromise to be found.