Ex-umpires union chief Phillips dies

Richie Phillips, the confrontational former head of the major league umpires union and NBA referees union, died last Friday. He was 72.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Phillips died of cardiac arrest at his second home in Cape May, NJ. His death was confirmed by the D’Anjolell Memorial Home in Broomall, where a viewing is scheduled Thursday.

Phillips, who was born in Philadelphia in 1940, left his position as the NBA refs’ union head to take over the umpires union in 1978. He successfully fought for improved salaries and benefits until a failed bargaining strategy led to his ouster and the formation of another union in ’99.

At Phillips’ recommendation, the umpires resigned en masse on Sept. 2, 1999, trying to gain more concessions from Major League Baseball. But baseball effectively called the umps’ bluff, accepting all of the resignations and then hiring its preferred umpires back.

Twenty-two umpires were left unemployed, and the episode prompted Phillips to sue baseball and the umpires to form another union without him, the World Umpires Association. Some of the dismissed umpires returned under the terms of future labor agreements, while others gained severance pay.

The dramatic end of Phillips’ tenure overshadowed his accomplishments as head of the union. When he took over in 1978, rookie umpires earned $17,500 per season, and the most senior veterans received $40,000. By the end of his reign, umpires earned a minimum of $95,000 and as much as $282,500, including postseason bonuses that were distributed to all.

Phillips earned both undergraduate and law degrees from Villanova University.

Information from Wikipedia and the Associated Press was used to compile this report.