Publish date:

Getting The Thumb One of 22 dismissed umpires, Tom Hallion faces a nightmare come true

For more than a century the word of the umpire has been gospel.
"When we decide something, it's decided," says Tom Hallion, for
14 years a National League umpire. His voice cracks as he clings
stubbornly to the present tense. "As umpires we believe in that."

Sadly for him, Hallion (and many of his colleagues) called one
wrong, and the mistake has cost him his job. He was one of 57
umpires to submit their resignations on July 14 in a foolhardy
attempt by their union chief, Richie Phillips, to lure
commissioner Bud Selig to the negotiating table before the
expiration of the umps' collective bargaining agreement on Dec.
31. That means that, barring a reversal of baseball's acceptance
of his resignation, Hallion will umpire his last big league game
on Sept. 1, the Brewers at the Dodgers. "We believed we had to
do something during the season, while we still had leverage,"
Hallion says. "Everybody was in this together." Within a week,
however, word got out that a dozen umpires, all American
Leaguers, had undermined the union plan by either refusing to
resign or quietly rescinding their resignations. By July 27,
when the majority of the resigned umpires asked for their jobs
back, baseball had already hired 25 replacement umps, mostly
from the minor leagues. Thus, nearly a third of the 68 big
league umpires lost their jobs. Hallion was among the 22 who
struck out.

Hallion is to receive $250,000 in severance pay as of Jan. 1,
2000, but the money won't last. He's 42, with three young sons
to raise. The umpires have asked the National Labor Relations
Board to file suit against Major League Baseball for unfair
labor practices, but experts, including former players' union
chief Marvin Miller, doubt that the umpires will prevail. In the
meantime Tom's wife, Betsy, is taking classes to become a real
estate appraiser in order to make ends meet, and he's thinking
vaguely about becoming a financial broker. He's not considering
a return to the minor leagues. "I still have a great deal of
confidence that this will all be resolved," he says. "Umpiring
has been my only career. I'm not prepared for having a career

The last time he had such doubts about his future was in 1978,
when he was a 21-year-old engineering student at the University
of Buffalo. On a whim he left college to enroll in the now
defunct Bill Kinnamon Umpiring School, in St. Petersburg, Fla.
"The first night in the barracks, I was listening to guys
talking about umpiring a Georgia Tech game or the high school
playoffs," he says, "and here I hadn't umpired a game in my life
except men's and girls' softball."

He graduated among the top 10 umpires from the school, earning a
job in the minor leagues. When he met Betsy in 1981, in their
hometown of Saugerties, N.Y., he was making $7,000 a year. After
seven years in the minors he was called up to the National
League in June 1985. On the day he was promoted, Betsy told him
she was pregnant with their first child. "Those were great
times," Tom says quietly. It seems to be all he can do to keep
his composure as he speaks.

In a players' association ranking released in April, Hallion was
rated 14th among the 36 National League umpires. "I'm surprised
that he's one of the guys they want to get rid of," one National
League manager says. A veteran player and former All-Star says,
"I don't know why anybody would have a problem with Tom Hallion.
He's a good umpire. He makes a good attempt to get along with
people. He doesn't go out of his way to pick fights."

Hallion traces his dismissal to the landmark three-game
suspension he drew for incidentally laying his hands on Rockies
catcher Jeff Reed during a June 26 rhubarb with Colorado pitcher
Mike DeJean. Hallion believes he received such a harsh penalty
because he was caught in a power struggle between National
League president Leonard Coleman and Selig, who wants to
centralize control of the umpires in both leagues. A month later
he had to be fired, Hallion reasons, having been cited as an
example of umpires' mounting combativeness.

At last Hallion loses control of his emotions as he recalls the
afternoon of July 29--the day he learned he had been fired. "I
had to tell Betsy," he says, slowly, between gasps. He begins to
sob. Under no circumstances are umpires supposed to cry. But
then, come Sept. 2, Hallion will be an umpire no more.

--Ian Thomsen

COLOR PHOTO: ROBIN BOWMAN A respected 14-year vet, Tom (at home with Betsy) believes he was made an example of.