NEW YORK (AP) -Umpires are balking at baseball's attempt to widen background checks in the wake of the NBA's referee betting scandal.
In exchange for an agreement to allow credit checks, the World Umpires Association asked Major League Baseball to add a seventh umpire to each postseason crew. Negotiations broke down during a contentious meeting last week at baseball's headquarters.
``We strongly indicated the fact that were offended by the effort to trade economics against integrity,'' said Rob Manfred, baseball's executive vice president of labor relations.
After the NBA acknowledged last month that the FBI is investigating referee Tim Donaghy for betting on games, baseball officials reviewed how they monitor their umpires. The commissioner's office asked major and minor league umps to sign authorizations for the background checks, and both the major league union and the Association of Minor League Umpires told their members not to sign the forms.
``We are committed to fulfilling our obligation to maintain the integrity of the game, but Major League Baseball also has a responsibility to do what's in the best interest of the sport and its fans - and that is to not engage in knee-jerk, misguided witch hunts against the umpires without fair negotiations,'' the WUA said in a statement.
Management lawyers met Thursday with the new representatives of the WUA, who began work a day earlier and also represent NBA referees. WUA spokesman Lamell McMorris, citing the NBA's practice of having an extra referee at playoff games, said adding an additional umpire to each postseason crew would benefit the sport.
``MLB maintains that this is an economic issue, but its definition of what is economic and what is integrity is suspect,'' the WUA said.
Manfred said baseball's security department did background checks and monitored umpires on a regular basis but said that the sport needed consent to perform credit checks. He said MLB was willing to provide details to the union, a point McMorris disputed.
``As far as we can tell, they wanted an open-ended right to investigate the umpire's background,'' he said.
John Hirschbeck, president of the WUA, said he would let the union's new lawyers speak for the umps.
Brian Lam, the WUA's new general counsel, said in a letter Monday to Manfred that the union was concerned with the ``scope of information'' baseball wanted to gather along with the sources of information, who would have access, the frequency of checks and potential for discipline
Shaun Francis, a Double-A umpire who is president of the AMLU, was angry MLB went directly to minor league umps with the consent forms instead of contacting their union. Manfred said MLB had the right since those umps are employed by the Professional Baseball Umpire Corp., an arm of minor league baseball.
``If security of the game is truly what they're interested in, one of the things they should start doing is making sure minor league umpires are paid decently,'' Francis said. ``You create a system where guys aren't in debt for years. There's a potential for bad things there, not that I feel any of my guys would do anything.''
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