PARADISE VALLEY, Ariz. - Baseball owners unanimously ratified a five-year contract with umpires on Thursday, wrapping up a decade of labour peace in a sport once plagued by work stoppages.
The deal, expected to be ratified by umpires on Monday, would remove a ban on umpires appearing in consecutive World Series, according to a person with knowledge of the agreement. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because umpires had yet to vote on the pact.
The agreement also would allow management to use of video to evaluate umpires and establish new programs for early retirement, a person at the meeting said. That person spoke on condition of anonymity because owners didn't reveal those details.
Ending the World Series restriction would allow the best umpires to work those games in repeated seasons. Removal of that provision would come after several blown calls in the 2009 series.
Baseball has not had a serious labour problem since 1999, when a dispute led to mass resignation by umpires, with 22 of them losing their jobs. There has been no works stoppage in the sport since 1994.
"Having lived through the work stoppages of '72, '76, '80, '81, '85, '90, '94, that you'd have 16 years of labour peace, peace with the umpires, it's one of the things I'm very proud of," commissioner Bud Selig said.
The vote came at the end of two days of owners meetings that included general managers of most teams.
"It really was terrific," Selig said. "I would say it was long overdue."
Selig said general managers would be invited to the owners' next meeting in May.
Owners heard an economic report from conservative columnist George Will, among 14 men of a committee appointed by Selig to discuss on-field matters.
Among those items is whether video replay should be expanded.
Its use began in 2008 but is limited to determining whether potential home runs are fair or whether balls went over the fence.
Will believes the economy will hurt baseball but thinks there might be some benefit because it's a bargain for fans relative to other sports - if people don't take expensive summer vacations, they could show up at the ballpark.
Selig said it is too early to tell whether the economy will affect baseball in the coming season, although his expectations were "about the same, maybe a little better" than last year.
"Look, you can't get economists to agree on how things are going to be," he said. "I'm an optimist by nature so I think we'll do OK."
Selig also announced to the owners that baseball was giving $1 million to UNICEF to help provide relief to victims of the devastating earthquake in Haiti.
In the final session of their two-day meetings, owners heard an emotional report from representatives of Stand Up To Cancer, an organization that has received much help from baseball.
"I've been coming to these meetings for 40 years and I don't think I've ever seen more emotion, more tears," said Selig, adding that just about everyone's life is touched by cancer. "I'm really proud of our association with them."