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Replacement umps lose control in Birmingham
By Chuck King

There were many losers in Saturday’s bizarre game in Birmingham and the biggest winners weren’t even in the park.

Striking minor league umpires’ claim that games called by replacement umpires could churn wildly out of control gained credibility when three bench-clearing episodes caused Birmingham Barons manager Chris Cron to pull his team off the field in the eighth inning of their Southern League contest against Jacksonville.

The craziness started in the bottom of the sixth inning. Benches emptied after Birmingham’s Corey Smith went to the mound waving his bat after two high and tight pitches from Spike Lundberg.

Benches emptied a second time after the inning ended and a third time after Jacksonville’s Matt Kemp was hit by a pitch. The Barons believed Kemp threw a punch at Cron during one of the first two altercations.

During the melee, David Wilder, the White Sox head of player development came out of the stands and began talking to the replacement umpires.

According to one Birmingham player who asked not to be identified, Wilder told the replacement umpires that they had lost control of the game and that they would never work another game again.

“The umpires, they were nowhere,” the player said. “They couldn’t do anything.”

It was at that point that Cron decided to pull his team. Jacksonville, leading at the time 11-5, was awarded the victory.

Cron declined to comment on the incident to, while Wilder and Southern League president Don Mincher didn’t return phone calls.

Suns manager John Shoemaker vehemently denied Kemp threw a punch at anyone, saying the outfielder was just trying to free himself from a Stallion who had a hold of his jersey.

“It got a little disturbing,” Shoemaker said. “It turned out to be a bad situation for everyone concerned.

“I was surprised because I’ve never seen it happen in baseball where a team just refused to continue playing.”

The striking minor league umpires are wasting little time using this incident and others such as Durham’s Delmon Young’s bat throwing incident to their advantage.

“We don’t condone fighting, and we certainly don’t condone anybody throwing a bat,” Andy Roberts, president of the striking Association of Minor League Umpires, said in a press release. “But these incidents shouldn’t have happened. Professional umpires have the knowledge and experience to control things on the field. We also travel from city to city in every league, so a visiting team doesn’t have to worry about the effects of using home-town umpires.”

Minor league umpires have been on strike since the start of the season seeking increased pay and per diem. During their absence, minor league baseball has used college, high school and retired professional umpires.

Jacksonville and Birmingham went their separate ways following Saturday’s forfeit and don’t meet again until August.

Check out my blog for more on the umpire strike and Minor League Baseball.

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