Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Lenny Dykstra Claims He Blackmailed Umpires

Lenny Dykstra says he blackmailed umpires during his playing career, revealing his purportedly extortive scheme to broadcaster Colin Cowherd on the morning of the 2015 World Series.

Here is Dykstra's claim (Video: Dykstra's interview):

I said ‘I need these umpires,’ so what do I do? I just pulled a half-million bucks out and hired a private investigation team. Their blood is just as red as ours. Some of them like women, some of them like men, some of them gamble. Some of them do whatever … It wasn’t a coincidence do you think that I led the league in walks the next two years, was it?... Fear does a lot to a man.

Dykstra justified his actions, saying, "I had to do what I had to do to win and to support my family."

Though we do not have an immediate copy of the policy and procedure documents from Dykstra's playing days in the 1980s-era (the first CBA was negotiated in 1968), the 2012-16 Basic Agreement states that, "Players may be disciplined for just cause for conduct that is materially detrimental or materially prejudicial to the best interests of Baseball including, but not limited to, engaging in conduct in violation of federal, state or local law."

This is hardly the first mention of extortion or blackmail of umpires in baseball history, though such events were more common earlier, rather than later, in the profession. For instance, umpires Paul Runge and Bill McKinley were allegedly extorted by two non-players in 1960, while as recently as 2008, the World Umpires Association claimed that baseball investigators were especially aggressive in their activities, with WUA spokesman Lamell McMorris claiming that MLB security supervisor Tom Christopher was "essentially defaming umpires in their communities by conducting strange, surreptitious, and poorly-executed investigations resembling that of secret police in some despotic nation," such as asking neighbors of Greg Gibson, Ron Kulpa, and Sam Holbrook if either umpire was a member of "groups" such as the Ku Klux Klan.

In 2001, New York Times columnist Dave Anderson accused Major League Baseball of trying to intimidate its umpires. He interviewed resigning AL umpiring supervisor Larry Barnett, who said: "It was time for me to leave [retire] because there were things I didn't believe in."

After diplomatically criticizing the over-the-top conduct, then-WUA president John Hirschbeck acknowledged, "We know we live in a fishbowl, and it's different than other people."

Page 5 of the MLB Umpire Manual states, "MLB Umpires are expected to exhibit and uphold the standards of integrity of the umpiring profession," listing several desirable attributes on and off the field, including honesty, high ethical standards, and conduct "in a manner consistent with an exemplary image and reputation of Major League umpires."

Umpires are specifically instructed: "No umpire should ever threaten a player, manager, coach, or club with future retaliation."

As for the players? Refer to the General Agreement, which does not particularly specify any such standard, except for conduct by baseball personnel directed to members of the media only. All the CBA specifically prohibits in regards to players' actions toward umpires are: physical assaults, but only "in a manner that endangers his health or safety," and making public statements that question the integrity of umpires.

In regards to and the Official Baseball Rules, though, any such intimidation may be deemed ejectable unsporting conduct. As for the personal risk and harm from extortion, OBR states only this: "Umpire dignity is important but never as important as 'being right.'" (General Instructions to Umpires).

Threats, extortion, intimidation or blackmail—none of these are mentioned in MLB's Standards for Removal from the Game, though the MLBUM does refer to the integrity of baseball and gambling: "If an umpire is contacted by anyone for the purpose of influencing the umpire to do an improper act that would affect the outcome of a game, the umpire must advise the Office of the Commissioner immediately."

MLBUM instead refers to the opposite scenario of a player giving a gift or promising a reward to an umpire for service rendered or calls made: "Any player or person connected with a club who gives, or offers to give, any gift or reward to an umpire for the umpire's decision on anything connected with the playing of a game will be declared permanently ineligible."

In that vein, Dykstra's claim, if true, could conceivably justify a campaign through which baseball could declare him "permanently ineligible."

The most recent person banned from baseball was former Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott (banned in 1996 - reinstated in 1998), preceded by Steve Howe (1992-1993), George Steinbrenner (1990-1993), and, most famously, Pete Rose (1989-present).


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