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Umps’ union chief sees fewest pitches

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NEW YORK — If baseball owners have concluded the umpire with the lowest pitch count is the best, union head John Hirschbeck is the shining example for his peers.

Hirschbeck is averaging 272 pitches per nine innings, according to STATS Inc., which supplies box scores for The Associated Press and examined statistics through Monday. That's the best average among umps who have worked five or more games behind the plate.

Scott Higgins had the highest average, 305, and Angel Hernandez was at 304.

There were 17 increases, 54 decreases and three umps whose pitch counts stayed essentially the same.

Sandy Alderson in the commissioner's office wants some umpires to lower their pitch counts to about 270. That prompted the umpires union to file a grievance last weekend, saying it "threatens the integrity of the game."

Alderson says high pitch counts can be an indication umpires aren't applying the strike zone as defined in the rule book. Since spring training, Alderson and commissioner Bud Selig have pushed for umpires to enforce the strike zone as the rule book defines it, which results in more high strikes.

Management sent a letter late Monday replying to the grievance, and the union sent a response Tuesday. The umpires' lawyers said they won't meet with management until they receive information from the commissioner's office.

"They claim they have all this data — let's see it," union lawyer Larry Gibson said Tuesday. "There is simply no correlation between the variations of strikes called and number of pitches thrown. Even if there were a correlation, that would not change our position with respect to this matter."

The sides are fighting about management adopting any evaluation system without first consulting with umpires, a requirement of the labor contract the sides agreed to last year.

"Sandy states the office of the commissioner had the right to unilaterally implement an evaluation system," Gibson said. "That is simply wrong."

Alderson did not respond to telephone calls seeking comment.