Richie Phillips dies; former union chief for MLB umpires, NBA refs

By Larry Hartstein | Senior Analyst

Richie Phillips, the combative former head of the Major League Umpires Association and NBA referees union, has died at the age of 72.

The Philadelphia Inquirer said Phillips, a lawyer who lived in the Philadelphia suburbs, died Friday of cardiac arrest at his second home in Cape May, N.J.

"We got so much because of Richie -- pensions, vacations, better salaries," former umpire Don Denkinger told the Associated Press.

Phillips helped organize NBA refs in 1976 and represented them for eight years. He then became general counsel and executive director of the umpires union.

Leading five work stoppages over the next two decades, Phillips helped the umps gain in pay and benefits.

"Let's face it, if we hadn't had somebody like Richie back then, do you think anyone would have listened to us?" a retired umpire told the Inquirer in 1999. "We needed and wanted someone to get in baseball's face. That's Richie's strong suit."

Rookie umps earned $17,500 when Phillips took over, according to the AP. By 2000 they made $95,000-plus.

However, Phillips' negotiating tactic of mass resignations backfired in 1999 when he tried and failed to force baseball to restructure the umpiring system. When 22 umps were replaced by minor-league umps, the membership abandoned Phillips' union and formed a new one, the World Umpires Association.

"It was asinine," umpire Bob Davidson told the New York Times in 2004. "The whole strategy was horrendous. We made a mistake. We were a victim of our success with Richie Phillips. We had always prevailed because we stuck together. I think the guys who broke away from the union did the correct thing. They saw this was a strategy that was going to fail."

Phillips also served as an attorney for the 76ers and Golden State Warriors, represented sports stars and started Philadelphia Sports magazine, according to the Inquirer.

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