Ex-Umpire broke? Pardon me if I don't weep.

There’s a story in today’s USA Today (Wednesday, May 29) that examines the life of Eric Gregg, an amiable major-league umpire who lost his job in 1999 due to an incredibly imbecilic move on the part of his union.

Brief (and vastly oversimplified) backstory: In 1999, Major League Baseball was negotiating a new contract with the umpires’ union. As a negotiating ploy, 22 umpires turned in their resignations. MLB shocked them by accepting the resignations. Gregg hasn’t worked as an umpire since.

Now, the kicker – he’s broke. After 22 years as an umpire (the last few of which he made $194,000 per year), he has no money. He’s working part-time as a bartender at a tavern in Philadelphia’s Veteran Stadium. In three years, he’s gone through his savings and his retirement. He’s deeply in debt. His family of six (himself, wife, four kids) have had to move three times in the past year. He’s declared bankruptcy. His son had to drop out of college because Gregg couldn’t pay the tuition, and his credit rating was too bad to get a loan.

How in the name of all that is good and holy do you blow through an income of $194K a year without putting at least some of it aside? You know, just in case you lose your job? Gregg is 51. Surely to God he realized retirement wasn’t too far away. But apparently he just spent money left and right (or gave it away, or forgot where he put it, or something), and now he doesn’t have anything left to fall back on. In three short years, he’s gone through all the money he had 22 years to put aside.

I realize this isn’t in the same category as the pro athletes who make millions during their career and are subsequently broke five years after they retire. But the idiocy of this situation just flabbergasts me. Gregg offered his resignation. You don’t do that unless you mean it. And you sure as hell don’t do it unless you’ve got a backup plan. Gregg obviously had none.

Fiscal responsibility isn’t that hard. But it seems that once folks start making more than the average Joe, whatever little self-control they had vanishes. I’m reminded of a major-league outfielder who was quoted a few years back as saying “People get all upset at ballplayers, thinking we all make millions of dollars a year. Most of us only make $500,000.” (That’s a paraphrase, but it’s pretty close.)

Eric Gregg: I’m sure you’re a nice, decent man. According to the article, you were one of the friendliest umpires around. But good Lord, you don’t have the financial sense God gave a trout.

Not exactly weeping over here either. If you’re pulling in 6 figures, you don’t “retire” unless you mean it, especially when you have no other marketable skills. That said, this part of the story disturbed me:

If MLB “accepted their resignations” as has been stated over and over, they MUST honor the terms of those resignations and pay the termination clause.


Debt can creep up on you. It doesn’t sound like he blew any of this up his nose, just that he was unwilling to let go of the six-figure lifestyle.

The kids are 15-23. It’s hard to adjust to a reduced living standard after so long, but before adulthood. Different people have different perspectives. I once knew a girl who lived in a gated community and refused to walk through J.C. Penney’s to get to the mall. She finally did, all the while shuddering and saying, “Imagine having to shop here!” Another guy, whose father was a banker, lived in a six-bedroom home where they left lights on in every room. :eek: He claimed to despise “rich people”. But he gave to every panhandler in sight, so I wouldn’t call him a hypocrite or a snob, just less perceptive than he apparently thought he was.

These kids are probably adjusting to the fact that they won’t have electronic gadgets and trendy clothes again until they’re able to earn the money themselves, but perhaps this will motivate them. The boy who had to leave college may be able to earn tuition money and apply for his own loan in time. It’s not easy, but plenty of people have done it.

Not being snippy here, but: Pasta is the keynote.

A little perspective here:

  1. Have you SEEN Eric Gregg? If he never works again, it will take him a good 25-30 years to starve to death.

  2. Rule of thumb: the best baseball umpire’s are the most anonymous. Ideally, you should hardly notice the umpire. If you know an ump’s name, odds are it’s because he’s a shameless self-promoter (like Ron Luciano) or he blows a lot of big calls. Well, to put it delicately, EVERYBODY knew Eric Gregg’s name.
    He was a terrible umpire, which is one reason MLB was so happy to accept his resignation.

Eric Gregg may be a big guy, and he may have been a bad umpire, but that’s beside the point. He was a pawn in a power play between the head of the umpires union and MLB. He got stung. I feel for him, and I have to say he was stupid not to have a backup plan or something going that close to retirement.

Funny, I don’t see MLB (and the folks who run it) trying that power play with the players. The players had too strong a union, besides you can always pick up an umpire (or promote them from the minors). I don’t think Gregg realized how tenuous his hold on his job was, and paid for it in the end.

I see MLB as the heavy in all this, not Gregg.

Sorry for the hijack, but I gotta get my licks in against MLB when I can. :smiley: