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Bill Valentine

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William Terry Valentine Jr.

[edit] Biographical Information

Bill Valentine was a major league umpire whose firing in 1968 along with that of colleague Al Salerno led to the formation of the umpires union.

Valentine was born in Little Rock, AR and attended umpiring school right out of high school; he had already umpired amateur games while a student. His formal training was at Bill McGowan's umpiring school in West Palm Beach, FL. He was just 18 when he got his first job in Organized Baseball, umpiring in the Ohio-Indiana League in 1951 (where his future crewmate Salerno was a pitcher for the Marion team). The following winter, he married Mary Ellouise Pefferly. He slowly made his climb to the big leagues, with stops in the Longhorn League in 1952, the West Texas-New Mexico League in 1953, the Big State League in early 1954, and the Texas League from mid-1954 to 1959. He made it to AAA in 1960, umpiring in the Pacific Coast League, and after three seasons made it to the American League at the start of the 1963 season. He worked the 1965 All-Star Game as the left field umpire, and that same year took an apparent punch from Minnesota Twins manager Sam Mele which earned Mele a five-game suspension. In 1968, he was in a crew with crew chief Jim Honochick, Emmett Ashford, the first African-American umpire in the major leagues, and Al Salerno.

Valentine's life took a dramatic turn on September 15, 1968, when he received a phone call from American League President Joe Cronin at his hotel room in Cleveland, OH. He was informed he was being fired for incompetence. His colleague Salerno had received a similar call immediately before him. They were the only two umpires Cronin ever fired for those motives during his tenure as League President, which lasted from 1959 to 1973. There is no indication anywhere, however, that Salerno or Valentine were sub-par umpires; they had in fact been getting regular raises and special performance bonuses. The real reason behind the firing was that they were leading an effort to organize American League umpires - the National League umpires had already formed a union in 1963. On September 12, 1968, Salerno had attended a meeting in Chicago, IL with some NL umpires and their union's lawyer; the NL umpires had told him they were ready to accept their AL colleagues into the union if they decided to join unanimously, at which point Salerno and Valentine had sent a note to all the other American League crew chiefs informing them of this development. Cronin claimed he had no knowledge of this business and said that "(the two umpires were) never first class at any one time." No one put any weight in Cronin's explanation at the time, as the move was too transparent.

The firings were effective immediately. Cronin called up Bill Kunkel and Jake O'Donnell from the Southern Association to take the two fired umpires' place in Holochick's crew, and they were at work on September 17. But if the firings were meant to send a warning to other American League umpires, they backfired. The day after the season, the National League umpires voted unanimously to admit their American League colleagues into their union, which was renamed the Major League Umpires Association. The umpires considered striking during the World Series in support of their two colleagues, but the two persuaded them not to. They asked Cronin to reinstate them however, but the AL President would not abide. In January 1969, the union filed an unfair labor practice claim with the National Labor Relations Board, while Salerno and Valentine filed a lawsuit for $4 million in federal court against Major League Baseball, Cronin and the American League, alleging violation of antitrust and defamation of character. Under pressure, the American League negotiated a settlement with the umpires union in the spring of 1970, agreeing to take the two men back on staff at a higher salary in exchange for their dropping their lawsuits and agreeing to a brief probationary period in the minor leagues. Valentine was ready to agree to the deal, but not Salerno, who claimed he had gone into debt to fight his lawsuit and needed more compensation. In spite of pressure from Valentine, Salerno would not budge, as he was confident he would prevail in the reinstatement hearing and in the lawsuit. The deal thus fell off the table for both men.

At the National Labor Relations Board hearings in July of 1970, managers Dick Williams, Alvin Dark and Eddie Stanky all testified on the two umpires' behalf. Yet, the NLRB somehow ruled in favor of the American League when it released its findings in November, as there was no incontrovertible evidence that Cronin and AL supervisor of umpires Cal Hubbard knew of the two men's union activities at the time of the firing. In the federal court lawsuit, because of baseball's long-standing antitrust exemption, dating back to Oliver Wendell Holmes' ruling in the 1922 Federal Baseball Club v. National League case, only a Supreme Court decision could give the umpires a favorable outcome. However, they were denied appeal after a lower court judge ruled that the exemption applied to their case, and that was the end of the lawsuit. Salerno and Valentine had lost on both counts and were now left with nothing.

Salerno came out of the ordeal a broken and embittered man, but Valentine went on to a great second career in baseball. Moving back to Little Rock, he held a variety of jobs, worked for the local Republican Party and did some broadcasting before returning to baseball in 1976 as general manager of the Arkansas Travelers minor league baseball team. He was named The Sporting News Minor League Executive of the Year in 1988. He held the Arkansas general manager job for 33 years, retiring in 2009. He has since been inducted in the Texas League Hall of Fame (in 2004) and the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame. At banquets, he would ironically thank Cronin for getting him started in this new line of work.

[edit] Further Reading

  • Mark Armour: "A Tale of Two Umpires: When Al Salerno and Bill Valentine Got Thrown Out of the Game", in The Baseball Research Journal, SABR, Volume 38, Number 2 (Fall 2009), pp. 126-130.

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