Major League Baseball has issued a strong denial to a story published on Wednesday reporting that members of its security department were sent to the hometowns of some umpires last year investigating their backgrounds and asking "inappropriate" questions.
"The claims of inappropriate questioning by individuals conducting background checks was brought to our attention and looked into," Jimmie Lee Solomon, MLB's executive vice president of baseball operations, said in a statement. "After investigation, it was determined that these claims were inaccurate. Questioning was conducted with a written script consistent with common practice and there was no inappropriate conduct on behalf of the investigators."
MLB stepped up its background checks of umpires last summer after National Basketball Association referee Tim Donaghy was being investigated by the FBI for gambling on professional basketball games. He has since pleaded guilty to wire fraud and interstate commerce charges, but has yet to be sentenced. NBA Commissioner David Stern said at the time that the issue resided in the actions of one referee and was not a league-wide problem.
John Hirschbeck, the president of the World Umpires Association, told The Associated Press that MLB security officials subsequently questioned neighbors regarding whether certain umpires ever had been members of the Ku Klux Clan, a white supremacist group based in the south, among other matters.
"The questions that we found out are being asked are about beating wives, marijuana use and extravagant parties," Hirschbeck said. "And then finally with this whole thing about the Ku Klux Klan.
"You get someone from security, shows his credentials and starts asking these kind of questions, and right away what's the neighbor going to think other than the umpire is in trouble, he's done something wrong and he's going to lose his job?"
Hirschbeck said that Tom Christopher, a longtime supervisor of security and investigations for the Commissioner's Office, had gone to Kentucky to seek information about Klan membership regarding umpires Greg Gibson and Sam Holbrook. In addition, Christopher had been in St. Louis to ask similar questions about umpire Ron Kulpa, and Hirschbeck had encountered Christopher in his own Ohio neighborhood just prior to Christmas.
Christopher declined to comment for the AP story.
Since the turn of the New Year, MLB has established a Dept. of Investigations separate from its security detail to look into allegations made either publicly or privately against baseball-related personnel, including players.
That concept was one of the major recommendations made by former Sen. George Mitchell in his report about the use of performance-enhancing drugs by Major League players. The report, which named more than 80 players as using drugs, plus a number of club employees and officials for being complicit, was issued on Dec. 13.
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.