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2 SCENARIOS EXIST, 1 COULD MEAN NO BASEBALL UNTIL ’98

SHARE 2 SCENARIOS EXIST, 1 COULD MEAN NO BASEBALL UNTIL ’98

There are two scenarios for the baseball talks this week. The first leads to an agreement; the second to a court fight that could last at least four years.

Under the first plot, the hardliners on both sides will get worn down by the peaceniks when the talks resume Monday in Washington.There are groups on both sides that don't want to fight on, although they so far have been insignificant in the overall battle. Toronto Blue Jays president Paul Beeston, for one, gave a speech during Thursday's owners meeting saying his team wouldn't play with replacement players.

The Blue Jays are forbidden from using replacements at home by Ontario law, and Beeston said it would be "crazy" for his team to play all its games on the road.

Some players don't want the battle to go into next season if a deal can be made that would have only a slight impact at the top of the salary structure.

Under the second scenario, though, the hardliners on each side would push for total victory - a completely free market for players and definitive cost controls for owners.

The route to peace appears to be a progressive tax that has little effect for most players but would cause high-spending teams to pay higher marginal rates. The proposals made by both sides thus far appear to indicate that the midpoint is a top marginal rate of between 25 and 40 percent. That would make a $5 million player cost big-spending clubs about $6.5 million.

That wouldn't give the owners cost control, but it would force large-payroll clubs to stop at a certain point. Players still would have a market, but a few clubs would have disincentives to spend.

If the sides don't find the path to peace, the big winners are the lawyers; management's law firm, Morgan Lewis & Bockius, would be ensured of millions of dollars of billings from the litigation.

A declaration of impasse by the owners and the imposition of a salary cap would lead to the following:

1, Players would file unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board, accusing management of failing to bargain in good faith and of declaring an impasse when none existed.

2, The NLRB's New York regional director, Daniel Silverman, and the general counsel, Fred Feinstein, would decide whether to issue a complaint. Silverman hopes his agency would be able to decide the matter within weeks.

3, If the NLRB issues a complaint, it would go to U.S. District Court in New York to seek a preliminary injunction against the salary cap system. The judge hearing the case would have to decide if players would suffer irreparable harm under the new rules. If he issues the injunction, the rest of the battle is fought under the free agency-salary arbitration system that has existed since 1976. If he doesn't, the battle goes on with the salary cap in place. A decision probably would occur in late January or February.

4, The union files an antitrust suit, probably in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia, where Judge John Padova already has restricted the owners' antitrust exemption. Owners would move for a summary judgment to dismiss the case, arguing they are protected by the exemption. If management loses the motion, the case would go to trial, probably in 1996 or early 1997.

5, Sometime in the spring, perhaps April or May, the NLRB complaints are tried before an administrative law judge. A ruling probably wouldn't be issued until late 1995 or early 1996. The losing side would appeal to the five-member NLRB. The side that loses before the NLRB would go to a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The U.S. Supreme Court could make the ultimate decision, but that wouldn't happen until 1997 or 1998.

As for baseball - remember baseball?

While the court battles go on, the union would have to decide whether to continue the strike and keep the pressure on owners, or return to the field and collect later if it wins in court.

Even if the strike ends without an agreement, owners probably would lock out players unless the union guarantees it will play a complete season all the way through to the World Series.