Fans may be able to get all the autographs they want if they travel to spring training. They just might not want them.

Replacement autographs? Replacement baseball cards?Why not? It's no more farfetched than using replacement players.

"The owners are a powerful group, but this could snap back on them," agent Tom Reich said Saturday, a day after owners imposed the salary cap. "There is going to be some ugly mood in the public. There is going to be some big-time irreparable damage."

The most recent major case between players and owners led to management losing three grievances and settling in late 1990 for $280 million. That came to $10,769,230 per team.

"This is going to be 10 times the case that collusion was," Reich said.

While the sides are fighting, will fans care? Baseball seems to recede from the minds of sports fans more each month.

NFL teams played only three games each with replacement players in 1987. Baseball owners are prepared to use them starting in mid-February for 61/2 weeks of spring training, then six or seven times a week during the season.

Fans say they'll go, according to public opinion surveys. Players aren't so sure.

"The poll asked the wrong question," union lawyer Eugene Orza said last week. "It shouldn't have been: `Will you go to a replacement game?' but rather `Will you go to three games?' "

Owners are convinced that fans will attend replacement games, although they think attendance probably will be about 50 percent of what it was. Some teams also are planning to cut prices.

Team officials say they are sure a significant percentage of players will break ranks, especially toward the end of spring training.

"They are wrong," Orza said. "They will have to see."

The most ominous comment union head Donald Fehr made Friday referred not to the union's response, but to the state of the battle.

"Not only is it not over," he said, "it may not even be halftime yet."

Acting commissioner Bud Selig often avoids direct answers to questions. While he said owners haven't even addressed about using replacement players, the Oakland Athletics on Friday issued a statement saying their plans for replacements were under way.

The Toronto Blue Jays, prohibited by Ontario law from using replacements at home, said they won't play. Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos said his team also won't use replacements, partly because he's spent many years as a lawyer for trade unions and partly because he wants to protect Cal Ripken Jr.'s consecutive games played streak.

"I looked in the phone book for replacement players and I couldn't find anything," he told The Washington Post.

Owners might try to force Angelos to have his team play, claiming he has obligations under the American League constitution.

Players can't be forced to play and have little incentive during the first half of spring training. They get paid their salaries over the 183 days of the season. During spring training, they get only a weekly allowance of about $190, meal money of about $60 per day and up to $25 per day in room allowance if they don't stay at the team hotel.

So where will the replacements come from? Career minor leaguers and players who never signed with professional teams.

General managers don't want their top prospects to break ranks. It would create too many problems.

"I don't think that's very fair to young players to do that," New York Mets general manager Joe McIlvaine said. "For your best potential players, you don't want to have a scab title on them."

But before spring training, the sides will fight in court before the National Labor Relations Board. The union plans to file an unfair labor practice charge Tuesday, claiming owners didn't bargain in good faith, declared an impasse when none existed and didn't implement their legitimate final offer.

If the agency issues a complaint, it also would go to U.S. District Court for a preliminary injunction against the cap. For players to win, they would have to show both irreparable harm and reasonable cause to believe the law has been violated.

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Last week, the NLRB ruled against owners twice, issuing a complaint over the owners' failure to make a $7.8 million pension payment and dismissing management's charge that the union was threatening possible replacements.

Owners don't appear afraid of losing in court, even though they've lost most of their big cases over the past 21 years.

"0-2 in exhibitions doesn't bother me," Atlanta Braves president Stan Kasten said. "0-2 at the complaint stage isn't anything to be alarmed about."

EDITOR'S NOTE: Ronald Blum has covered baseball's labor battles for The Associated Press since 1988.

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