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FOR BASEBALL, IT LOOKS AS IF THE REGULAR SEASON IS OVER

SHARE FOR BASEBALL, IT LOOKS AS IF THE REGULAR SEASON IS OVER

It looks as if you can clip out the major-league baseball standings as of Aug. 12 and consider them final.

Given Thursday's breaking off of negotiations between players and owners, it's an optimistic guess that baseball will resume for the playoffs.As long as Dick Ravitch, the owners' chief negotiator, continues to push for a salary cap, negotiations are doomed. At best, it's hard to envision a strike settlement before mid-September.

Players then would need at least a week of conditioning, leaving about 10 days in the regular season, scheduled to end Oct. 2. It would be pointless resuming the regular season then, although teams like the Royals would be denied a run at a playoff spot.

But it would be even less fair for a team like Chicago or Cleveland to achieve a playoff-caliber record over 113 games, then miss the playoffs in the waning days of a ruptured season. A brief resumption of the season would lack integrity, and even a postseason might be short on appeal.

Yet, the 1981 postseason, despite a 50-day strike, seemed to reach normal levels of public interest once the league championship series started. It didn't hurt, of course, that the Yankees and Dodgers met in the Series.

But now we face the possibility there won't be a World Series this year. Then baseball's labor situation would become even messier.

The owners probably would unilaterally impose a salary cap, as permitted by federal law, and players would strike into next season because they never will accept a cap. Both sides would wind up in court into the next century.

This would intensify criticism that neither players nor owners care what fans want.

But why should they? From all the media hand-wringing over the plight of the fans, you would think they are the first group of consumers ever to get the short end of the stick. Hasn't anybody filed an income tax return lately?

Baseball, certainly, should appreciate fans who routinely set attendance records and keep returning faithfully, despite seven previous work stoppages in the last 22 years.

That doesn't mean owners and players should base collective bargaining decisions on public opinion. Would you want the economic conditions of your job or business determined by people who don't even vaguely understand the issues?

Fans did not mind when baseball players had minimum salaries of $6,000 and no freedom of movement. Player salaries mushroomed because of strong leadership and unity, not because of fan support. There is no reason for the players to seek it now.

Folks on the street summarize their positions by saying players already earn too much, or by wishing a pox on both houses. Such superficial opinions hardly offer insights to a compromise.