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LATE SETTLEMENT COULD SHIFT POSTSEASON SITES

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The scene could seem like something from the World Cup: a bunch of teams, a bunch of fans following them and a championship game at a California stadium.

Only this might be the World Series, not soccer.It all depends, of course, on whether the baseball strike is settled. Both players and owners sides seem to think that Sept. 15 is the point for saving any part of the season, although no talks are scheduled.

"I don't see why we shouldn't play the playoffs if we can," said Eugene Orza, the No. 2 official at the players' union. "I don't see why we shouldn't play whatever we can, whenever we can."

There has been talk that baseball might go straight to the postseason if there is a late settlement, raising the possibility of a Thanksgiving World Series. The standings right now would mean the New York Yankees-Cleveland and the Chicago White Sox-Texas in the AL playoffs and Cincinnati-Montreal and Los Angeles-Atlanta in the NL.

Boston Red Sox chief executive officer John Harrington recently said it was possible that the World Series could be played in November at a neutral site. The Series is scheduled for Oct. 22-30.

The Series has never gone past October. It is, however, scheduled to stretch into November in 1996 if it lasts more than five games.

"If it was absolutely necessary to have the World Series, and it was possible, we would give it serious consideration," Harrington said. "It seems improbable. It will be very difficult to do that because of stadium commitments. It would be so unfortunate for the fans."

The World Series has been played every year since 1904, when New York Giants manager John McGraw thought his team was so good that it wasn't worth facing the upstart Red Sox.

Never before has the Series been played at a neutral site, although it has been considered twice in the last decade.

In 1984, there was a chance that the Chicago Cubs would've been forced to play in either St. Louis, Milwaukee or cross town in Comiskey Park if they reached the World Series. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn did not have to decide the controversy, caused because Wrigley Field did not have lights at the time, when the Cubs lost to San Diego in the NL playoffs.

In 1989, after the earthquake interrupted the matchup between Oakland and San Francisco, baseball talked about shifting the Series to either San Diego or Los Angeles. But the Series remained in the Bay area and resumed 12 days later.

Of the eight teams now holding playoff positions, all but Cincinnati play in baseball-only ballparks. But cold weather in New York, Cleveland and Chicago would likely force a switch in sites if the Series was played in November.

Montreal could stay home in its dome, but baseball probably wouldn't want to give one team a home-field advantage. That would mean Dodger and Atlanta-Fulton County stadiums and The Ballpark in Arlington also are out.

As for warm-weather cities as neutral sites, the Oakland Coliseum does not have football to contend with, but Anaheim, San Diego-Jack Murphy and Joe Robbie stadiums all are homes to NFL teams. The Astrodome, the Metrodome and SkyDome also split time with football. San Diego and Colorado are the only baseball teams that don't have priority over the NFL in stadium use.

"I haven't even heard a whisper about it yet," said Jim Ferguson of the San Diego Padres. "They'd have to work it out with the San Diego Chargers and the San Diego State Aztecs playing football."

Just as important, baseball would have to work out a deal with ABC.

ABC has Monday nights set aside for NFL football and is scheduled to show college football games, including several doubleheaders, on Saturdays in the fall. There's also golf during the weekend.

While November is a key viewing time - and the World Series is usually among the 10 highest-rated programs of the year - it's a period when TV networks push their hot prime-time series. November is sweeps time, when ratings are used to set advertising rates for the winter.

"You'd have to look at the programming we have in place. We have a lot on our plate already," ABC's Mark Mandel said.

"Obviously, because of the strike situation, no one has any idea of what might happen," he said. "If it became a possibility, a decision would have to come from the top levels of the company."