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IMPENDING STRIKE COOLS FANS’ INTEREST

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Convinced that baseball players and team owners are being greedy in their contract dispute, most fans say a strike would reduce their interest in the sport, according to an Associated Press poll.

After a strike ended, 52 percent say, they would watch or attend fewer games. One in seven say they already are annoyed enough to stop following baseball.A whopping 78 percent of respondents in the poll see greed involved. Fifty-two percent say both sides are too greedy, 20 percent say it's the players who are getting carried away and 6 percent fault the owners.

Fans split about evenly on which side they support, with 37 percent backing players and 40 percent the owners. Of the rest, 16 percent back neither side and 7 percent are uncertain.

"If I were a fan, my first reaction would be, `It's a bunch of millionaires fighting each other,' " said Richard Ravitch, who represents the owners in negotiations. "Then, if there's a strike, I'd sit down and learn more. I know I'm biased, but I think I'd find nothing unreasonable in what we're asking."

But union head Donald Fehr said the notion that players and owners are both millionaires is silly.

"They have vastly more money. They have corporate entities. They are vastly wealthier," Fehr said. "I think it's clear to everyone that this is not a fight of the players' choosing."

Only a third of the fans say they're not particularly annoyed by the possible interruption of the season. Of the miffed majority, 17 percent describe themselves as annoyed but resigned to a strike, 33 percent are very annoyed but not enough to stop following baseball, and 14 percent are annoyed enough to give up on the sport.

The results from 415 men and 250 women in the United States who consider themselves baseball fans are from random polling by phone July 27 through Tuesday by ICR Survey Research Group of Media, Pa., part of AUS Consultants.

Results have a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

The owners claim that teams in smaller cities are losing money, and they want to cap player salaries, which averaged $1.89 million on opening day.

Players dismiss the owners' contention that some teams are facing financial disaster, and refuse to accept a salary cap. The players want the minimum salary raised from $109,000 to $175,000-$200,000 and want the threshold for salary arbitration lowered from three years of major league service to two. Owners want that process eliminated.

If talks fail to produce an agreement, 22 percent of the fans think the players should strike, and 70 percent think they should keep playing ball.