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TIME HAS COME FOR PLAYERS TO FORM LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN

Come to think of it, baseball doesn't need these owners, anyway. After all, no one ever went to Milwaukee County Stadium to see Bud Selig. They went to watch Robin Yount.

Fans never bought tickets for Yankee Stadium to catch a glimpse of George Steinbrenner. They doled out hard-earned bucks to witness Reggie Jackson.Players, as players are fond of saying, are the game. Not owners. And there hasn't been a better time than this protracted baseball dispute for the players to prove their worth.

The time is upon baseball players to, once again, start their own league. If the owners want in, make 'em buy a ticket like most everybody else.

"It is a golden opportunity for the formation of a new league," observed Gerald Scully, a University of Texas at Dallas economist who has written extensively on major league baseball's economics.

It's been longer than the last time there wasn't a World Series when the moment was so ripe for a baseball revolt. The year was 1890, but the atmosphere in which players found themselves was much the same as today.

John M. Ward, a Providence pitcher turned Brooklyn infielder, seized the opportunity over a century ago. He wasn't, after all, just another player. He was a lawyer married to a member of New York high society to boot. Though well-salaried for the time, he worried about the tighter grip owners wanted on the game. They were increasingly restricting the movement of players. They were building a ceiling on players' earnings, although not on their own.

Quietly, Ward organized his fellow players to oppose the owners.

Five years later, Ward handed the league's owners his organization's ultimatum. He demanded they scrap their salary-cap plan and stop the selling of players, or find themselves doing battle with a rival league.

The owners scoffed. The Players League started. It can be done, again.

Starting another players league won't be easy. It will require dedication, fortitude and, most of all, lots of loot.

The players have proved time and time again, however, that they are dedicated. Their ranks rarely have shown cracks. Unlike Ward's group, today's players also have bucketfulls of money to boot.

Their union's war chest is filled with at least $200 million.

They should have more than enough to hire umpires, coaches and league staff.

Ward's league wasn't easily pulled off, either. It did, however, find interest. Financiers lined up to invest because they were attracted to the talent.

One would have to think that if Junior, Frank Thomas and their ilk bolted for a new league, network television dollars would follow just like ticket buyers did Kelly. Therein lies the power of the players.

There are a few people who well realize that, like agent Dick Moss who represents Andy Van Slyke and Andre Dawson among others. Five years ago, with his law partner David LeFevre, Moss sketched plans for a players' owned league. Donald Trump was said to be interested. The plan was shelved when the collusion case was settled, but Moss said last week he was ready to dust it off.

Ward's league lasted only a season, but it was hardly a failure. It nabbed players. It attracted fans. But, most important, it grabbed the attention of the old league's owners. The next season, the old league boosted salaries and modified the selling of players. Baseball was reunited.