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PLAYERS WANT ANTITRUST LAW AMENDED

Baseball players told Congress on Thursday that the strike would end if the antitrust law was amended to allow them to sue owners if a salary cap is imposed.

Union head Donald Fehr, testifying before a House subcommittee, said there was an outside chance the World Series could still be played this year if Congress acted quickly on the antitrust bill and President Clinton signs it."If your body would . . . vote to put baseball back on the field, then we could be playing and this fight could be settled in court by the attorneys," Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Orel Hershiser said.

Acting commissioner Bud Selig defended the owners' antitrust exemption, created by a 1922 U.S. Supreme Court decision. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 10-7 on June 23 against a blanket repeal of the exemption, but the bill discussed Thursday would amend the law in two ways:

- Players could sue owners if the teams impose unilateral work rules, such as a salary cap.

- Unilateral work rules wouldn't take effect until lawsuits were decided and appeals were exhausted.

"I'm optimistic we will reach an agreement with the union in 1994," Selig said.

He said fighting the players in court wasn't preferable to the strike, baseball's eighth work stoppage since 1972.

"That's like asking whether you want to have a problem with your pancreas or a problem with your liver," he said after the hearing.

The sides have met just three times since the strike began Aug. 12 and not at all since Selig announced Sept. 14 that there wouldn't be a World Series for the first time since 1904. Owners are insisting on a salary cap and players say they never will accept one.

"Unlike Mr. Selig, I am not even remotely optimistic there will be an agreement in the short term," Fehr said. "Spring training is in imminent peril."

The bill, introduced by Rep. Mike Synar, an Oklahoma Democrat, faces several problems, including Congress' desire to adjourn on Oct. 8. Similar legislation was blocked in the Senate.

"I really think both sides have acted like spoiled children arguing over a billion-dollar honey pot," said Synar, who introduced the bill along with Rep. Jim Bunning, a Kentucky Republican who pitched a perfect game for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1964.

Jack Brooks, the 71-year-old Texas Democrat who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, said for the first time he would support the bill. He said if the Senate adopts the language as an amendment to another bill, he would push for the House to follow.

Clinton said last week that baseball's exemption should be re-examined, but he didn't indicate his position.

Brooks called the strike "a national disaster," and joked that 91-year-old Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina was the only person in Congress who could remember when the World Series wasn't played.

"We should never have reached this juncture," Brooks said. "Time and time again in the past 20 years, the profit motive of major league baseball has pushed the limits of our tolerance."

The wood-paneled hearing room, site of the 1974 impeachment hearings against President Nixon, was filled to capacity. Fehr, Selig and Hershiser sat at the witness table while six owners and seven players - including Cecil Fielder, Jack McDowell and Jeff Bagwell - sat in the audience.