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REPLACEMENT PLAYERS SENT PACKING; OWNERS MEET TODAY

Opening day was postponed and replacement players were sent packing Saturday to make way for the likely return of regular major leaguers as early as Monday if there isn't a lockout.

Management's lawyers told the 28 teams to release all replacement players by 11:59 p.m. EST Saturday."They just told us the season was over. They're not going to have replacement games. Everybody got their travel orders," Indians catcher Pete Kuld said.

There appeared to be little chance owners will vote for a lockout when they meet today in Chicago. Baseball officials said it had become apparent that hard-line owners couldn't obtain the necessary 21 votes needed to start a lockout and continue the work stoppage that began Aug. 12.

"My guess is we're not going to lock out," New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner said during CBS' national broadcast of the NCAA Final Four. "Hopefully, we'll get this mess negotiated."

The season opener in Miami was postponed at approximately 6 p.m. EST Saturday after a meeting involving representatives for players and owners. Sunday's exhibition games, the final seven of replacement spring training, were canceled.

A decision on the nine regular-season games scheduled for Monday will be made during the owners' meeting.

Detroit Tigers manager Sparky Anderson, who refused to work with replacements, was overjoyed that his regular players probably would start coming to camp at Lakeland, Fla., on Monday.

"I'll go probably tomorrow night or Monday," he said from his home in Thousand Oaks, Calif. "Enough golf is enough golf."

When Anderson left the team in February, the Tigers did not guarantee he would have a job when the regulars returned.

This marks the third time opening day was pushed back by a work stoppage. A strike is 1972 delayed it from April 1 to April 15, and a lockout in 1990 pushed it back from April 2 to April 9.

Regulars would have just three weeks of workouts under the schedule being discussed, the same as in 1990.

The prevailing feeling was that opening day would be pushed back to April 23 or 24.

"I would say there's going to be some guys who will be three weeks into the season before they get their timing," Anderson said. "Other guys will have it from the first pop."

After 71/2 weeks of spring training, it was clear the replacement players would never take the field for a regular-season game.

A memo from management's lawyers to all clubs said:

"Although opening day will be delayed and there will be no replacement player reserve lists, you should terminate all your temporary replacement contracts by 11:59 p.m. tonight."

"I'm eating my last meal ... chicken and ribs," said Craig Bryant, a replacement shortstop with the Seattle Mariners. "We knew something was happening when (manager) Lou Piniella left the bench in the fifth inning."

The Pirates' replacements were about to board a bus to the airport for a flight to Pittsburgh, but the team canceled Sunday's workout at Three Rivers Stadium and kept the replacements in a Florida hotel overnight.

"I sort of expected it," said Jason Pfaff, the Pirates' scheduled starter Monday against Montreal. "I wasn't going to believe it until we were actually on the plane. I wasn't going to believe it until we were actually standing at home plate."

"My gut feeling is that it's over," said Tom Rowe, a replacement pitcher with the New York Mets.

Union lawyers met Saturday in New York with Chicago Cubs president Andy MacPhail and management lawyers to discuss the back-to-work schedule. The union ended its 232-day strike Friday after U.S. District Judge Sonia Sotomayor issued an injunction restoring old work rules.

National League senior vice president Katy Feeney said that if there isn't a lockout, the schedule for each team would be cut from 162 games to the 139-145 range.

"We would get everybody to play the same number of games to protect the integrity of the schedule," she said.

After the strike at the start of the 1972 season, teams played a varying number of games ranging from 153 to 156, and Detroit won the AL East by one-half game over Boston.

In discussions involving back-to-work rules, lawyers also talked about setting new dates for salary arbitration hearings, which usually take place during the first three weeks of February.

According to one person familiar with the discussions, Monday would be the voluntary reporting date, which usually is 45 days before opening day. Wednesday is the mandatory reporting date, which usually is 33 days before the opener.

Owners were still hoping to have the injunction dissolved and Sotomayor's decision reversed. A hearing is scheduled Tuesday before the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on the owners' motion for a stay of the injunction and an expedited appeal.