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BASEBALL OWNERS LOSE COURT APPEAL

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Baseball owners were crushed again in court Friday when an appeals panel issued a decision that makes it unlikely the sport's business rules will change this winter.

A three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously that the owners' Player Relations Committee illegally attempted to eliminate free agency, salary arbitration and the anti-collusion provisions of the expired collective bargaining agreement."The unilateral elimination of free agency and salary arbitration followed by just three days a promise to restore the status quo," Judge Ralph K. Winter wrote. "The PRC decided to settle the original unfair labor practice charges while embarking on a course of action based on a fallacious view of the duty to bargain."

The preliminary injunction issued March 31 by U.S. District Judge Sonia Sotomayor remains in effect. Unless they settle the remaining unfair labor practice complaints, owners can't try to change baseball's economic rules without Sotomayor's permission.

A management official said there was virtually no chance that owners would try to declare an impasse this offseason.

"While we are disappointed with the result, it has little impact on what is happening now," acting commissioner Bud Selig said.

Players and owners haven't had a full-scale bargaining session since the night before Sotomayor issued her decision. The injunction caused players to end their strike after 232 days, and the season began April 25 - three weeks late.