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CAN OWNERS EVEN TALLY ENOUGH VOTES FOR A DEAL?

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Two years later, Fehr's words seem prophetic.

With players and owners on the verge of a labor deal, management appears stuck, unable to get the necessary votes to approve the collective bargaining agreement its lawyers have been trying to complete.Last Sunday, Fehr and management negotiator Randy Levine said they were within days, perhaps hours, of finalizing a deal that would end baseball's labor war after 31/2 years.

Then the owners' labor committee held a telephone conference call Monday. Talks haven't resumed since.

It's uncertain when the bargainers will get back together, unclear if the agreement that expired in December 1993 will extend through yet another offseason. The owners who don't want to credit players with service time for the 75 regular-season days wiped out by the strike have brought everything to a standstill.

"We have spent a lot of time considering a lot of positions and issues, and we'll continue to do so over the weekend," acting commissioner Bud Selig said Friday night. "My only comment on all speculation regarding votes is that I'm the one who understands where the votes are. Right now, we're talking about issues, not votes. We're staying focused on the issues, and the speculation on votes has been so incorrect that it doesn't deserve to be talked about."

In the past, when Selig hasn't been able to get a unanimous or near-unanimous consensus on an issue, he's tended to let the debate continue, sometimes for months.

If that happens, small-market clubs may lose their revenue-sharing money for 1996. The two key dates of the offseason are the day following the World Series, when free agent filing begins, and Dec. 20, when clubs must offer 1997 contracts to unsigned players on their 40-man rosters.

Once those dates pass, the current economic system is locked in for another season, and clubs will be hard-pressed to retroactively apply a luxury tax to the five or six teams with payrolls above $51 million.

Selig said it's a matter of explaining the situation to teams and listening to their opinions.

"It's imperative that the clubs understand the deal, and that the deal addresses the problems that confront us today," he said.

Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf says he is opposed to the deal Levine is negotiating and says it couldn't even get 15 of the 21 votes necessary for approval.

Other owners and officials say Florida Marlins owner H. Wayne Huizenga is the leading opponent of an agreement.

Meanwhile, Fehr waits until there is another side to negotiate with, much as he did from April 1995 to the middle of last November.