The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to vote today on a bill that would repeal baseball's antitrust exemption as it applies to labor relations between the owners and players.
Acting Commissioner Bud Selig said he anticipated a vote but could not predict the outcome.
"It's one committee, and any bill would still have a long way to go," Selig said, referring to required approval by both houses of Congress.
The question of repeal has been under consideration by several congressional committees because of the owners' refusal to hire a commissioner and the ongoing absence of a labor agreement between the owners and players.
The labor dispute prompted the players to strike on Aug. 12 of last year, ultimately bringing cancellation of the playoffs and World Series and a delay in the start of the 1995 season.
A union lawyer said Wednesday night that he was optimistic the 18-member judiciary committee would pass the bill, but otherwise refused comment.
Repeal of the exemption, which has been in force since a 1920 Supreme Court decision, would allow the players' union to sue in federal court to block unilateral implementation of new work conditions by the owners.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Orin Hatch (R-Utah) was quoted Wednesday night as saying there were still undecided votes and that the balloting could go either way.
"We're hopeful members of the committee realize we need to change this," Hatch said. "If we can, I think it will force the two sides to get together and save the game of baseball. If we can't get them together, I think the owners are ultimately going to break the players and do whatever they want with the players, which would be very disturbing."
Selig said he did not understand the logic in Hatch's comments. He said the current labor laws governing the owners and players have not prevented the Major League Baseball Players Assn. from becoming the most successful and prosperous union in the country, and that football, basketball and hockey have all had labor problems, even though they do not have an exemption.
"We have to resolve our problems at the negotiating table, not in court or Congress," Selig said. "The exemption has nothing to do with our ability or inability to reach an agreement."
There have been no formal negotiations since March 30.