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Senate Comes Up to the Plate : Lawmakers have a chance to vote to end baseball club owners' unfair labor advantage

August 06, 1995

Since 1922, major league baseball has enjoyed what amounts to a government-sanctioned monopoly. Free to operate outside federal antitrust laws, baseball club owners have been able to run their franchises with little or no competition or exposure to the regulations that bind most other businesses.

However, in the most serious threat to that cushy arrangement in recent memory, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 9 to 8 last week to end baseball's exemption.

The legislation would not affect the minor leagues, the amateur draft or owners' ability to negotiate collectively on franchise relocations and the sharing of income from television.

The bill will go next to the Senate floor. There senators should heed the advice of their Judiciary Committee colleagues. They should approve the measure before the national pastime suffers the heartbreak of another collapsed labor agreement and another lost season.

Since the end of the eight-month major league baseball strike, which resulted in the first cancellation of the World Series since 1904, club owners and players have been trying to win back the hearts of jilted fans. Despite encouraging signs that some fans are willing to forgive, full faith in the game will not be restored until baseball undergoes an attitude adjustment.

The acting baseball commissioner, Bud Selig, chided the Senate committee for not protecting the game. Yet the committee vote probably never would had taken place had baseball not been its own worst enemy.

Baseball would have been better served if the owners had dealt with the issues that prompted Senate action in the first place. Since former commissioner Fay Vincent was given his walking papers by the owners in 1992, one of the game's glaring problems has been their failure to name a strong and independent leader with the credentials to deal with the players union and recalcitrant club bosses such as Marge Schott and George Steinbrenner.

On the labor front, negotiations have been stalled for 14 weeks. Although the players are on the field now there is no agreement to keep them there tomorrow. The owners bear their share of responsibility for this, but it's hard to sympathize with those players who despite enormous salaries behave like spoiled brats.

With no end in sight for the longest labor dispute in baseball history, the game is facing a most peculiar danger: It seems to have thrown a bean ball at itself.

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