SBD/12/Leagues Governing Bodies

POLL FINDS SENATE SILENT ON MLB ANTI-TRUST EXEMPTION

     With the latest round of talks between MLB owners and
players yielding no settlement, the MLBPA and its Washington
representatives will turn their attention to Congressional action
on baseball's antitrust exemption.  As early as today, Sen.
Howard Metzenbaum, the Antitrust Subcommittee Chair and a
longtime foe of baseball's special status, will re-introduce
legislation to have the exemption lifted.
     Metzenbaum has pushed twice before to change the game's
status, most recently in June '94 when his bill was defeated in
the Senate Judiciary Committee by a 10-7 vote.  Now, Metzenbaum
is back for one "last stand" before he retires.  He has scaled
back his previous legislation and found an influential co-sponsor
in Utah Republican Orrin Hatch.  The Metzenbaum/Hatch bill lifts
the ban for the duration of the strike and would allow players to
sue if the owners unilaterally impose a salary cap during the
off-season.
     But even with a new co-sponsor and a change in tactics, the
bill faces an uphill fight in a Senate  largely fearful of taking
a stand on this controversial issue.
     According to an exclusive straw poll of the U.S. Senate by
THE SPORTS BUSINESS DAILY, only 34 Senators were willing to take
even an anonymous stand on lifting the ban (all 100 Senate
offices were contacted over the Labor Day recess).  Among those
that responded, there was little consensus or any indication of
party-line uniformity:  20 favored revoking baseball's antitrust
exemption (12 Republican, 8 Democrat) and 14 opposed (6
Republican, 8 Democrat).
     While the numbers signal a considerable undecided vote up
for grabs by either side, there are discouraging signs for pro-
union forces.  Many of the "non-answers" came from traditionally
pro-labor senators torn between trust-busting and protecting
minor league interests in their home states.
     The Metzenbaum/Hatch bill could be taken up any time after
the Senate resumes business today, either as a free standing
piece of legislation or as an amendment to an existing bill.
That would force each senator to vote on the measure.  One high-
level Metzenbaum staffer said:  "I can't imagine any Senator
willing to block a bill that would bring baseball back on the
field.  If they want to do that, let them do it publicly on the
Senate floor.  We are confident that if we have an up and down
vote, with a promise from the players to play, that we will get
the majority of votes."
     Baseball's owners, however, are ready for a legislative
fight and confident of victory.  MLB Dir. of Government Relations
Gene Callahan:  "We will be prepared."  According to one staffer
on the Senate's Judiciary Committee:  "The baseball owners have
an unruly amount of power up here.  All they need is 24 hours to
beat this bill."  Another Judiciary Committee staffer predicts
Metzenbaum will "get hammered on the floor -- maybe 20 votes
maximum":  "It won't even end the strike, it will just bring
about more court action."
     MLB's financial support of the minor leagues is a powerful
stick for the owners.  In fact, many senators reluctant to take a
position cited fear of losing their minor league teams.  As
Callahan explains it, lifting the ban "would destroy Class A ball
and would wipe out the Carolina League."  Without players
beholden to their team for six years, the majors "are not going
to spend that kind of money on player development," said
Callahan, who puts the subsidy from MLB to the minor leagues at
$211M.
     John Fithian, an attorney with Patton, Boggs & Blow and
Washington counsel to the MLBPA, acknowledges the force behind
MLB's payment to the minors, noting that before the subsidy
agreement, the minors favored lifting the ban.  Despite the long
odds, Fithian said the MLBPA intends to press on:  "Eventually
this legislation will get passed.  Maybe not now, but the ground
work we are setting is important. ... If we don't get the
antitrust exemption lifted, another strike will happen again down
the road."
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