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The "next step" in baseball's labor talks may be a one-on- one meeting between acting MLB Commissioner Bud Selig and MLBPA Exec Dir Don Fehr. One person on the owners' side: "They have to get together and see if both sides really, truly are ready to end this thing." Fehr and Selig spoke briefly by phone yesterday, and will talk again today. Selig: "We simply can't afford to fail (in negotiations) this time" (Mark Maske, WASHINGTON POST, 3/17). Both sides hope to resume by Monday or Tuesday. Mediator William Usery: "I want to get a meeting as soon as we can, but I want it to be meaningful" (Hal Bodley, USA TODAY, 3/17). The AP characterized Selig as "seemingly in no hurry to negotiate." Even some management officials "were frustrated Selig was delaying" (AP/Toronto GLOBE & MAIL, 3/17). ONE PRESCRIPTION: In the current issue of SI, Tim Kurkjian and Tom Verducci report that the two sides are separated by the following issues: "one year of free agency eligibility (and the compensation to teams that lose such players) and how to tweak the numbers on a luxury tax." The Kurkjian & Verducci plan, which would allow "neither side to claim victory": No arbitration; unrestricted free agency for players with at least three years service; a luxury tax of 40% on payrolls above $45M; a five-year CBA with a three-year trial for the tax (SI, 3/20 issue). STAY ALIVE: The AL is "working on a plan" to protect Cal Ripken's consecutive-game streak. "Although nothing has been decided, the plan under consideration is to force the Orioles to forfeit any games they refuse to play while the strike continues" (Hal Bodley, USA TODAY, 3/17). DOLLARS AND CENTS: CNN's "Moneyline" interviewed Braves President Stan Kasten last night. Kasten on resuming talks: "I don't expect a lot of activity until the NLRB action is finally decided." Kasten on what the league has lost: "So far it has cost a minimum of $300 million. We haven't totalled up everyone's losses yet, but that's a conservative figure for the industry's losses so far." On relationships with sponsors: "They have stuck with us and obviously they have some guarentees in terms of viewers, and those things will be ironed out if they are not satisfied with the viewership levels. But, right now they are all on board and we're expecting strong support" (CNN, 3/16). In deals with the Giants, White Sox, Indians and A's, SporsChannel regional networks got the rights to renegotiate if replacements play. The Mets have no such provision with SportsChannel New York (Richard Sandomir, N.Y. TIMES, 3/17). Univ. of Chicago prof. Allen Sanderson said replacement ball for a year makes financial sense: "If the owners win this, you're going to see a swing of $8 million to $10 million per franchise per year" (Rick Alm, DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 3/16). NEWS & NOTES: Orioles Owner Peter Angelos proposes MLB be run by a "bifurcated executive: A hard-driving, CEO-type would take on the business aspects, such as marketing. A commissioner, a person of judicial temperament, would look after the integrity of the game, representing players, owners and the fans" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 3/16)....The Giants have sold about 9,000 season tickets, down from last year's record of 13,200. Giants Dir of P.R. Bob Rose: "The best we can realistically hope for is 10,000. This thing is really going to be testing our fan base" (Joe Gilmartin, PHOENIX GAZETTE, 3/16)....Two OH legislators proposed legislation barring replacement players from taxpayer- funded stadiums and arenas (Cleveland PLAIN DEALER, 3/16).