SBJ/September 28 - October 4, 1998/No Topic Name

Clinton mess may derail antitrust bill

Baseball's antitrust exemption appears to have survived yet another congressional term.

Legislation meant to restrict the long-standing exemption as it applies to labor relations has run into two formidable hurdles: an otherwise occupied House Judiciary Committee and a ticking clock.

The bill, which cleared the Senate unanimously on July 31, was referred to the House Judiciary Committee, where it was expected to encounter little or no opposition. But the committee, which will be the first legislative group to cast judgment on President Clinton's conduct in office, has since had its hands full with deliberations that could lead to impeachment proceedings.

Meanwhile, the final session of the 105th Congress is scheduled to conclude on Oct. 9.

"The committee has to decide what it has time to get done," said Alan Sobba, Major League Baseball's director of government relations. "This certainly does restrict their ability to deal with [the bill]. It has to. But if the chair [Rep. Henry Hyde] wants to get this done, he can get it done and get it done expeditiously."

Both sides of baseball's labor equation want the bill passed.

As part of their collective-bargaining agreement signed in 1996, baseball's owners and players' union agreed to work together with Congress to write a law that would modify the exemption by allowing players to file antitrust suits against their employers, as other pro athletes can.

The bill, introduced in the Senate in 1997 as the Curt Flood Act, was named for the deceased St. Louis Cardinals outfielder who surrendered his career to pave the way for free agency. It stalled when minor league operators voiced concerns that it might restrict their business practices, but it was introduced in the Senate again this year after it was rewritten to make it clear that it doesn't pertain to the minors.

Considering the weight of other matters facing the committee, Sobba conceded that it is unlikely the bill will make it into law this year unless Hyde elects to push it forward by suspending House rules. That appears to be a long shot, Sobba said.

"I'm not sure it will happen, but we're still hopeful," Sobba said. "I went to the ballpark the other night, and Cal Ripken didn't play. Who could've expected that? Politics is kind of like that every day. It's unpredictable."

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