Legislation that would remove part of the antitrust exemption that major league baseball has enjoyed since a Supreme Court decision in 1922 was introduced Tuesday by senators trying to end the players' strike.
"The players have already voted to end their strike if this bill becomes law," said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee and co-sponsored the legislation.
Actually, Donald Fehr, head of the players' union, said Monday that if such legislation was passed, he would recommend to the players that they vote to end the strike.
Fehr and mediator W.J. Usery met Tuesday to discuss the possible resumption of talks, and Fehr said he hoped the sides would agree by the end of the week on when talks will resume. A source familiar with the negotiations said the sides could get back together as soon as next week.
"It was a sort of taking-stock session," Fehr said after his two-hour meeting. "We'll be in touch with the mediators everyday."
Usery is scheduled to meet today with acting Commissioner Bud Selig.
Fehr called the antitrust legislation "a step forward. It puts us in a position to move this thing forward. We hope to get prompt and favorable consideration."
Hatch said the bill, also sponsored by Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.), is a new approach that would be limited to labor negotiations.
It would not affect baseball's ability to control franchise relocation, the minor leagues or any other sport or franchise.
Currently, baseball players--unlike any other athletes or workers--cannot sue in court when owners get together to set labor restrictions.
Some congressional leaders disagree with the move, saying they agree with it in principle but that its problem is timing because they don't think Congress should interfere with the baseball negotiations. They have not backed President Clinton's effort to force the players and owners into binding arbitration.
But by refusing to lift the antitrust exemption, "Congress by omission has already interfered," Hatch said.
House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) said he does not support Hatch's proposal.
A hearing on the antitrust issue was scheduled for today before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee, and Selig and Fehr are scheduled to testify.
Hatch said it would be an uphill fight to get it passed before the baseball season is to start, "but it could be done if people understand this is not congressional intrusion."
Teams are planning to start the season with replacement players and more of their identities were revealed on Tuesday. Among the players planning to cross Minnesota Twin picket lines is Brad Komminsk, who bounced around the majors after a promising start with the Atlanta Braves. The Phillies have reportedly enlisted outfielder Jeff Stone, infielders Ken Oberkfell and Todd Cruz, both 39, and pitcher Ken Dixon, 34.
Meanwhile, Mike Easler, who did not want to work with replacement players who make more money than he does, was fired as hitting instructor of the Boston Red Sox.
General Manager Dan Duquette said the team acted after Easler indicated he wouldn't work without a raise in the salary he signed for three months ago.
Baseball's expansion committee discussed the possibility of adding two teams to one league instead of adding one team each to the American and National leagues.
No decisions were made during a conference call that lasted about one hour, and the committee will hold another conference call next week.
Committee chairman John Harrington said adding two teams to one league wouldn't preclude interleague play, the goal of some owners.