Congressmen take swing at ending baseball strike

Some heavy hitters from Capitol Hill are the latest team to take a swing at settling the nearly month-old major league baseball strike. Fourteen US congressmen, including Rep. Dan Rostenkowski (D) of Illinois, chairman of the influential House Ways and Means Committee, have written a letter to Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn citing the strike's "devastating impact" and asking him to consider the use of binding arbitration.

Commissioner Kuhn has indicated in the past that ordering the union -- the Baseball Players Association -- to submit to binding arbitration might exacerbate the situation.

Thus despite the congressional request to play hardball, a settlement of the dispute, which revolves around the issue of "free agent compensation," remains doubtful in the near future.

When a break in the impasse does occur, those watching the situation say it may be caused by one or more of these factors:

* Many players are becoming increasingly restless to "play ball" again despite the apparently tough stance being taken by the players association.

* Players' concern is heightened by the still-scheduled July 14 All-Star Game. If the game is canceled, the players would lose more than $2 million in revenue for their pension fund.

* Some players and managers are expressing guarded optimism that the next club owners' meeting, scheduled for today, could result in meaningful movement that would rejuvenate the negotiations between the owners and players, which probably will resume this weekend. Commissioner Kuhn also believes this owners' meeting could be "significant."

* The owners are facing a deadline of sorts themselves. Their "strike insurance" is believed to run out around the first week in August. Even with the insurance payments "all of the clubs will be losing a considerable amount of money" from the strike, according to Vince Nauss, a spokesman for the commissioner.

* The economic reverberations from the strike are extending far beyond the ballparks -- causing cities with major league franchises to loose millions of dollars in tax revenues from ticket sales. In addition, an economic toll is being taken on restaurants, shops, and vendors who depend heavily on the crowds attracted to the games for their livelihood.

In New York City, Assistant Parks Commissioner Wendall Levister told the Monitor that the city is losing about 7,000 in tax revenue for every game not played Yankee Stadium. And since the city leases Yankee Stadium to the Yankees, the city is also losing another $7,000 a game under that arrangement, Mr. Levister says.

However, the cost to the city as a whole "is incalculable," Mr. Levister went on to explain, because it is impossible to estimate the amount of taxes the city would have collected from other businesses where baseball goers spend money -- restaurants, transit facilities, and the like.

"The longer it goes on, the greater the economic impact will be," says Mike Battenfeld, chief spokesman for the city's Economic Development Administration. "But I think the greatest impact is on the people that don't have games to watch."

Baseball fans across the country -- and around the world -- couldn't agree more. Mr. Battenfeld's father-in-law, Osamu Aso, who lives in a Tokyo suburb, is one of the latter. "The one thing that he wanted to do above everything else [when he arrived] was go to a Yankees game," Battenfeld says. "He got here a day after the strike started."

The strike Began June 12. The owners have been demanding that a team signing a "free agent" -- that is a player with six years' experience in the major leagues whose contract has expired -- must compensate the club losing the player by giving it another player. The players association contends that this cuts down on the "bargaining power" of the free agent.

The commissioner can "order" both sides to submit to binding arbitration, but Mr. Nauss of his office says that the commissioner has no legal authority to force it. In 1976, in another labor dispute, Kuhn ordered the owners to open up spring training and they did so. Historically the commissioner has h ad considerably more influence with the owners than players.

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