Bye-Bye to Baseball '94?

NO home runs flying every-which-way out of ballparks? No records broken? No (gasp) World Series 1994?

The prospect of a baseball strike, which looms larger each day, is especially distressing as August dawns and the races begin in earnest. This year, with an expanding playoff format, more teams are in contention and more fans still care about the season.

The Cleveland Indians are finally rewarding the long-suffering faithful with a contender; Montreal is a surprise. Even the sub-.500 Western Division in each league will get to send someone to the playoffs.

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A season-ending strike means that those chasing individual honors - most home runs or runs batted in, or highest batting averages, for example - will never know what they might have accomplished. Neither will fans.

Realists say the dispute between owners and players is just another labor dispute (aside, perhaps, from the oddity that these union men are mostly millionaires). Both sides have admitted it's simply a dispute over money and who's going to get a bigger share.

But to fans, the game is something more; it's a tradition, a lingua franca. It provides people in every corner of North America, of widely different cultural and economic backgrounds, with an instant commonality. The talk can be endless. (Is Seattle's Ken Griffey Jr. baseball's best young hitter? But wait, what about Houston's Jeff Bagwell?)

At least two groups of fans are trying to wedge their interests into the discussion. They're calling for a ``fan strike'' of games played on Aug. 13. Such a one-day boycott might serve as a wake-up call. A tennis manufacturer has signed on, offering free rackets to the first 300 kids who boycott the August 13 games.

Yes, if there's a strike, we may get out to the tennis court or the golf course more often. The yard may get a little more attention or the porch screen finally repaired. But we'd rather be thinking about pitching matchups and ninth-inning rallies.

One or both sides yet may blink and compromise at the last minute. Do players want not only to abruptly end this season but to endanger next year as well? Do owners want to forgo lucrative playoff and World Series profits? The hope of fans here, and everywhere, is that they don't.

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