Baseball: back to the diamond

THE baseball pact tentatively reached yesterday between negotiators for players and owners should be quickly endorsed by both sides. To interrupt one of baseball's best seasons ever does not make sense. Perhaps more than in other major sports, continuity is one of baseball's strengths. Only consistent performance over time leads to the kind of milestones sighted this season: Rod Carew got his 3,000th hit, and Pete Rose is closing in on Ty Cobb's major league record of 4,191 career hits; Tom Seaver won his 300th game. A couple of young ``naturals'' on the New York Mets, outfielder Darryl Strawberry and pitcher Dwight Gooden, have been debunking the old-timers' perennial lament that young ballplaye rs don't measure up to those of the past.

The National League East is in its usual pennant dogfight, and the three other division races are at least competitive.

To have called the 1985 game in the seventh inning because of intransigence would have been foolish.

Few observers, in or out of the baseball industry, expected the walkout, that began Tuesday, to last long -- even though the players have been determined to resist erosion of salary arbitration rights and free-agent status, gains won only in the past decade, and owners have been equally dedicated to applying some sort of cap on player compensation and altering the arbitration system.

The risk for both players and owners was to so disgust fans, over an undignified spat between two privileged groups, that they would go on strike themselves.

Repeated disruptions -- this was the second mid-season walkout in recent years -- could well cause drops in game attendance and TV viewing. The game would lose credibility with fans if there were another lame-duck World Series like that of 1981. Besides, sports fans have a choice: The professional football pre-season games have started.

Baseball's new commissioner, Peter Ueberroth, stepped into the negotiations with proposals for settling the dispute. If he is credited with securing the agreement, he will enhance his lustrous reputation as the man who engineered the success of the 1984 summer Olympics as well as the prestige of the hitherto largely powerless office of commissioner. The Senate career that some political observers see ahead for Ueberroth might be closer at hand.

At this point, ratification of the pact is not certain. Many franchises are in financial trouble. Two big turnstile months remain. Owners and players would be wise to get the pennant races back on the diamond.

The fans deserve no less.

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