Major League Baseball Ponders Strike 8; Tale of a Troubled Pool; a Rare Error

THREE days remain before Major League Baseball's Aug. 12 strike date. Some say it could happen earlier, some later. But if the labor issues between baseball's owners and players aren't resolved soon, the remainder of the season may be wiped out.

Labor Secretary Robert Reich visited Boston's Fenway Park Sunday to address the major-league baseball dispute. He talked with fans before the doubleheader to get their perspective on the impending strike - and their advice. The majority of fans blamed owners for inflated ticket prices and players for their high salaries.

It's hard to say if Secretary Reich will be able to help the players and owners reach an agreement. But he understands what's at stake: ``The national economy won't be crippled if baseball stops,'' he said. ``But millions of children like my son will be heartbroken.''

If the players walk, it would be baseball's eighth labor dispute in 22 years. The longest strike was in 1981, when 712 games were canceled over the 50-day strike. The most recent was during spring training in 1990, when the owners locked out the players for 32 days.

Both sides cite growing economic needs, and so far neither has budged toward a compromise.

Owners want a salary cap that splits industry revenues 50-50. This includes revenue-sharing between large- and small-market franchises. They also want to eliminate salary arbitration and reduce free-agency eligibility.

Players want an increase in the minimum salary from $109,000 to between $175,000 and $200,000, less time for salary arbitration, more money in their pension fund, and more money for postseason playoff and World Series pools.

If they strike, players will forfeit tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in salary. During the 50-day strike of 1981, the average loss per player was $1,079 a day, based on an average salary of $185,651. This year, with an average salary of $1.2 million, the average loss per player would be $6,977 a day.

The players have about $175 million in licensing money stockpiled as a strike fund, but it won't last long: 31 days, at the rate of $6,977 per day per player. So if the strike lasts longer than a month, aren't the players better off giving in to the owners? The owners will lose 75 percent of their television income during the postseason - if the strike lasts that long.

The losses go beyond money. Ken Griffey Jr. of the Seattle Mariners, Frank Thomas of the Chicago White Sox, and Matt Williams of the San Francisco Giants are on pace to break Roger Maris's 1961 record of 61 home runs. Tony Gwynn of the San Diego Padres is bidding to become baseball's first .400 hitter since Ted Williams in 1941.

With all this fighting over money, fans may lose interest. If there is a strike, what should fans do in the meantime? Go to minor-league games. They're just as entertaining, and the players play with spirit and perhaps more respect for the game. Russia's murky waters

A WEEK before the Goodwill Games began in St. Petersburg, Russia, a pool attendant there forgot to bag the charcoal before putting it into the filter. As a result, the water turned black. Scuba divers swept silt from the bottom of the pool while workers dumped in chemicals.

Members of the United States swim team, meanwhile, took jugs of water from the Red Army pool as souvenirs. By this time, the water was a light green.

``I felt like an Easter egg in dye,'' said US backstroker Barbara Bedford. ``I didn't know what color I'd come out.'' Rare baseball error

DURING a recent Braves-Cardinals doubleheader, Atlanta rookie catcher Javier Lopez was charged with a catching error. While a St. Louis runner was on second, catcher Lopez used his mask to stop a pitch.

Cardinals manager Joe Torre alerted home-plate umpire Tom Hallion. Speaking as a former catcher, Torre said that it's illegal for a catcher to use his mask to touch a ball in play. First-base umpire Angel Hernandez saw the play, and the runner on second was awarded third base.

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