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Players idled as lockout begins

Mike LaValliere is up to about 100 swings a day in the batting cage.His stroke is smooth, certainly ready for the start of spring training. "It's about time to face some live pitching," LaValliere said between cuts. "I'm ready to go."

LaValliere and four Pittsburgh teammates worked out Wednesday morning at Pirate City, the team's spring-training facility, taking turns batting, playing catch and even running wind sprints.

The scene was similar at training camps around Tampa Bay and across Florida and Arizona. A group of players, including St. Louis' Danny Cox and Chicago's Bobby Thigpen, worked out at the Busch Complex in northwest St. Petersburg. Several Toronto players tossed the ball at the Englebert Complex in Dunedin. On Florida's east coast, Ron Darling led a dozen New York Mets through drills at Port St. Lucie.

Today things will be different.

Baseball's players are officially locked out of spring-training camps as of this morning. Although there were some glimmers of optimism this week based on new proposals from management, there is still no agreement between players on owners on a new labor contract.

So as of today, spring training is on hold.

The Chicago White Sox are one of the dozen teams scheduled to open camps today with voluntary reporting by pitchers, catchers and injured players.

White Sox general manager Larry Himes said he informed players on Wednesday they are no longer allowed to use the team's facilities as the Ed Smith Complex in Sarasota. Security guards, hired by management's Players Relations Committee, will visit each camp twice a day to make sure both the players and clubs are in compliance with the mandate, Himes said.

"At first everybody thought there would be guys wearing badges and putting locks on the facility, but that's not the case," Himes said.

Thigpen, who lives in St. Petersburg, will take advantage of the day off. He and his wife, Keri, are heading up to Monticello, Fla., to show off newborn son Robert to Thigpen's mother. "Camp's just not going to start on time," he said. "Might as well find something else to do."

Teams will react differently to the lockout, the second in 15 years. There was also a lockout in 1976, which lasted 23 days until the camps were ordered open by then-Commissioner Bowie Kuhn. Some will discontinue their informal workouts, others will move the sessions to nearby high school and college fields.

The six Toronto players who have been working out in Dunedin were told Wednesday they were no longer welcome at the team site as of midnight. Player representative John Cerutti said the Jays now will be on their own.

The Pittsburgh players working out here have benefitted from the tutelage of hitting coach Milt May, who lives nearby and often throws batting practice to them. Shortstop Jay Bell has been making a 45-minute drive from Valrico three days a week to swing the bat under May's eyes. Today, Bell said, he'll probably just stay home and soak in the whirlpool. "I'll just set things aside until this gets taken care of," Bell said.

The Pirates had originally planned to work out at a local high school, but will instead stick just to individual conditioning and drills, LaValliere said. "I was instructed to call all of those players who are not in Florida and tell them not to come and to tell those in Florida that if they choose to do so to go home. If the players stay, we will not be working out. They should treat it like a vacation."

LaValliere and Cerutti were both optimistic Wednesday over a new proposal by commissioner Fay Vincent, saying the withdrawal of the controversial pay-for-performance and revenue-sharing plans were positive signs that serious negotiations could begin. But union chief Don Fehr told the Associated Press on Wednesday night that the plan was a step backward.

Vincent's proposal calls for minimum salaries for players with less than three years in the majors and a 75-percent cap on increases in salary arbitration; a two-year study committee on revenue sharing; a provision that the four-year labor agreement could be reopened by management after two years; and no increase in the benefit plan covering health care costs and player pensions, Fehr and several players said.

Management negotiator Chuck O'Connor, speaking later at baseball's

executive offices, declined to get into the specifics of the proposal.

But he said an option to terminate after two years was meant to protect teams from an economic downturn in baseball.

"(It) is an attempt to insulate the clubs from problems they will come to pass before four years," O'Connor said. "In other words, to give them an out."

O'Connor, who had a conference call Wednesday with the six owners on the Player Relations Committee, said that while the revenue-sharing proposal was being put aside for now, owners still saw it as the future of baseball's labor-management relations.

"The objective is to very much get into that mode," he said.

The minimums would be $75,000 for players with less than one year in the majors, $125,000 for players with less than two, and $200,000 for players with less than three. The arbitration cap translates to minimums of $350,000 for players with more than three years, $612,500 for four-plus players, and $1,071,875 for five-plus players.

LaValliere said he expected the minimums would turn out to be maximums and the caps posed a definite problem. He cited the case of Oakland's Jose Canseco, a four-plus player who just signed a $2-million contract. Under this plan, Canseco could earn just $612,500.

"It's encouraging, very encouraging, that this is a direction we can move in," Cerutti said. "Hopefully we'll move toward a settlement."

Buckner, Boston agree on minor-league deal

BOSTON - First baseman Bill Buckner, whose error contributed to Boston's loss of the 1986 World Series, has agreed to a minor-league contract with the Red Sox.

Details were not announced.

Boston general manager Lou Gorman said Wednesday that Buckner, who wasn't offered a contract by the Kansas City Royals after batting .216 for them last season, will report March 8 to the Red Sox' minor-league camp in Winter Haven.

- Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.