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Exhibition games could move elsewhere

The head of the baseball players union said Sunday he expects there will be three weeks of exhibition games no matter how long it takes to settle the labor contract, but that the longer the dispute continues the less chance there is the games will be played in Florida and Arizona. "The longer it goes on, it's more and more and more likely it will not be in Florida and Arizona but will be back home," said Donald Fehr, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association.

Fehr's chief concern is that players be healthy and competitive enough to begin the regular season. "Enough players, predominantly pitchers, say they need 3{-plus weeks. It's gonna take a while," Fehr said. "It's gonna take that long whether we settle it tomorrow or June 1."

Today is the fifth day the players have been locked out of training camps by the owners. And on a bright, sunny day when they would normally be at the ballpark, a group of sports writers and editors instead came to a hotel meeting room to hear Fehr and _ by telephone _ owners negotiator Chuck O'Connor talk about why there is no baseball.

Fehr said the players feel they will need three weeks of live competition to be ready for Opening Day, now set for April 2.

"Pitchers tell me quite openly they can't prepare for the season throwing to catchers without hitters. You've got to know whether the pitch you're throwing can be hit by major-league hitters," Fehr said.

The month-long Grapefruit League season is scheduled to begin March 1 for the 18 teams that train in Florida. The economic impact of the spring season is estimated at $300-million a year statewide.

Where the exhibition games eventually take place will probably depend on whether the clubs feel the need to make use of their training facilities in Florida and Arizona, Fehr said. Another consideration could be travel costs, which would be much higher if the teams returned to their home cities and played scheduled exhibitions.

Fehr and O'Connor were part of an Associated Press-sponsored seminar on sports and labor relations. O'Connor said he remained in New York because of meetings.

The talks, which recessed on an apparently positive note Friday, resume today in Manhattan. There will be a morning session on non-economic issues and an afternoon meeting on the central topics. Neither side would speculate as to how the negotiations would go, but agreed they were discussing the central issues _ primarily changes to the salary arbitration system.

Under a proposal introduced last week by commissioner Fay Vincent, the owners dropped their request for revenue sharing and a pay-for-performance scale but sought a 75 percent cap on arbitration increases. Fehr noted the owners unsuccessfully proposed similar limits during past negotiations. "If owners are prepared to fight the traditional battle on salary arbitration, then it ain't terribly likely we're going to get an agreement ever," Fehr said.

Despite removing what had been the biggest stumbling block, O'Connor said the owners had no plans to end the lockout, which they said they implemented to produce a settlement without disrupting the regular season.

"The short answer to that is no," O'Connor said. "The long answer to that I think is that it is our hope that with the removal by the clubs at the commissioner's urging of what was identified by the union as the central point blocking the settlement, that we ought to be able to get to an agreement that meets the clubs' objectives relatively quickly."

Tampa Bay area fans are concerned not only with the effect of the negotiations on spring training, but also on expansion. The National League has said it will announce a timetable for a two-team expansion within 90 days of the labor settlement. Tampa Bay area leaders are confident one of those teams will play in the Florida Suncoast Dome.

Fehr said the owners said they want to talk about expansion and may bring it up this week. "My basic view is they don't want to expand, they will only do that under what is regarded as enough pressure, they will wait as late as they can, they will do as little as they can and they will get as much money as they can," Fehr said. "That's the entire history." He also restated that he thinks management will seek concessions from the union for expansion and that when the union declines, the owners will blame the players for delaying expansion.

Also Sunday, O'Connor said that if revenue sharing is someday accepted, players would have to have a role in management decisions and that "the role of the union in the expansion locales would itself expand."

O'Connor also said there was some dissension last week among the six owners who make up the Player Relations Committee about dropping the original proposal, but they eventually reached a consensus.

The purpose of the seminar was to let Fehr and O'Connor tell the editors and writers what they are doing right and wrong in covering the negotiations. The biggest complaints were that many writers do not have enough background knowledge to put things in historical perspective; that they too often bring a "game" mentality to the talks, seeking to determine a daily winner and loser when there isn't one; and that they sometimes become part of the process through their interpretation and analysis of the daily press briefings.