- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 17, 2002

BALTIMORE Unlike most of his younger teammates on the Baltimore Orioles, Jeff Conine has been through this before. And as much as the 36-year-old first baseman wants to believe he won't be going on strike 13 days from now, he knows history isn't on his side.

"Unfortunately, as a player who's been around awhile, all I can go on is past experience and it hasn't been good," Conine said yesterday after the executive board of the players' union voted unanimously to set an Aug.30 strike date. "So one side of me is pessimistic in nature because of the way things have gone in the past. And the other side of me, the way things have gone this time, is optimistic."

That seemed to be the consensus around the league yesterday, as players tried to downplay the growing likelihood of the sport's ninth work stoppage in 30 years.

"Obviously, the history of this isn't that good," Baltimore shortstop Mike Bordick said. "It seems like there have been work stoppages all the way through. But hopefully, this is the one we get resolved and everyone's happy."

Yesterday's announcement following a 90-minute conference call by the union executive board came just four days after the players met in Chicago and elected not to set a strike date, citing the progress that had been made at the negotiating table.

Both the union and the owners were hopeful of a quick resolution by the end of the week, but negotiations hit a snag once core issues were brought up, most notably the luxury tax that management would like to implement for high payroll clubs.

Though the players have long been opposed to any form of a luxury tax which they equate to a salary cap most said earlier in the week they thought an agreement was possible.

"I'm probably off that boat now," Detroit Tigers player representative Damion Easley said. "I am not pessimistic, but I'm just kind of sitting on a fence letting this thing play out."

With yesterday's announcement, the players are sure to take a public relations hit from fans who are angry at the possibility of another work stoppage and are still upset over the 1994 strike that lasted 232 days and wiped out the postseason.

"The average fan has already gone to other sports: soccer, golf and hockey," said Texas Rangers shortstop Alex Rodriguez, the game's highest-paid player at $21million this season. "That's sad. I just want to see us stop losing fans."

And given the economic and social strife currently affecting the nation, a prolonged battle between millionaire baseball players and billionaire club owners is not going to be received well.

An Aug.30 strike would come just 12 days before the one-year anniversary of the September 11 attacks. Players acknowledge the impact baseball had on the nation late last season.

"September 11 is a huge issue," Minnesota Twins player rep Denny Hocking said. "If there is no baseball on 9-11, it would be a slap in the face to all those people who went through 9-11 first hand."

Despite the bad vibes of yesterday's announcement, fans in Baltimore seemed generally unaffected. A large gathering of 36,086 turned out at Camden Yards for the series opener between the Orioles and Tigers, two teams with sub-.500 records.

One fan seated behind the third-base dugout held up a sign reading, "No balls, one strike, we're out," but there was little other negative reaction.

"I know the word 'strike' sounds really serious," Baltimore player rep Jason Johnson said. "[A strike date] had to be laid out there, I think, to get something done. We have [13] days to discuss it, and hopefully something will be done."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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