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Baseball Deal Looks Doomed As Many As 12 Owners Appear Poised To Reject Deal

Baseball’s labor deal faces near-certain rejection by owners today, probably wiping out interleague play next season and denying free agency for Alex Fernandez and Moises Alou.

At least eight teams were thought to be against the deal completed Oct. 24 by management negotiator Randy Levine and union head Donald Fehr.

With a three-quarters majority needed to ratify the agreement, eight teams could block a deal and some lawyers said as many as 12 may vote against the proposed five-year contract.

“The people who do count heads do tell me the deal will almost certainly be rejected, and by a significant number,” Atlanta Braves president Stan Kasten said.

Union officials, speaking on the condition they not be identified, speculated whether acting commissioner Bud Selig, who hasn’t taken a position, would attempt to renegotiate the deal with Fehr following the vote.

Fehr, in London on business, said he wouldn’t comment until after the vote at the owners’ meeting in Rosemont, Ill.

“It continues to look like it will be voted down,” agent Tom Reich said. “Obviously, if the deal gets voted down, the first big obstacle will be trying to formulate what owners will present as a negotiating team. There won’t be any chance of a resolution for a long time, and that’s a pity for the game.”

Levine, hired by Selig in September 1995, was contemplating whether to resign later this week. With no consensus among owners for peace and none for war, it appeared the industry will continue to operate under the agreement that expired in December 1993, which is kept in force by a federal injunction.

“It’s a horrible dilemma for teams,” Kasten said. “You have two bad choices and you have to pick one. If you accept this deal, it’s likely to yield annual losses of $100 million, maybe $200 million. If you reject, then for some period of time, you’re in the status quo, the current malaise. Neither decision moves the game along or fixes its problems.”

The contract calls for a luxury tax, in 1997, ‘98 and ‘99, designed to slow the payroll growth of high-revenue teams, and also would allow owners to start their new revenue-sharing plan, which would be retroactive to the ‘96 season.

It also would allow owners to break with tradition and start interleague play. And it would credit players with major league service for the 75 regular-season days wiped out by the 1994-95 strike, allowing Fernandez, Alou and nine other players to become free agents.