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Strike Deadline In Extra Innings

The midnight strike deadline has come and gone in New York, where Major League Baseball owners and players have been staring each other down over the players' threat to walk off the job.

No word yet on whether they will.

The two sides met four times Thursday, the last time talking for only about 90 minutes.

That was followed by a conference telephone call among the 30 players' union representatives. The conference call began at about 11 p.m. EST.

All day Thursday, lawyers for both sides, carrying proposals and umbrellas, shuttled between the commissioner's office and union headquarters on a gray, rainy day, trying to reach agreement on a labor contract before Friday's games.

"We're just going to keep working," said Bob DuPuy, baseball's chief operating officer. "I've been prepared to stay for the night all week."

As CBS News Correspondent Anthony Mason reports, with baseball down to its last at bats, negotiators shuttled between the players and owners trying to keep the game going.

But fans, seeing the grim reaper moving in on the 2002 season, blamed both sides.

According to one Chicago fan this all amounts to "too much politics in it. It's only a game. It's supposed to be for the fans."

The stakes are high: players stand to lose their last two paychecks. Even for the lowest paid rookie that would mean $33,000. For the highest paid player, Texas Ranger Alex Rodriguez: it would be more than $3 million.

And under their T.V. contract, owners would have to repay $300 million for cancelled games.

Bill Madden of the N.Y Daily News says, "It's an absolute disaster if they shut down the game. For both sides."

And for some teams, Madden believes, it could mean game over.

Madden says, "If there is a strike. If there is a shutdown of the game, I would have to believe that at least half a dozen franchises could never come back from this."

And if the owners and players want to keep a friend in the White House they'd better avoid a strike. A spokesman says the president is an avid fan of the National Pastime and he would be furious if there's a strike.

After five bargaining sessions Wednesday, the sides remained apart on levels for a luxury tax and revenue sharing, leaving the sport on track for its ninth work stoppage since 1972. Many players, however, expressed hope for a deal.

"I still think we're going to get something done," said Atlanta pitcher Tom Glavine, the NL player representative. "I just think we're all too close on too much of this to let it fall apart."

"The same issues are unresolved," said commissioner Bud Selig, who arrived in New York on Wednesday evening. "It's been very constructive. Both sides are reaching out, but I can't tell you we're any closer. Only time will tell."

Some players proved a little less than optimistic with the Texas Rangers packing up their belongings in the clubhouse, assuming the worst. Cincinnati Reds pitcher Jose Rijo bought a ticket to fly to Miami despite a scheduled home game.

As the sport headed toward a possible strike, players and fans were left wondering whether Thursday's games would be the last ones of the season.

"It doesn't sound real good," said Rodriguez. "You just have to prepare yourself for the very worst."

President Bush, a former co-owner of the Texas Rangers, does not intend to involve himself in the negotiations as President Clinton once did without success. His spokesman says the president believes very strongly that the owners and players need to resolve their differences on their own.

Owners want to slow spending by high-payroll teams with a luxury tax and in their last formal proposal wanted to increase the amount of locally generated revenue that teams share from 20 percent to 36 percent. Players were at 33.3 percent and want to phase in the increase.

While negotiators didn't disclose details, management increased its proposed threshold for the luxury tax by $5 million to $112 million and the union dropped by $5 million to $120 million, Boston player representative Johnny Damon said. The sides were still discussing all the proposed rates and thresholds, and the union didn't want a tax in the final year.

The sides also discussed contract language that dealt with the owners' desire to fold two franchises, one general manager said on condition of anonymity. The union opposes contraction.

Atlanta, Boston, the White Sox, Colorado and Milwaukee pushed back their charters from Thursday to Friday to see what happens at the talks. The first game affected would be at Chicago's Wrigley Field, where the Cubs are to play the Cardinals at 3:20 p.m. EDT Friday.

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