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ON BASEBALL

Policy of exclusion outdated

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- It's going on nine years, and every time baseball players vote on whether to pardon former replacement players and allow them into the union, the result is the same.

Just last winter, at their annual meeting at Pebble Beach, the players voted on whether to forgive and forget, and like all the other votes, the proposal was defeated. So players such as Brian Daubach and Kevin Millar of the Red Sox remain major leaguers who are not subjects of Donald Fehr's empire. All it amounts to, basically, is not receiving a share of licensing money, which isn't that big a loss considering major league salaries. The nonunion players don't have votes in Players Association matters but they do receive pensions and are represented in arbitration.

What annoys them most is the occasional call of "scab" they might hear from the crowd or even opposing players.

The subject is not one that players on either side want to talk about.

Before the 1995 season, Daubach already had three knee operations and he was stuck in Single A ball in Port St. Lucie. Millar's contract had been purchased by the Florida Marlins before the 1994 season, after he played a year with Independent League St. Paul. The major league players were on strike, and Daubach and Millar certainly had reasons to participate in replacement games. Both had people close to them, people in their organizations telling them that playing would be best for them. In some cases, players were told if they didn't participate in games, they would be cut.

So they played.

And it wasn't as if playing in a few replacement games made their respective careers. Both became very good hitters in subsequent years, legitimate big leaguers.

Johnny Damon, the Red Sox player representative, says he fights for his teammates every time a vote comes up, but in the end he is voted down.

"I think there are players who believe that they should never be able to join," Damon said. "We've always been behind them all the way. They're our teammates and we'll always look out for them."

Damon and his predecessor, Tim Wakefield, never have made Daubach and Millar feel they don't belong. They've never been made to feel that the decision made when they were very young wasn't made without a great deal of thought and for good reason.

What's amazing is this many years later, the constituency still won't let such players into their union.

"It's just chicken [expletive]," said a major leaguer who is in the union. "Talk about holding a grudge. Talk about thinking you're high and mighty.

"Most of those replacement players have come and gone. Most of them didn't have long careers if they had any career. There are a few left from that time in the league, and when is it time to just get a little bit mature about the situation and just let them in and forgive and forget?

"There are a lot of things that give us a bad name as players and that's one of them. I think a lot of us aren't proud that we continue to keep these people out of the union when they're productive players who contribute to the teams we play on.

"If you study each individual reason why those players had to do what they did, I think a lot of guys would have done the same thing. You've got to forgive sometime, don't you? I mean, the same guys who probably slap these guys on the back and are nice to their face are probably ones who don't want them in the union."

It certainly doesn't appear that the excluded players obsess about the union issue. It doesn't appear that their play is affected by it, either. They just want to be like everybody else. Most of the time they are, but every now and then they are reminded by someone's snide remark.

"I don't think you hear too much on the field," said the major league player. "Every once in a while someone gets mad and in the heat of the moment you hear the `S-word' [scab]. But it's really in the back of everyone's mind, until it seems it's time to take a stand on whether to let these guys back."

Baseball Almanac cited a Players Association source two years ago that listed 25 players who were in the major leagues but didn't have a union card because they were replacement players. Among them were former Sox infielder Lou Merloni, now with the Indians, and former Sox pitcher Ron Mahay. Daubach and Millar also were on the list, and nothing has changed their status.

During the strike, replacement players were paid $115,000, plus a $5,000 signing bonus, and some were given severance pay of $2,500-$5,000 when the strike ended. Millar went on to play at Brevard County that year and hit .288 with 13 homers and 68 RBIs. Daubach hit .245 at Binghamton.

The union certainly had a right to keep these players out for a while. After all, anyone who crosses a picket line is threatening the livelihood of the union members. But after nine years, there are few such players left, and the ones who do remain have earned their place on the field.

Now, they're waiting for people to forgive and forget.

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