Baseball: Clinton law to benefit players

PRESIDENT CLINTON signed a bill on Tuesday which overturns part of US Major League baseball's 70-year-old anti-trust exemption, putting baseball on a par with other professional US sports on labour matters.

Clinton signed the Curt Flood Act of 1998 without fanfare in the Oval Office. Congress approved it unanimously earlier this month. The new law overrides a 1922 Supreme Court ruling that exempted baseball from anti- trust laws on grounds that it was a sport and not a business. That exemption deprived baseball players of protections enjoyed by other professional athletes and has been blamed for baseball's eight work stoppages since 1972.

"It is sound policy to treat the employment matters of major league baseball players under the anti-trust laws in the same way such matters are treated for athletes in other professional sports," Clinton said.

The Major League Baseball Players' Association welcomed the new law. "Members of Congress came to understand that baseball fans would ultimately be the real beneficiaries of this act," the MLBPA's executive director, Donald M. Fehr, said.

A Supreme Court decision in 1996 over an industrial dispute in American football means the law has limited implications. The court ruled that unionised employees cannot file anti-trust suits, meaning the MLBPA must disband before players can challenge owners on anti-trust grounds.

n Joe DiMaggio, who is recovering from pneumonia, got out of his hospital bed yesterday for the first time in more than two weeks, easing fears that the 83-year-old American baseball great was close to death. DiMaggio's neighbour, Morris Engelberg, said his friend had a lung infection and would be hospitalised for at least three more weeks.