BASEBALL : Players and owners have `frank' talks about talks strike

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Representatives of striking Major League players and owners resumed negotiations in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, yesterday with no progress made toward ending the six-month old strike other than to hold a "civilised" meeting.

"The tone has been civil and it has been pleasant," Donald Fehr, the union's leader, told reporters, "and it's been from time to time frank, in the way that diplomats use that term when they talk about `frank discussions.' But I'm not discouraged by it. It certainly wasn't hostile."

Fehr said the purpose of the two-day meeting was to set a structure for future negotiations and to find a way for both sides to negotiate reasonably.

The interim comissioner, Bud Selig, who attended the session, agreed with Fehr.

"We've had what I would regard as a very constructive day," Selig said. "A day in which I think We've had a very sensitive - and if I use the word `civilised,' I use it in the most positive of forms - discussion on a wide-ranging series of things."

Selig said while the session helped to clear the air between the two sides, no attempt was made to try to strike a deal.

The face-to-face meeting with only a small group for each side was the first since 7 February.

In Florida and Arizona, the Boston Red Sox and Milwaukee Brewers yesterday became the final teams to open spring training camps with replacement pitcher and catchers reporting.

Some teams have been telling their minor leaguers that they will not be considered replacement players until the regular season starts on 2 April, but the union feels otherwise.

Fehr is warning that anyone who appears in exhibition games, including minor leaguers, will be considered a strike-breaker.

"Our view is that any spring training game that is played at either the major-league site or for which admission is charged is a replacement game," Fehr said.

If an agreement cannot be reached to settle the strike by opening day, the Toronto Blue Jays will remain in Florida and play regular-season home games at their spring training facility in Dunedin. Ontario law prohibits the use of replacement workers during strikes.

Blue Jays officials already have excused the manager, Cito Gaston, and his coaching staff from working with replacement players. Last week, the veteran manager, Sparky Anderson, took a leave of absence from the Detroit Tigers, saying he did not want to manage replacement players.

n The New York Mets partied even harder than they played in the 1980s, according to the former star Darryl Strawberry. In the 27 February issue of the US weekly magazine Sports Illustrated, Strawberry says alcohol and drug abuse hurt the Mets.

"If we wouldn't have partied so much, we would have won more," said Strawberry, who played for the Mets from 1983-90. "We had a team full of drunks. We'd go into a town and couldn't wait to go out drinking and partying, always asking each other, `Hey, where you going tonight?' "