Arizona Diamondbacks managing general partner Jerry Colangelo should be commended for instituting a new team policy this week that requires all players except the game's starting pitcher to spend 10 minutes signing autographs before games this season.

"Fans are the lifeblood of the organization," Colangelo said. "There was a time when athletes took a lot for granted, and maybe even organizations to some degree. That doesn't exist anymore."

Of course, not a single other club has followed the Diamondbacks' fan-friendly lead, perhaps because they sense it is doomed to fail. The policy relies almost exclusively on the cooperation of the players, since the work rules long ago established by their powerful union make no allowance for requiring autographs.

Because Colangelo has treated his players quite well, and because the Diamondbacks are stocked with affable veterans such as Luis Gonzalez, Mark Grace, Curt Schilling and others who understand the value of good public relations, there was no immediate on-the-record dissent.

As relief pitcher Mike Myers said so enthusiastically, "I don't have a problem with it, as long as the whole team does it and everyone does it when they're supposed to."

Ah, but what happens the first time a player stays in the clubhouse during signing time? What happens the first time a rude fan uses the opportunity to berate Matt Williams for his declining production or Byung Hyun Kim for his latest poor outing? What happens when Randy Johnson's autograph line is consistently overrun by memorabilia dealers?

Most importantly, what happens the first time Colangelo tries to discipline a player for not participating, and is slapped by a grievance filed by the union?

It's still spring training, a time when no one in baseball wants to hear predictions of failure, so we'll leave it at that. The hope here is that the policy works and works well, and that other conscientious teams and players rush to follow suit. It is a simple and nice policy directed toward baseball's most abused and forgotten constituency, the fans.

But if you've spent much time around this sport at all, you've become too familiar with the ultimate result of the best-laid plans.

Union on Ephedrine: Not So Fast

The death of Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler and its apparent link to diet pills containing ephedrine has spurred outcries for MLB and the Players Association to outlaw such substances.

But don't expect the league or the union to take action unless Congress or the Food and Drug Administration first prohibits the sale of such supplements to the general public. The union has drawn this line in the sand long ago.

"The union has always been against testing for substances without cause, because there are privacy issues that aren't easily resolved," Rangers pitcher and players union representative Jeff Zimmerman said. "Increasing the education might be a better way to go.

"Players are very sensitive to anything that happened within the baseball family. Regardless of whether anybody knew this kid or not, it affects everyone. It's definitely a wake-up call for everyone, and hopefully some good can come out of this, even if it's just being more educated about what we put into our bodies."

Just Shoot Me

New Seattle Mariners manager Bob Melvin is an enthusiastic, genial fellow. But when it came time to shoot team pictures last Wednesday, he tried to present a gruffer exterior.

"I was trying to look a little tough," Melvin said. "I'm sure it didn't work. I've always had a problem smiling right for pictures. My wife always takes one look and says, 'Another good picture, huh?' "

When it was suggested Melvin might have smiled bigger had he been handed a balloon, he said, "Not if it came from a clown. I've always had problems with clowns. They always gave me the creeps. I never was much of a circus guy." . . .

Former Rangers general manager Doug Melvin, now the Milwaukee Brewers' GM, is experiencing his first spring training in Arizona after 29 years of spring preparation in Florida.

"I heard you don't sweat out here," Melvin told a luncheon crowd this week. "But I guarantee you, if the Milwaukee Brewers lose a hundred games again, somebody will be sweating."

Reds outfielder Adam Dunn signs his autograph on a familiar face -- his own -- for a fan. Arizona instituted new policy requiring its players to sign autographs for 10 minutes before every game.