Japanese baseball players will strike for the first time if owners proceed with a proposed merger of two teams, the players' union said yesterday.

The players decided at a meeting that if the merger between the Pacific League's Orix BlueWave and Kintetsu Buffaloes is not suspended, they will refuse to play, said Yakult Swallows catcher Atsuya Furuta, who heads the players' association. The players will meet with team officials this week to try to reach a last-minute deal, he added.

In a preliminary vote that raises the likelihood of the Orix-Kintetsu merger, representatives of the 12 teams endorsed the deal yesterday at a meeting called by the commissioner's office, Central League President Hajime Toyokura said.

"If the players strike, we are considering suing the players to seek compensation for damages," Toyokura said.

The owners are widely expected to give final approval to the merger tomorrow, which could lead to up to 100 players and team personnel losing jobs. It also could spur more mergers, reducing the two Central and Pacific leagues of six teams each to one 10-team league.

The players have said three conditions, including a one-year freeze on the proposed merger, must be met by Friday. If not, they will refuse to play all weekend games for the rest of the month, public broadcaster NHK said.

Earlier yesterday, a Japanese high court upheld a district court ruling allowing the merger to proceed, rejecting an appeal by the players.

A strike could affect the playoffs and Japan Series championships in October and possibly a major league all-star tour of Japan in November.

-- From News Services