Baseball fans around the world can now rejoice: Mighty Casey will get another chance! The players and owners reached a historic collective bargaining agreement this afternoon, averting what would have been the ninth work stoppage in the sport's history... just before the strike deadline.

Both sides sacrificed to get this deal done, and the end result should be a better competitive balance between large- and small-market teams. Besides the compromises on payroll taxes and minimum salaries, the players consented to random steroid testing, and the owners agreed to not eliminate any franchises during the four-year contract.

As a result of today's agreement, The Motley Fool 50 finished the session nearly even, and then boarded a bus for Chicago to catch the Cards-Cubs game. Woo-hoo!

In today's Motley Fool Take:

Strike None!

More than a few publicly traded companies were biting their nails as the future of the 2002 baseball season hung in the balance. Let's go over a few of these Cracker Jack stocks.

While a few companies have ownership ties with individual major league teams, they're usually large conglomerates with more going on than a 3-2 count with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth. In short, News Corp.(NYSE: NWS) has bigger fish to fry than what happens to its Los Angeles Dodgers team. But a company like Disney(NYSE: DIS) had more at stake. Beyond the fact that Disney's Anaheim Angels are a playoff contender this year, and wiping out the World Series (like eight years ago) would leave fans fuming, Disney also owns ESPN. The station would have needed to fill voids in baseball coverage and appease advertisers.

Smaller companies would have taken even bigger relative hits. After hailing the large number of paying fantasy-baseball customers earlier this year, SportsLine(Nasdaq: SPLN) would have been forced to dole out at least partial refunds. That's hardly what the company needed when it's rolling out higher-profile football fantasy leagues. Then there's Topps(Nasdaq: TOPP), knowing sticks of gum just won't sell as well without complete season trading cards.

Don't forget companies that rely on the strength of baseball's merchandising. From athletic-apparel makers to sporting-goods retailers, baseball is more than just a game. And more than just fans are welcoming the "play ball" cry from the home-base umpire.

Quote of Note

"If a woman has to choose between catching a fly ball and saving an infant's life, she will choose to save the infant's life without even considering if there is a man on base." -- Dave Barry, Pulitzer Prize-winning humor columnist, The Miami Herald

Ericsson Threatens Sony

Ericsson (Nasdaq: ERICY) announced today it would end its joint venture with Sony(NYSE: SNE) if mobile-handset sales don't increase over the next two or three quarters. If this happens, it will signal the ignoble end to the participation of one of the three formerly dominant handset makers.

Ericsson's tormentors are legion. The difference between Ericsson's experience in this market and George Custer's in his last stand at Little Bighorn is that Ericsson knows in advance who its tormentors are and recognizes its position is dire. Starring as Sitting Bull is Nokia(NYSE: NOK), the dominant handset maker, with more than 35% of the market. And also starring, as Crazy Horse, Samsung, which has come on the scene to rapidly gain market share, particularly at the lower end. According to Gartner Group, Ericsson's share of the market is just over 5%.

Ericsson and Sony announced this partnership last October. Even then, it was a poorly kept secret that both were seeking to bolster their respective money-losing handset divisions with some good ol' economy of scale. At the time, the companies projected the joint venture would achieve profitability by its first year of existence. This hasn't happened, and rapidly dwindling sales threaten any possibility of it happening anytime soon.

Less than two years ago, it seemed to many that Ericsson's price at below $20 per share was unbelievably cheap. As of this afternoon, it was $0.75. While none of the handset manufacturers has had a good go, from a share-price perspective, they haven't endured these kinds of shattering declines, either. Ericsson's evaporation shows what can happen to a company with a declining position in a maturing market. It's the mobile-phone version of former PC giant AST. And for all intents and purposes, it's setting itself up to evacuate from a position that's no longer tenable.

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Nothing to Fear but feardotcom

Horror buffs looking to dumb down after the heady chills of the late-summer sensation Signs might be flocking to the movies this weekend. Under the AOL Time Warner(NYSE: AOL) banner, feardotcom opens today in theaters across the country. Don't worry. The media giant has soft expectations for this low-end flick, saving its banking power for the no-brainer blockbuster success later this year when Harry Potter and Frodo Baggins return to the big screen.

The premise of feardotcom, in which bad things happen to folks lured into pursuing tantalizing fantasies online, sounds awfully familiar. Wasn't that what the Internet bubble was all about? Granted, you have to draw the line to separate capitulation from decapitation, but neither movie nor mania spared much in terms of bloodshed. feardotcom is rated R for, among other things, "grisly images of torture," and that pretty much sums up what happened as Silicon Valley touched down on terra firma.

It's a different scene out there in the Internet sector right now. Companies that no longer have a license to burn money are running more efficiently or folding. Companies who figured eyeballs were the only metric that mattered are now more concerned with the pocketbooks behind the eyeballs.

It's true. A study by Forrester Research and Boston Consulting Group revealed that the majority of the 107 largest Internet retailers turned an operating profit last year. Meanwhile, content sites are also recovering nicely now that ad spending has stabilized this year. So, walk through the ruins of the online sector, and it doesn't look all that scary right now. Less players carving larger slices of the market is good enough for growth, even through stagnancy.

No, that's not very frightening at all. At this point, there's nothing to fear but feardotcom itself.

Discussion Board of the Day: New Paradigm Investing

Do you still have an interest in new economy stocks even if they're not exactly in fashion right now? Isn't that a good sign? What the heck were Stephen Dorff and Stephen Rea thinking when they signed up for feardotcom anyway? All this and more -- in the New Paradigm Investing discussion board. Only on

Quick Takes

Even though Major League Baseball settled its problem, there's still lots of labor news to talk about. Midwest Express Holdings(NYSE: MEH) -- the parent of Midwest Express Airlines -- failed to come to an agreement with its flight attendants. The attendants could strike as early as today, although the airline says its service should not be interrupted.

Meanwhile, Boeing's(NYSE: BA) machinist's union has promised to keep working even though the company broke off negotiations. The two sides were facing a Sunday night deadline, but federal mediators asked the union to avoid a strike. It agreed for the time being -- but said it's still a possibility.

Finally, United Airlines(NYSE: UAL) is trying to cut $9 billion in expenses over the next few years in order to avoid Chapter 11. United's pilots, however, are calling the plan unacceptable -- especially since they would be among the hardest hit by the cutbacks. Workers have a majority stake in the airline, and the pilots comprise the most powerful employee group.

Sun Microsystems (Nasdaq: SUNW) is still painting a rather gloomy outlook for the tech sector. After the bell yesterday, the computer maker warned that revenue would come in at the bottom range of its forecast. "We have not seen any improvement in the current IT spending environment." said CFO Steve McGowan. "In fact, some would say it may actually be worsening."

And Finally...

Today on Two years ago, Barron's called 207 dot-coms to the carpet. Where are those companies now?... You're better off repairing your own credit, in Fool's School. In our Tax Center, paperwork to keep for tax time.

Bob Bobala, Robert Brokamp, Tom Jacobs, Bill Mann, Selena Maranjian, Rex Moore, Rick Munarriz, Jackie Ross, Reggie Santiago, Dayana Yochim