ST. LOUIS -- While the Tigers and Cardinals are still in the early stages of determining baseball's big winner, the sport itself already won the big one with Tuesday's announcement of a new labor agreement between owners and players.

Word of the new five-year Collective Bargaining Agreement between MLB and the MLB Players Association stretched a rainbow over the 2006 World Series to rival the Gateway Arch.

Team officials, players and fans unanimously applauded the development, hammered out two months before the current agreement expires on Dec. 19.

Even while Commissioner Bud Selig and Don Fehr, executive director of the MLBPA, were still taking bows at the announcement press conference in Busch Stadium, the phrase heard most often from all precincts was, "It's a great time in the game."

"It was a pretty gratifying process," said Boston second baseman Mark Loretta, the American League representative involved in the negotiations. "I think both sides were really intent on getting a deal, and the owners really wanted to have this done during the World Series. I think it's really a historical agreement.

"I think the most important thing is, it guarantees labor peace for the next five years, and we'll end up being 16 years between the last time the game was stopped and [when it could next happen]. That's very significant," Loretta added. "It's good for everybody."

"We're obviously happy that we got the deal done," said Kevin McClatchy, the Pirates' CEO and general managing partner, who serves on the game's labor committee. "I think it shows that there is a significantly improved atmosphere as far as negotiations between the Players Association and the owners.

"The game's popularity is at an all-time high as far as attendance and other things. We've gone from a system where there was virtually no revenue sharing to a system where there is almost $300 million of revenue sharing. The system is getting better."

Shortly before the start of Game 3, Tigers manager Jim Leyland said, "The game is booming. I think the game is very healthy right now. Whatever is good for baseball is good for Jim Leyland."

"It's like a $5 billion industry now, right? And as much as I was critical of Bud Selig," said Tigers reliever Todd Jones, "when he first took over, it was $1.2 billion, and he's really grown it. He's done a good job. I need to be having a big plate of Bud Selig crow and eating it myself, because I've been pretty critical in past articles."

Colorado reliever Ray King, a member of the MLBPA executive council who has participated in prior negotiations, expressed the universal delight over the length and timing of this agreement.

"I had a chance to really get in on the dynamics of this deal, putting in long hours, conference calls every day," King said. "To ... announce it today and be a part of it, it's something great for the game of baseball. We know for the next five years there's no interruptions.

"It's a great time," King added. "I wake up every morning in my house, and I thank baseball for enabling me to have the things I have and the things my kids have."

Fans watching the game in brisk weather saluted the game and its "guardians" for this development.

"I think it's awesome. It's good for the sport," said Desiree Sneed of St. Louis. "It's great that they kept the public in mind and negotiated behind the scenes. It appears to have been an easy agreement."

Brad Luberda of St. Louis said baseball "brings so much revenue to the city. It's great that we'll have baseball around without being concerned about a strike."

"I love the fact that we've been able to reach an agreement without going through the difficulties we've gone through in the past," said Tom Hicks, owner of the Texas Rangers. "It's very positive for baseball, positive for the players, for the teams and the fans.

"The reality is, baseball is extremely healthy. You have to give Bud a lot of credit in calming the turbulent waters with labor, along with Rob Manfred, Bob DuPuy and the leaders on the other side."

"Labor peace is good for the game," said Craig Counsell, who played for the Arizona Diamondbacks this season. "Interest is at an all-time high. When focus is on the field, it's good for baseball and good for us."

Jeremy Bonderman, who will start for the Tigers in Wednesday's Game 4 of the World Series, said, "I think it's good for the game. Baseball is drawing a lot of fans, and there's a lot of good things going on with this sport."