Buc fans aren't stopping in Pittsburgh, and Leyland is angry

The Inside Stuff

July 07, 1992|By Bill Tanton

With the Orioles doing gang busters at Camden Yards, selling out regularly and heading for a season's attendance of 3.5 million, it's easy for Baltimore fans to forget how baseball is struggling in other major-league cities.

Pittsburgh manager Jim Leyland made some aware of the situation with the blast he delivered after his Pirates and Cincinnati -- both division leaders -- drew only 95,191 for four games last weekend at Three Rivers Stadium.

"Where are all the people?" Leyland snapped after Sunday's game drew only 24,369. "Our support should be better.

"When I took this job, people told me, 'Put a winner on the field and you'll draw.' We've had a winner here for 2 1/2 years and the only teams we outdraw are Montreal and Houston."

Leyland has put a winner on the field, all right. The Pirates won the National League East in each of the last two seasons. Yet the club expects to draw 1.7 million this year.

"I've heard 20 excuses and I'm tired of them," fumed Leyland. "Don't other cities have bad weather? Don't other cities have school? I'm tired of holding it in."

Leyland is hardly sicker about it than the club's owners. The Pirates have lost $13 million since 1989. They lost $3 million last year -- even though they came within one game of going to the World Series.

The malaise is not peculiar to Pittsburgh.

Attendance is down from '91 in half the big-league cities. TV ratings have been dropping since 1989. Half the teams lost money last year. Even more are expected to finish in the red this year.

At a time when baseball euphoria prevails in Baltimore, when the Orioles' profits are likely to exceed preseason projections, throughout the game there is talk of labor difficulties.

The players' collective bargaining agreement expires after '93, but the owners hope to reopen the contract after this season.

Ex-Oriole Mark Belanger, assistant to players association executive director Donald Fehr, was asked at a July 4 cookout on Middle River if there could be a strike in '93.

"There'll be a lockout before there's a strike," he answered.

The way the Orioles are making money now, the last thing owner Eli Jacobs would want, it seems to me, is to lock out the players next season -- the year when Baltimore plays host to the All-Star Game.

It could happen though, unthinkable as it might seem at the moment to Orioles fans.

* Baltimore's light rail system is a terrific way to go to Oriole Park at Camden Yards -- when it works.

Public confidence is not built, however, with the kind of first experience Walter Romans had. Romans, golf pro emeritus at the Baltimore Country Club, took the light rail to the Orioles game last Wednesday afternoon.

"Everything went fine," he said, "until the return trip after the game. The train broke down at Woodberry. We were stuck there for an hour and a half. Kids on the train were crying and everything. It was terrible."

MTA has to do better than that.

* Romans, incidentally, agrees with Seve Ballesteros, who wrote in a magazine recently that it doesn't matter how bad a golf swing is; what matters is how the swing is when the ball is struck.

"The last 12 inches is what matters," says Romans, who in more than 50 years as a teaching pro gave thousands of lessons. "That's why the simpler your swing is, the better off you are. Doug Sanders' swing was so compact they used to say he could hit the ball in a phone booth."

* Although Andre Agassi's hirsute appearance is a turn-off to many people over his age (22), he surprised TV audiences with his soft-spoken, mild-mannered demeanor after winning Wimbledon. MacGregor Stewart, who was an amateur tennis and badminton champion in Baltimore in the '50s and '60s, says now of Andre: "I don't care much for his appearance, but I think he really is a good kid."

Agassi is only the third American to win Wimbledon in the last 20 years. The others were John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors.

Agassi, by the way, is due to appear in this area next week in the NationsBank Tennis Classic in Washington. So is Wimbledon semifinalist McEnroe. The dates are July 11-19. The site: the Fitzgerald Tennis Center at 16th and Kennedy streets, NW.

Recently, the D.C. tourney has been hurt by last-minute player defections. This would be a good year to keep everybody.

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