Ho-hum, baseball talks may resume, some say

June 14, 1995|By PHIL JACKMAN

The end of the first quarter of the baseball season is at hand, in case you hadn't noticed, the favored New York Yankees are the team fulfilling all the requirements for the term "June Swoon" and July is just beyond the next 36-hour cool spell.

Normally, all would be right with our once-flanneled gods of the diamond, those great civic benefactors the owners and the true purveyors of "This Great Game," the fans.

But as all of us know, save for a couple dozen franchise holders, normal is in the process of being overhauled. A while back, the game's acting commissioner, Bud Selig, said it was too early to make any "snap judgments" about the rampant ennui developing toward the game by once devout followers.

Attendance is down a bunch in most places. Local TV carriers of games are sweating as they stage all-out war with test patterns for ratings. On the national scene, it hasn't gotten there yet, but there's at least a possibility that the audience for a Sunday night game on ESPN could consist of the VCRs of announcers Jon Miller and Joe Morgan back home.

"Never let them see you sweat," used to be the tag line of a commercial on the tube, and apparently the owners have adopted this as their first commandment. Their inaction toward setting out to solve the problems that have plagued the game for years now would be an impeachable offense if we were talking politics.

After 2 1/2 months, 11 weeks (tomorrow), 75 days and 1,800 hours, management still isn't sure if it wants to rush back into talks with labor for the purpose of hammering out a new bargaining agreement. Imagine Rip Van Winkle awakening from his 20-year snooze and asking, "Say, Abner, are they still arguing about the basic agreement?"

Some are suggesting the resumption of bargaining is at hand but it hasn't been substantiated beyond the idle rumor stage. It does qualify as third-hand hearsay evidence, however, similar to the one about Al Davis moving the Oakland Raiders out of Los Angeles after an interim stay of 13 years.

Word is talks will resume "very soon," which in the space-time continuum could mean at any moment prior to the arrival of the next ice age.

The last time the adversaries met to break bread, promises, their word and various parts of the human anatomy was March 30, the day before the players ended their strike before the issuance of an injunction by a federal judge saying get back to work.

With each passing day come stories of ballclubs reaching toward the panic button with both hands. Yesterday, for instance, the San Diego Padres announced all kids 14-and-under will be admitted free to all Sunday games from now on. The thinking here is that an adult will be with each one (or two or three).

By today's standards, the Padres hardly drew a quorum to most of their games last year, and the turnstiles are running 28 percent behind those figures. Scads of other teams aren't doing much better, the game's attendance being down about 25 percent. And that's skipping all those games in April when the fans only show up on weekends.

Team spokesman Charlie Steinberg, who until last year was an Orioles employee, says, "What we're trying to do is make sure that all families in our region are welcomed back, not simply to get over the recent frustrations that everyone in baseball has suffered, but also to recover from the more long-term frustrations in San Diego." Charlie's words used to make more sense when he worked here.

But he and numerous other non-decision makers in the game are operating under a huge handicap, their bosses. Too many of these guys are convinced that everything will be back to normal, people knocking down the gates and scooping up the paraphernalia from the concession stands, as soon as stirring races infect all six divisions. An extra round of playoffs, thousands of meaningful games and the greenbacks rolling in, yippee.

Fool me once, your fault; fool me twice, my fault. Trust is not something you get back readily if indeed it can ever be regained totally. Some of these guys must know that.

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