Leyland lets series critics have a piece of his mind Quality of teams defended, ratings emphasis is rapped

October 24, 1997|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

CLEVELAND -- Florida Marlins manager Jim Leyland is mad as hell and he isn't going to take it anymore.

Leyland, responding to the latest round of questions about the lack of interest in the 93rd World Series, erupted yesterday during a pre-game news conference and leveled broadsides at anyone and everyone who has been critical of the Fall Classic.

"I was very upset about some comments along those lines because I'm sick and tired of hearing about New York, Atlanta and Baltimore," Leyland said.

"Mike Hargrove said it best. They had the same chance that we did. We won it. We are the teams that are supposed to be here, and it makes me puke when I continue to hear people talking about the Marlins and Indians. We deserve to be here."

He was just getting started. The Marlins are the first wild-card team to reach the World Series. The Indians had the fourth-best record in the American League. The matchup has been a television ratings nightmare. But both teams won two playoff series against the more marketable clubs to get here.

"Aren't our fans entitled?" Leyland said. "We had 67,000 people, the second-largest crowd to see a World Series game since the White Sox played the Dodgers at the Coliseum in Los Angeles in 1959. I'm basically sick and tired of hearing the weak comments about the pitchers and everyone crying because Atlanta, Baltimore and New York aren't here.

"We beat them, and the Indians beat everyone they had to beat. And, to be honest with you, the subject is over and it's making me puke."

Specifically, Leyland was responding to a question about comments made Wednesday by interim commissioner Bud Selig, who cited the turgid pace of Game 3 as an example of why NBC is registering some of the lowest viewership numbers in history. The Series is on track to average a 15.5 rating, which would be the lowest since the networks began tracking viewership data in 1959.

"The game [Game 3] was terribly ugly," Selig said. "The unfinished symphony had a better chance of being finished than that game."

When Leyland was questioned about Selig's comments, he first chuckled -- as if to instruct the audience to consider the source -- then became visibly angry. He blasted Major League Baseball for starting games so late and putting the ratings ahead of the ability of young viewers and working people to watch the games from start to finish.

"Everybody is throwing stones, and in my opinion we contradict ourselves a lot in baseball," he said. "We're trying to get the youth back involved, but for God's sake most youth are sleeping by 9 o'clock, and more importantly, so is the guy that works from seven o'clock to four or five in the afternoon. The blue-collar guy is tired. By the sixth [inning], I think he's in la-la land somewhere.

"So I don't want to hear about everything that's not perfect about us being in the Series. We've got a hell of a lot bigger problems in baseball than worrying about the things we're talking about -- the TV thing with NBC -- we've got a lot more problems than that. That's not very high on the list, in fact. The ratings of this World Series is not very high on the list of problems we've got with baseball."

Indians manager Mike Hargrove was far less animated, but he has been saying all along that talk about the quality of the teams in the World Series is unfair. The Indians faced the same situation in the American League Championship Series, when it seemed as if everyone outside of Cleveland was hoping to see the Orioles play the Yankees.

"I think we've felt underappreciated all year long," Hargrove said. "But as I've said before, if people have a problem with us being here, that's their problem. We beat good teams to get here. I don't remember anybody saying after we won 99 games last year that it was unfair that the best team in baseball wasn't in the World Series.

"Yeah, it's upsetting. I think Jim is as proud of his club as I am of mine. We don't have anything to apologize for."

Pub Date: 10/24/97

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