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The reluctance of baseball fans to return to MLB stadiums in droves this Opening Week is the focus of much media attention. ABC's Armen Keteyian: "Baseball may be back but its vital signs are decidedly mixed." Rangers President Tom Schieffer: "There's going to be a period of time here that's going to be pretty hard" ("World News Tonight," 4/27). In this morning's WALL STREET JOURNAL, Frederick Klein notes the fans' threats to get "revenge by staying home," and writes, "Sure, we nodded, we've heard that before. But maybe more attention should have been paid to them" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 4/28). ESPN's Keith Olbermann: "It is far too early to suggest that the near- boycott conditions will continue in whole or in part, but if they do, the decline from '94-95 might be the steepest attendance drop since the Players League War of 1890" ("SportsCenter," 4/27). ESPN's Peter Gammons: "I'd really like to thank the players union for threatening to strike the All-Star game. I mean, let's try to keep the fans away and turned off as much as possible. That's just ridiculous" ("Baseball Tonight," 4/27). NEWSDAY's Steve Zipay notes that ratings were up in New York for both the Yankees' home opener on MSG and the Mets road opener on SportsChannel (N.Y. NEWSDAY, 4/28). Tonight's "Nightly Business Report" will report on the business of baseball (PBS, 4/27). AROUND THE LEAGUE: In Toronto, Jim Proudfoot calls yesterday's 31,073 crowd -- the smallest ever at SkyDome -- "downright worrisome" (TORONTO STAR, 4/28). Although the official count for yesterday's Braves game was 26,120, I.J. Rosenberg reports an actual crowd of 10,000-16,000 and cites "obvious distaste for major league baseball" (ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, 4/28). The Giants expect 30,000 for today's home opener, around half of what they drew last season (SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE, 4/28). Finally, the Mets have only sold 20,000 for tonight's opener (N.Y. POST, 4/28).
The Ontario Labour Relations Board heard closing arguments yesterday from lawyers representing players, owners and umpires, but did not rule on whether replacement umps would be banned in Toronto under Ontario's anti-scab worker law. While noting that umpires had never filed as a union in Ontario, AL Counsel Roy Filion said the MLBUA "cherry picked this opportunity to bring this application forward" (Donovan Vincent, TORONTO STAR, 4/28). Blue Jays Counsel Gordon Kirke argued that the umps "are not employees of ball clubs because it would compromise their integrity" (Dan Ralph, CP/OTTAWA CITIZEN, 4/28). Meanwhile, Kirke told the OLRB that a ruling against the league would mean the Jays playing in Dunedin, FL -- an option that "sent a visible jolt" through Blue Jays President Paul Beeston (James Christie, Toronto GLOBE & MAIL, 4/28).
In the wake of the Reggie Lewis controversy which engulfed the city of Boston and NBA circles last month, the NBA's drug policy is examined in a front-page piece in this morning's BOSTON GLOBE. Noting that only two of the over 300 players in the NBA have been in treatment, Daniel Golden writes, "This small proportion compared with some other pro sports and the American workforce in general may mean only that the NBA is virtually drug-free." Yet in the wake of the disputed Lewis story, "drug specialists and several NBA coaches and players suggest that the league's policy may be ineffective in uncovering drug use." Dr. Lloyd Bacchus, an Atlanta psychiatrist who took over the NBA's drug program last year, "expressed concern" about the number of players treated. Bacchus has brought on two former NBA players, both recovering addicts, to counsel players on whether to come forward. Two key parts of the policy get close examination: the need for "probable cause" (as established by an arbitrator) before a veteran can be tested; and the exclusion of the teams from testing and treatment. NBA Senior VP for Legal & Business Affairs Jeffrey Mishkin, who noted that the policy is being reexamined as part of talks with the NBPA: "We believe the drug policy is working. We believe it's had a tremendous deterrent effect. Are we ferreting out every last use of cocaine? Probably not. There are obvious reasons why not" (BOSTON GLOBE, 4/28). STAY IN SCHOOL? In Washington, Tom Knott notes the "hypocrisy" of the NBA's "Stay in School" program while college sophomores and juniors are considering leaving school to enter the NBA draft (WASHINGTON TIMES, 4/28).