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MLBPA General Counsel Gene Orza continues to receive criticism for holding out the possibility that the players would boycott the All-Star Game if the owners again renege on the pension fund payment. For his part, Orza claims he responded to a hypothetical posed to him by a USA TODAY reporter. But others in baseball amnd the media made a point of the poor timing. Rangers President Tom Schieffer, whose team hosts this year's game: "It would be nice if Mr. Orza will let us play baseball for a while. We have plenty of time to get into an argument. We're going to play the All-Star Game. I think he knows that" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 4/28). In New York, Bill Madden writes that Orza "knows the owners have no intentions of creating another public relations boondoggle for themselves by holding back the pension payment. He also knows the owners are privately in agreement that failing to make the payment last year was just plain stupid" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 4/30). In L.A., Ross Newhan writes, "It would seem to be an issue that could have waited beyond opening day" (L.A. TIMES, 4/30). N.Y. TIMES' William Rhoden called Orza's comments "absolutely insane." NEWSDAY columnist Mike Lupica, who said he counts Orza as a friend, added that if any union officials "talk about boycotts of the All Star game or strikes, they ought to be fired" ("Sports Reporters," ESPN, 4/30).
"OUTSIDE THE LINES": ESPN presented a special "Outside the Lines" on baseball's return. In the first segment, Bob Ley reported from Fenway Park, where the Red Sox have put a lower- budget team on the field and are beginning to plot out strategies for a new stadium. Mark Malone reported from small-market Pittsburgh, where the Pirates and Expos played, two teams with similar finances. Pirates President Mark Sauer: "Under the current economic system in Major League Baseball, this franchise cannot compete." Other reports: The saga of Andy Van Slyke; MLB's "Welcome to the Show" ad campaign and efforts to improve fan relations; the umps' lockout; Denver's new park; and how replacement players can expect to be treated as time goes on (ESPN, 4/28). ATTENDANCE BY THE NUMBERS: ESPN's Keith Olbermann reported that attendance for second-day ballgames was down 34.7%, the average drop was 10,598. Olbermann also noted that AA Jackson and AAA Iowa outdrew the Pirates Thursday ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 4/28). CNN's Mark Morgan reported AL attendance for home openers was down 20.2%, and the NL down 17.3% (not including Colorado) ("Sports Tonight," 4/29).AVERAGE FIRST WEEKEND ATTENDANCE:YEARAVERAGE199018,719 (lockout year)199128,514199230,334199332,323199428,035199525,464 ("Baseball Tonight," 4/30).
MA Lawmakers approved a $150,000 grant to subsidize the "financially troubled" PGA Tournament at Pleasant Valley Country Club in Sutton. This year marks the first time that MA taxpayers will "directly subsidize" the PGA event, called the New England Classic (BOSTON HERALD, 4/28)....In Tampa Bay, the St. Pete/Clearwater Sports Foundation is looking for a major sponsor in order to announce their plans for a new LPGA Tour stop at Largo's Bayou Golf Club. Originally, the Foundation hoped to announce its sponsor today, but they now need more time (TAMPA TRIBUNE, 4/28).
The Ontario Labor Relations Board ruled Friday that MLB umpires cannot be locked out of games played at SkyDome and that replacement umps will not be allowed to work Blue Jays' games after the team's first home stand which ends Wednesday. Regular umpires must work the next homestand, which begins May 9, or they would be in an "illegal strike" (Donovan Vincent, TORONTO STAR, 4/29). Jays President Paul Beeston, on the possibility of regular umpires returning for games at SkyDome only: "That is probably the scenario that you will see. Because as much as it is an illegal lockout, it is also an illegal strike" ("Sports Tonight," CNN, 4/28). ESPN's Peter Gammons said the situation "might" be settled because of the ruling and his guess is that they will settle ("Baseball Tonight," 4/20). The two sides are reportedly about $10M apart in what would be a four-year contract. "That's less than $400,000 a club, a bargain price for the best umpiring" (Dave Anderson, N.Y TIMES, 4/30). In New York, Phil Mushnick writes, according to a source "intimate with MLB's replacement umpires," several replacements "have been subjected to 'psychological terrorism,' including late night obscene phone calls to their wives and children during their absence from home" (N.Y. POST, 5/1).