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With its cover story on baseball, the July 10 issue of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED examines the dilemma facing some erstwhile baseball fans: How to reconcile anger at the sport with the fact that the season is turning out to be "fantastic." Tom Verducci writes, "Like an ocean tide, baseball churns on relentlessly, its pull on you greater beneath the surface than above. That hasn't changed. Baseball's quietest season offers its own pleasures. You don't know what you're missing. Or do you?" (SI, 7/10). In L.A., Ross Newhan writes, "Declining attendance continues to affect nearly every franchise, but time seems to have eased some of the hurt. Approaching the symbolic midpoint of a delayed season, the damage has become tougher to measure." Newhan reports that a new marketing department will be opened in MLB's New York office with successful local promotions tried "on the national stage" (L.A. TIMES, 7/6). OFF-THE-FIELD: In a separate piece, SI's Verducci writes that, after months of silence, labor negotiations between owners and players "are about to get more difficult." Braves President Stan Kasten: "A lot of teams are digging in more and more as this goes on. The economics have changed too much since March." Verducci reports that one group of owners, led by the White Sox's Jerry Reinsdorf, is actually pushing for a return to the salary cap, while Red Sox CEO John Harrington can only hope to have a deal "maybe by Thanksgiving or into December." Giants Owner Peter Magowan: "It's scary. On the other hand, the players ought to be able to see it: The revenue isn't there anymore." According to Verducci, the owners have split into three groups: hard-liners, moderates and doves. Some of the doves -- "ready to sign just about anything" -- want Bud Selig and his "small-market agenda" out of the way. Harrington puts that faction at "two or three. They'll never have a majority" (SI, 7/10 issue). ALL-STAR UPDATE: In Ft. Worth, Kathryn Hopper reports that demand for tickets "isn't as hot as in years past," but local ticket brokers believe that could change. Hideo Nomo could be a draw, particularly among West Coast fans and Japanese businessmen. But Barry Lefcowitz, head of the National Association of Ticket Brokers, calls the game "a flop." MLB spokesperson Rich Levin: "It's a sellout. ... As far as we're concerned, it's a success" (FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 7/6). A N.Y. POST header picked up on Lefcowitz's comment: "ALL-STAR GAME'S 'A FLOP'" (N.Y. POST, 7/6).
The NLRB will decide in "two to three weeks" whether to allow a vote by members of the NBPA to decertify the union as their collective bargaining representative, according to this morning's WASHINGTON POST. Attorneys for the NBA, the NBPA and a group of dissident players met in New York "to debate who is eligible to vote on decertification and when and how players will cast ballots if an election takes place, but failed to reach an agreement." The NLRB officer who presided over the hearing asked the three sides to submit briefs on July 14, "making it likely" that Daniel Silverman, the NLRB's New York regional director, will announce his decision the following week. Jeffrey Kessler, attorney for the 17 players who petitioned the NLRB for decertification, wants a vote in early August, while the league and union prefer to hold it during training camps in October. If the lockout is still in effect in October, league and union officials would agree to voting at NLRB offices around the country (WASHINGTON POST, 7/6). SIGN HERE: While Kessler submitted 180 signatures in support of the effort, NBA attorney Howard Ganz pointed out that 146 were faxed from agents' offices. Ganz: "This proceeding was commenced under false pretenses. The players who lent their names to decertification forms, we believe that evidence shows that players were sold a bill of goods" (WASHINGTON POST, 7/6). Kessler said he hopes to have 200 signatures "real soon" (Thomas Hill, N.Y. POST, 7/6). NEW YORK PRESS: The New York media focused largely on the fact that teammates Patrick Ewing and NBPA VP Charles Smith were on opposite sides of the dispute. Shaun Powell called it "Knick vs. Knick" (NEWSDAY, 7/6). CNN's Mark Morgan: "This is not a run-of-the-mill labor struggle. This pits players against players" ("Sports Tonight," CNN, 7/5). COMMENTARY: SI's "Scorecard": "That [Simon] Gourdine's group could have reached an agreement that so many of its constituents find distasteful shows that they were out of touch with the people they were representing, a cardinal sin for union leaders. ... Somebody had better start actively cooperating. The first step toward saving the season is having the players decide what they want and whom they want to get it for them" (SI, 7/10 issue).