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MLB owners voted unanimously to approve a proposal to experiment with limited interleague play in '97. Under the plan, each team will play 15-16 games versus teams from the same division in the opposite league; games will be played around Memorial Day and Labor Day; the DH will be used in AL parks only ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 1/18). WHAT MAKES BUD HAPPY? NEWSDAY's Jon Heyman writes, "Yesterday was a rare day for total good feeling in the baseball community" (NEWSDAY, 1/19). Murray Chass notes the likely controversy over the DH under the new system, but writes acting MLB Commissioner Bud Selig "was too ecstatic, though, to allow details such as the [DH] to intrude on his elation" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/19). Selig: "I think the DH is a nonissue" (I.J. Rosenberg, ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, 1/19). Selig, on possible union opposition: "Don [Fehr] and I personally have talked about interleague play for a long time and its a subject we've never had any disagreement on" (Tom Keegan, N.Y. POST, 1/19). Red Sox CEO John Harrington, on the DH: "It might kill interleague play, but I don't expect the union to do that" (BOSTON GLOBE, 1/19). TV REAX: ESPN's Charley Steiner: "On a day when Lisa Marie tells Michael to beat it, when Disney buys the Angels in the outfield -- and the infield, and the dugout, and the bullpen -- Major League Baseball took a major step towards Fantasy Land." Peter Gammons: "All that's happened the last couple years has been about demographics. ... They are trying to address some fans who really don't care about numbers, but about moving forward" ("SportsCenter," 1/18). PRINT REAX: In Philadelphia, Bill Conlin: "Interleague play will work better only because nothing the owners came up with in Los Angeles could possibly be worse than the Baseball Network" (PHILA. DAILY NEWS, 1/19). In Chicago, Bob Verdi: "This schedule modification is so overdue and so logical that even the union's most militant soldiers will have to dig deep for causes to resist" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 1/18). In New York, Mike Lupica -- arguing that MLB needs a CBA, a commissioner, revenue-sharing and a less confrontational union: "Baseball did not take a giant step forward yesterday with interleague play. It just danced a little more" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 1/19). Ira Berkow, who argues for realignment: "Baseball was frightened into it" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/19). Steve Jacobson: "In a word, it stinks. It messes up a century of geometry" (NEWSDAY, 1/19). In Washington, Tom Boswell: "It's about time baseball tried to please the public, even if embracing change leads to a few errors in judgment" (WASHINGTON POST, 1/19). In Atlanta, I.J. Rosenberg: "Interleague play should put a charge into a sport that continues to try to regain what it lost in the strike" (ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, 1/19). But Terence Moore adds, the problem with baseball isn't the lack of interleague play, it's the lack of a CBA -- and the fact "that most of those who run the game would rather trick the public with smoke and mirrors" (ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, 1/19). In Orlando, George Diaz writes, "For once, baseball got it right" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 1/19). In Tampa, Martin Fennelly: "Interleague play isn't a grim reaper. He has come and going, going, gone" (TAMPA TRIBUNE, 1/19). In Dallas, Cathy Harasta: "Making sense and taking a positive step? Baseball owners?" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 1/19).
MLBPA Exec Dir Don Fehr said in a memo distributed to players yesterday that the owners' latest labor proposal "does not appear to differ significantly from the owners' proposals of March." According to Mark Maske of the WASHINGTON POST, it was a signal "that the game's labor negotiations continue to go nowhere." Fehr said in the memo that the union hopes to resume talks "very soon, at the latest prior to the beginning of spring training." Acting MLB Commissioner Bud Selig said he is "confident" the coming season will not be interrupted (WASHINGTON POST, 1/19). In New York, Murray Chass predicts a union counter- proposal "early next month" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/19). In Chicago, Jerome Holtzman predicts another midseason impasse and a return to court. Holtzman foresees Fehr using interleague play -- and a subsequent demand the DH be expanded to the NL -- as a bargaining chip in overall labor talks (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 1/18). In Phila., Bill Conlin writes, "Two months to reply, informally, of course, to a proposal Fehr says is unchanged from that of last March?" (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 1/19). OTHER POST-MEETING NOTES: A report obtained by USA TODAY's Hal Bodley shows that for the first time, the top five revenue- producing teams also have the top payrolls. The difference in average payroll between the top five teams and the bottom five is $29,892,814 (USA TODAY, 1/19).
The state of Maryland and the Maryland Stadium Authority filed a $36M federal antitrust suit against the NFL and 29 of its 30 teams "in an attempt to hasten the move of the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore for the 1996 season," according to the WASHINGTON POST. Maryland Stadium Authority Chair John Moag announced the filing of the suit in Baltimore District Court by saying they were "prompted by the illegal failure of the NFL to approve the move." NFL owners ended their January meetings in Atlanta yesterday with no decision on the Browns' move. Moag: "This is obviously a preemptory move on our part." The suit claims the league violated state and federal antitrust laws by preventing the Authority from competing for teams, asserting its right to block the move, injuring the Authority financially (delays will cost more than $30M in extra bond payments), and injuring the MD economy. The suit seeks to an order banning the NFL from interfering as well as fines and damages. NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said the Browns issue will be taken up at a special meeting on February 8-9, at a location to be determined. Tagliabue said at that time he will deliver his report on the Browns situation and possibly a personal recommendation one way or the other (Leonard Shapiro, WASHINGTON POST, 1/19). LOOKING AHEAD: There was "speculation" that the owners would vote in February to approve the move while promising Cleveland a team once a new stadium is built. But Fred Nance, lead attorney for the city of Cleveland, said a non-binding promise is not acceptable. Tagliabue said the league would not force the Bucs to move to Cleveland to resolve the matter, but he left open the possibility of that happening on its own (Hubbuch & Adams, Akron BEACON JOURNAL, 1/19). Yesterday, while noting that "insiders say there is nothing to the Tampa Bay part of this triangle," Will McDonough reported "preliminary talks have begun" to get the Bucs to Cleveland with an eye on a settlement before a February vote (BOSTON GLOBE, 1/18). USA TODAY's Gordon Forbes: "The big question: Would Malcom Glazer and Art Modell consider swapping franchises, Glazer keeping the Browns in Cleveland and Modell moving the Bucs to Baltimore?" (USA TODAY, 1/19). Today's TAMPA TRIBUNE reiterates that three league sources say the Glazers have had talks with an unnamed "point man" in Cleveland, but NFL Counsel Jay Moyer said, "They haven't said to us that they want to move" (Yasinskas & Henderson, TAMPA TRIBUNE, 1/19). LABOR DEAL ALSO DELAYED: The owners also failed to vote on the extension of the current CBA with the players. The league is expected also to take up that issue at the special February meeting (WASHINGTON POST, 1/19). McDonough reports there is a revenue-sharing deal in the works in which the teams with the most lucrative stadium deals would share with lesser teams (BOSTON GLOBE, 1/18).
The 46th NHL All-Star Game will be played tomorrow evening in Boston's FleetCenter, and media coverage in Boston is heavy with All-Star news and NHL profiles. The BOSTON GLOBE's David Halbfinger writes on the strategy of NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman in "marketing a sport whose appeal has long been too narrow, the audience too small." Bettman's plan "is a simple one. Get the sport in front of as many eyeballs as possible." Rick Dudley, Senior VP at NHL Enterprises, said the league recently went after sponsors who would give "a real commitment" to the sport. Halbfinger notes the two-year deal with Campbell Soup's Chunky brand, who, in turn, have spent heavily on point- of-purchase and in-store presence. The league has also "dropped some existing sponsors," like Thrifty Car Rental, when they "balked at the NHL's new demands for exposure" (BOSTON GLOBE, 1/19). Bettman is also featured by Kevin Paul Dupont, under "Bettman Continues to Twirl His Magic." Bettman: "My focus has been: 'Give us a chance.' We have a fast-paced, hard hitting, exciting game." Bettman dismisses talk the NHL has to "catch" the NBA, NFL, or MLB. He adds, "We have to be everything we can be .... Are we there yet? No, but I think we're getting there" (BOSTON GLOBE, 1/19). CRACKS IN THE ICE? In a feature in today's WALL STREET JOURNAL, John Helyar writes the All-Star weekend "reaffirms that pro hockey has finally skated out of the Dark Ages, under the guidance" of Bettman. But despite the optimism, Helyar notes some problems, including a slight drop-off in attendance. Helyar: "Too many lockout aftershocks, too many shaky franchises, too many pricey tickets. Despite the NHL's slick image, the league has a number of rough spots." Heylar examines each, writing, "All the hype in the world from NHL headquarters can't overcome local ownership weaknesses." One explanation comes from NHLPA Exec Dir Bob Goodenow: "Hockey has expanded into a bigger, more complicated business, and some teams have been owned by people who maybe saw it as a hobby or a business not deserving of their greatest attention. The new environment is hard for these owners to operate in" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 1/19). In Philadelphia, Les Bowen writes the 46th All- Star game comes a year later than planned due to the '94 lockout, and "it's safe to say that very few people eagerly awaited its return" (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 1/19). In Ottawa, Roy MacGregor writes that "one day sports historians may say it was here [in Boston] ... where hockey took leave of this world." He writes of Fox's new computerized puck, the video enhanced NHLFANtasy at the World Trade Center, and, "much to the shock of those who came of age during the 1960's, you will find Peter Max" -- the official artist of the All-Star Game (OTTAWA CITIZEN, 1/19).