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MLB OPENER: LEAGUE SLOWLY MAKING INROADS OR LOSING GROUND?
Published March 31, 1998
MLB opens its '98 season with 11 games on the schedule today, including the debut of expansion teams in Florida and Arizona. ESPN will televise three national games live, including the D'Backs opener at the BOB. With the start of a new season, many in the media are commenting on the health of the industry. A sampling follows (THE DAILY): SIGNS OF HOPE: In Chicago, Dave Van Dyck writes "there is no doubt baseball is improving its image" (SUN-TIMES, 3/31). In Cincinnati, Todd Archer wrote MLB is "thriving" in markets like Baltimore, Cleveland, Denver, N.Y., Boston, Atlanta, St. Pete and Arizona (CINCINNATI POST, 3/30). WAIT TILL NEXT YEAR? In Minneapolis, Rosalind Bentley: "With snowboarding, figure skating, soccer, basketball and football vying for kids' attention, baseball is losing some of the luster it once had." Bentley adds that "most of today's children would rather gather around a TV to watch sports action -- and baseball just doesn't have enough of it, they say" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 3/31). In Dallas, a MORNING NEWS editorial says MLB "has grown up, but not necessarily matured. Its flaws seem more monumental than its accomplishments. ... [A]mid rising salaries, free agency and labor problems, a growing cadre of once loyal fans are finding it harder to return to the sport" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 3/31). A S.F. CHRONICLE editorial says MLB attendance "is creeping back to pre-strike levels. But fans are turned off by gargantuan salaries and the ever-changing cast of mercenaries on the home team" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 3/31). In Miami, a HERALD editorial wonders if today's opener will be the "last first pitch" for the Marlins: "Baseball, for all the appeal of the game itself, is a troubled business. Nobody's in charge. Labor relations are dicey. Payroll growth is out of sync with revenue growth. ... Whether a team will play here next year may depend in part on how well the Marlins ... fare at the gate" (MIAMI HERALD, 3/31). BUILDING BLOCKS: Red Sox P Pedro Martinez is profiled by Mark Starr in NEWSWEEK, who writes, "[O]nly in baseball, with its clueless marketing and dearth of national broadcasts, could the highest-paid player in history be virtually unknown to average sports fans." More Starr: "Martinez covets what so many ballplayers eschew -- the chance to be a role model" (NEWSWEEK, 3/30 issue). Yankees SS Derek Jeter was profiled by Jack O'Connell in the HARTFORD COURANT. Jeter: "I want to represent baseball and the Yankees properly. ... That's why my attitude has always been that I need to come to the park as prepared as I can be every day. You can't do that if you're out partying every night." Jeter currently has six-figure endorsement deals with PepsiCo, Fila and Discover Card: "A lot of stuff came in, but I took my time and decided I could handle three of them" (Jack O'Connell, HARTFORD COURANT, 3/29). INSURANCE CAPITAL: In Hartford, Matthew Lubanko examines the process of MLB teams taking out insurance on their player contracts in a front-page piece: "As salaries rise, so do the premiums. Industry sources say that some teams pay as much as $1 million a year to insure long-term contracts that pay $8 million a year" (HART. COURANT, 3/31).