The MLB Cardinals "are counting on Mark McGwire's prodigious power to energize ticket sales this year," according to Christopher Carey of the ST. LOUIS POST- DISPATCH. McGwire has been "the main catalyst" for a 16% jump in home attendance, an increase of nearly 4,800 more fans per game than in '97, but better weather, a better record and special promotions have also contributed. The Cardinals are projecting $83M in revenue this year, "with gate receipts ranking as the primary source." Cardinals Secretary/Treasurer Andrew Baur estimates that McGwire's pursuit of the home run record last season was worth 5,000 fans a game for the Cardinals. Carey writes that if the "McGwire inspired crowds continue at the same pace through the summer, the Cardinals will draw about 390,000 more fans this season than last" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 5/21). FROM BUSCH STADIUM TO THE BUSCH CIRCUIT: McGwire has joined teammate Gary Gaetti and former Cards Andy Benes and Danny Sheaffer "as a backer" of Bobby Hillin's stock car team in NASCAR's Busch Series. McGwire's name will "adorn the back of the Chevrolet's deck lid" along with "his up-to- date home run total" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 5/21).
Vince Piazza, the father of Mike Piazza, is considering joining Don Smiley's investment group trying to buy the Marlins, according to Mike Berardino of the Fort Lauderdale SUN-SENTINEL. The elder Piazza said this week that he has had "preliminary discussions" with Smiley. But Smiley downplayed Piazza's interest yesterday, saying, "I haven't talked to Vince in a long, long time. I can't say any more than that." In '92, Piazza and Philadelphia-area business exec Vincent Tirendi were part of a group led by Vince Naimoli that wanted to buy the Giants and move them to St. Petersburg. The sale was blocked, and Piazza and Tirendi filed a defamation and antitrust lawsuit against MLB that was settled out of court in '94 (SUN-SENTINEL, 5/21). THE WORST OF TIMES: In the Marlins' first home game since Friday's trade, "just" 17,560 attended last night's game against the D'Backs. Two "particularly displeased fans were removed from the stands for wearing paper bags on their heads." One bag read "Trade me next." The other, "From champs to chumps" (SUN-SENTINEL, 5/21)....The Marlins have changed Sunday's giveaway: a Charles Johnson collector's card. Instead of fans being given the card by ushers upon entering the stadium, tables will be set up throughout the concourse where they can pick up the card of the former Marlins C (Clark Spencer, MIAMI HERALD, 5/21). BREAKING UP IS HARD TO DO: Marlins C Mike Piazza took out a quarter-page ad in yesterday's sports section of the L.A. Times thanking Dodgers fans. A display ad of that size runs $18,898. The ad read: "An Open Letter to Dodger Fans -- It's never easy to say goodbye. But from the bottom of my heart, I want to thank you for the overwhelming support you have shown during my years in Los Angeles. I leave with nothing but great memories and deep appreciation. Sincerely, Mike Piazza" (AP/N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 5/21). Piazza spoke to the L.A. TIMES' T.J. Simers yesterday in Miami about the trade. Asked if the trade would have happened had Peter O'Malley not sold the Dodgers: "In my opinion, no, it wouldn't have happened" (L.A. TIMES, 5/21). OH, NO, IT'S MR. BILL: Bill Murray was on "Up Close" where he called the Marlins situation "just a terrible thing for the people down there, and for all the players." Murray, on Marlins ownership: "You know, if you're not ready to have pets, don't get them" (ESPN, 5/20).
Falcons President Taylor Smith dismissed a rumor yesterday that his family intended to sell the team: "I have no idea how it all got started, but it's absolutely not true" (ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, 5/21)....In Minneapolis, Twins Owner Carl Pohlad said that he entertained "two Charlotte businessmen in the past week who remain interested in moving the Twins" to NC. One was Charlotte Regional Baseball Partnership Chair Johnny Harris (STAR TRIBUNE, 5/21)....In L.A., WNBA Sparks President Johnny Buss said the chances are "better than 50-50" that his team will move into the Staples Center, probably in 2000, joining the Lakers, Clippers and Kings. Previously, he had said the team would remain at the Forum (L.A. TIMES, 5/21)....In Chicago, the MLS Fire drew 10,520 yesterday against the Galaxy, its smallest crowd of the season (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 5/21)....Of Red Wings C Sergei Fedorov's $12M, up-front bonus, $4.9M "most likely" will go to the IRS (USA TODAY, 5/21)....ESPN's Peter Gammons reported that while the Padres "are working so hard" to try to get the November referendum for a new ballpark passed, some Padres people "are so worried" about the vote that a few members of the board, including Calvin Hill, are already looking at a Washington, DC, location in case they have to move there in the 2000 ("SportsCenter," 5/20)....Sabres CEO Tim Rigas said that the team "makes an average" of $300,000 to $350,000 per home playoff game. A trip to the Stanley Cup finals would mean up to $4M in net revenues "for a team that is struggling" with an $81M debt (BUFFALO NEWS, 5/20). QUESTIONING A FULL HOUSE: In Tacoma, Frank Hughes wrote that the organization of the Ackerley Group, parent of Full House Entertainment and the Sonics, has recently become "murky." When Bill Ackerley, who oversaw "aspects" of the Sonics Full House Entertainment (FHE), resigned two weeks ago he cited family reasons, but sources within Ackerley say he "resigned because he has had ongoing disputes with [his father] Barry Ackerley about the Sonics." An Ackerley Group spokesperson "vehemently denied" any disputes among the family. Bill Ackerley could not be reached for comment, but Hughes wrote that with him gone, "there has been speculation" that FHE President John Dressel, who is close to Bill Ackerley, "could lose his job." However, both Dressel and an Ackerley spokesperson said Tuesday that "that was not the case" (Tacoma NEWS TRIBUNE, 5/20).
The NFL on Wednesday accepted the withdrawal of Tom Clancy's $200M bid to purchase the Vikings, according to Banks & Parrish of the Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE. NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue: "I think they're back to close to square one, or square one. There's no transaction currently there." New potential bidders for the team include Vikings President Roger Headrick, Twins Owner Carl Pohlad and former Spurs/Nuggets Owner Red McCombs. But one Vikings co-Owner said that at least five co-Owners are opposed to Headrick buying the team: "I don't think Roger can count on but one vote, maybe two." Pohlad, on the Vikings: "I'm interested in talking to them if they're interested in talking to me" (STAR TRIBUNE, 5/21). Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones said that McCombs "would be good for the NFL. He's talented, substantive and has proven he understands sports" (WASHINGTON POST, 5/21). OTHER PLAYERS: In Houston, John Williams reports that business exec Bob McNair said "he may try to acquire a small portion" of the team now that Clancy has pulled out. Such a purchase "would allow McNair greater access to other [NFL] team owners," which he said he hopes "would improve his chances of attracting an expansion team to Houston." McNair said that after talking with Tagliabue yesterday he "likely will ask" to join Headrick's investor group (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 5/21). In St. Paul, Charley Walters reports that one NFL source said he expects T-Wolves Owner Glen Taylor to become a Vikings bidder (ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS, 5/21). In Minneapolis, Sid Hartman reports that Flyers/76ers Chair Ed Snider "might be interested if he could negotiate rather than bid for the team" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 5/21). CLANCY DEBRIS: In Minneapolis, Don Banks cites an NFL finance committee member who said that Clancy "not only didn't have the extra [$40M] or so that the league prefers its owners to have in case of emergency, he didn't have close to the money to swing the deal itself" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 5/21). Sid Hartman writes of Clancy's partner Marc Ganis, "[D]on't be shocked if Ganis ... sues" the league (STAR TRIBUNE, 5/21). A STAR TRIBUNE editorial, on Clancy's bid: "[T]he whole affair wound up being a sorry fiasco" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 5/21).