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The state of MLB was the subject of one segment on ESPN's "The Sports Reporters," as ESPN's Mitch Albom said, "Baseball has been in the news in the spring more than I can remember in any other spring. Some of it has been good ... and some of it has been bad." ESPN's Bill Conlin: "I tell people, 'Hey, stop talking about the golden age, we're in it.'" ESPN's Mike Lupica: "Even at its lowest points after the strike millions of people go to see this sport in this country. Does it always translate into network television ratings? No, it doesn't. Does that mean it's still not a big-time sport? It's a huge sport in this country. ... In New York, Chicago, Southern California -- all over the map - - baseball is getting up off the canvas, and you can't ignore it." But Albom stressed, "You can't deny that there's also this big negative kick that baseball still hasn't gotten over. ... There's a lot of major problems with the game. If it's getting off the canvas it's still reeling, particularly with younger fans" (ESPN, 5/31). MORE MLB: NEWSDAY's Rob Parker wrote under the header, "There's A Buzz About Baseball." Parker: "Baseball is alive and well. Fans are interested in the game again" (NEWSDAY, 5/31). Story lines such as Mark McGwire's pursuit of MLB's single-season home-run record and the emergence of Cubs P Kerry Wood were the focus of multiple media hits over the weekend in addition to a USA TODAY sports cover story on Monday. In Charlotte, Stan Olson wrote that McGwire "may be in the process of surpassing Michael Jordan as the greatest spectacle in sport" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 5/31). In L.A., Ross Newhan called McGwire "mania ... a high-wattage asset" (L.A. TIMES, 5/31). Mike Lupica said McGwire "is leading a charge that has put baseball for April and May back in the front of everybody's consciousness" ("The Sports Reporters," ESPN, 5/31). But in N.Y., Joel Sherman wrote that MLB is "wasting a truly unique resource" by not promoting its trio of young SS stars in the AL, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Nomar Garciaparra. MLB "should be mounting a substantial advertising campaign through these three photogenic, intelligent, skilled players" (N.Y. POST, 5/31).
The "breakup" of the Bulls "couldn't come at a worse time" for the NBA, according to Samuels & McCormick of NEWSWEEK, who write that while the league "may simply be reaching the natural end of a phenomenal growth spurt, it also faces real questions about keeping its fans when the Jordan era ends." An "implosion" of the league's "most popular team is just one signal that the NBA's golden age is in peril." The Bulls, "an unusually integrated team that sends off almost no racial vibes, have only enhanced the mostly African-American league's tremendous crossover appeal. The gap they'll leave behind is more generational than racial." But the "fears" of a league-wide decline "may be overdrawn," as attendance is "strong, and fat TV contracts are in place" (NEWSWEEK, 6/11 issue). LABOR: In Boston, Peter May quotes an NBA exec "who is privy" to negotiations with the union: "Things so far have been fine. There have been proposals exchanged, but there hasn't been anything nasty. You may not see a lockout. You may not see a normal summer, either, but there are ways to get around a lockout" (BOSTON GLOBE, 5/31). But agent Bill Duffy is quoted as saying, "I just don't think there's any question that the lockout is going to go on for a long time. ... We may be willing to work with them on the rookie scale, but I don't know any agents who are going to accept a rigid cap" (Paul Buker, Portland OREGONIAN, 5/31). In Chicago, Sam Smith wrote of "negligible" progress between the sides and wrote that the NBA's TV partners "have been told to anticipate a long stoppage of play." He added that one proposal floated by the league had players dividing up a sum of money "that would almost double the salary cap" to around $44M, but that would "preclude paying huge salaries" to some stars (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 5/31). NBC analyst Isiah Thomas told USA TODAY's Roscoe Nance that he would be willing to mediate in the labor talks. Thomas: "I have some solutions to some of their problems because I've seen it from both sides of the table." NBA Commissioner David Stern: "Both sides can use all the help they can get" (USA TODAY, 6/1). LIGHTENING UP? In Miami, Steve Wyche reported that the league's Rules and Competition Committee is scheduled to discuss lockout rules Tuesday. Wyche: "League sources have said the NBA is expected to relax some of the bans issued in the 1995 lockout against team-player involvement in charity games and other interaction" (MIAMI HERALD, 5/31).
Following last week's announcement of a proposed NBC/ Turner Sports pro football league, MA-based attorney Bob Caporale and his partner, Randy Vataha, "are not revving up the engines for their proposed All-American Football League, which had been slated to start next spring," according to Will McDonough of the BOSTON GLOBE. Caporale: "We are holding the launch. We want to find out for sure what this juggernaut is going to do before we reconsider what we want to do." Caporale added: "Going up against the NFL is tough. ... I don't know how much [NBC and Turner] have thought it through. One of the big problems is going to be finding stadiums to play in" (Will McDonough, BOSTON GLOBE, 5/30). HERE'S ONE: Mark Williams, GM of the Metropolitan Exposition-Recreation Commission in Portland, OR, which operates the city's Civic Stadium, on the NBC/Turner league: "We would be happy to be a part of it" (OREGONIAN, 5/29). NATIONAL REAX: Steelers President Dan Rooney, on the proposed new league: "It's their business; I don't know how successful it will be. ... But I guess in America everybody has the right to do what they want to do" (PITTSBURGH POST- GAZETTE, 5/29) In Philadelphia, Bill Lyon wrote that the plan "smacks of sheer spite" and is a reflection of "the sorry state of sports: Television can now order up an entire league as casually as it creates yet another new and brainless sitcom" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 5/30). On L.I., Bob Glauber: "[J]ust two quick questions: Who's going to play, and who's going to watch?" (NEWSDAY, 5/31). In San Jose, Mark Purdy wrote the "hardest task" for NBC and Turner "will not" be getting decent ratings, "but finding the cities and stadiums where the teams can play in front of a decent-size 'studio audience'" (MERCURY NEWS, 5/31). COULD IT WORK? In Richmond, Paul Woody said with a GE and Time Warner league, "the NFL is in for the most serious challenge in its history" (TIMES-DISPATCH, 5/31). In Jacksonville, Gene Frenette questioned going up against the NFL in the fall: "Give football-starved America a different look, but do it in the spring and do it with some fiscal responsibility" (FLORIDA TIMES-UNION, 5/31). In Toronto, Garth Woolsey said the net's would need "only minimum ratings" to "make the league fly" (TORONTO STAR, 6/1).