Baseball's popularity "is soaring" as Mark McGwire and
Sammy Sosa set HR records, according to a CNN/USA TODAY/
Gallup Poll, as reported by Mel Antonen of USA TODAY. The
poll, conducted Monday and Tuesday, shows that 63% of the
1,082 surveyed said they are "a fan or somewhat of a fan" of
pro baseball -- an increase of 19% since a similar poll
taken in June. McGwire: "The best part about the home run
chase is that it is bringing fans back to the ballpark.
It's good for baseball." The 63% is the highest since the
poll began tracking MLB's popularity in February '93. The
previous high, 55%, was in August '94, before the strike.
The low was 41% in April '95, when replacement players were
playing in exhibition games (Mel Antonen, USA TODAY, 9/17).
ALL TIED UP: Sosa hit his 63rd HR last night, tying him
with McGwire. Sosa's Cubs played the Padres in front of
49,981 at Qualcomm Stadium, while McGwire's Cardinals played
the Pirates in front of 39,758 at Busch Stadium (THE DAILY).
HR RACE? In N.Y., Murray Chass writes on the suggestion
that MLB "slighted" Sosa "in its treatment of him" during
the HR chase, and that Sosa's race "is the reason." Tom
Reich, who, along with partner Adam Katz, reps Sosa: "Sammy
doesn't perceive it that way and neither do we. The
attention that has been given to Sammy has been tremendous."
MLB Commissioner Bud Selig said that he "had received some
calls from fans who said they thought Sosa had been
slighted." Selig: "I explained it to them and they were
satisfied." Selig said that both McGwire and Sosa will be
honored during the World Series, no matter who ends up with
the HR record (Murray Chass, N.Y. TIMES, 9/17).
ALL FOR A BALL? John Grass, the 46-year-old who caught
McGwire's No. 63, presented the Cardinals with "a list of
more than 30 items he wanted in exchange for the ball,"
including a trip to spring training, a chance for him and
his son to throw out first pitches at Cards games, and items
autographed by McGwire and Stan Musial. The list was
forwarded to Cards Principal Owner Bill DeWitt, but GM Walt
Jocketty said that the ball "is not worth that." Jocketty:
"Unless it's the last one that Mark hits, I don't think it's
worth that much" (Ric Bucher, WASHINGTON POST, 9/17).
STATION ID: In Chicago, Jim Kirk writes to look for
Cubs TV carriers, including WGN, "to carry more identifying
logos ... in the corner of the screen" for every Sosa AB.
Enough sports outlets "have been poaching live footage of
Sosa's at-bats that Cubs' executives have suggested that
outlets identify the footage" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 9/17).
NHL: The NHL awarded its 2000 All-Star Weekend to
Toronto. The 50th All-Star Game will be held at the new Air
Canada Centre (NHL). In Toronto, Lance Hornby writes that
Maple Leaf Gardens "likely will be used" for the Heroes of
Hockey old-timers game and the skills competition, while the
National Trade Centre at Exhibition Place will host NHL fan
events and other functions (TORONTO SUN, 9/17)....In L.A.,
Karen Crouse writes under the header "Penalty on Union:
Brainwashing Blake," noting that unsigned Kings D Rob Blake
"has been kidnapped ... by an increasingly militant group
called the NHLPA." Crouse: "The Rob Blake we know never
would have let his position as [VP] of the NHLPA supersede
his loyalty to the Kings. ... The Rob Blake we know wouldn't
have been among the more than 100 restricted free agents who
remain unsigned. ... If they're smart, the Kings won't let
the NHLPA hold their season ransom" (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 9/17).
...Penguins C Petr Nedved, beginning his second year as a
holdout from the Pens, reached a contract agreement with the
IHL Las Vegas Thunder. Nedved is expected to sign the deal
upon his arrival in Las Vegas on Monday (LAS VEGAS REVIEW-
JOURNAL, 9/17). IHL President & CEO Doug Moss is "working
hard to improve" relations between the IHL and the NHL, but
"fears" that deals like this "would hurt the relationship."
Thunder GM Bob Strumm said Nedved's return is "not about
money." Strumm: "In no way, shape or form would what we
might be able to offer at this level compete in any way with
what he could make in the NHL. All we would be able to
provide is hockey" (LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL, 9/15).
NOTES: The Broncos "have accepted the NFL's request" to
play a preseason game next August in Sydney, Australia.
Their opponent will be the Chargers, whose punter, Darren
Bennett, is Australian (CO Springs GAZETTE-TELEGRAPH, 9/17).
...The three-game WNBA Brazil Tour '98, which will feature a
team of WNBA All-Stars, is a joint effort of the league and
the Confederao Brasileira de Basquete, and will include
youth programs and appearances designed to increase
basketball awareness. The first game is September 29 (W.H.
Stickney, HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 9/17).
"Both parties are at fault," according to Dave
D'Alessandro of the Newark STAR-LEDGER, who offers his
"solution" to the NBA's labor woes. D'Alessandro writes
that the players' "main problem is that they are mesmerized
by the misguided notion that fiscal stupidity should be the
basis of fair market value." The owners, meanwhile, say
that the players earned 58% of all basketball-related income
(BRI) last year, but "what they don't tell you is that the
BRI includes only" 40% of luxury-box income, 40% of signage,
none of the revenue from NBA theme stores "that exploit the
players' names, and none of the naming-rights revenue on
arenas." D'Alessandro: "The only logical solution is to
keep the present system but find a way to restrict annual
increases." D'Alessandro suggests a "graduated raise
system," in which "the annual increases in the standard
contract is contingent on the base salary," and "profit
sharing" of revenue sources such as gate and signage. He
also suggests a new rookie scale whereby picks 1-10 are
"bound" to five-year contracts, picks 11-20 for four years,
21-29 for three years, with all becoming unrestricted free
agents when their contracts expire. D'Alessandro, noting
that the NBA's last proposal to the union included a minimum
salary of $350,000, with an extra $50,000 per season after
five years of service: "The union should take the money and
run, but not before asking for the $50,000 raises to kick in
after two years" (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 9/17).
PLAYERS FRUSTRATED, BUT UNITED: Sonics player rep Vin
Baker: "This is definitely discouraging. We can come to an
agreement to make this thing work. There has to be a happy
medium. ... If we lock out for a long time, and if Michael
Jordan retires, those are significant things that could
really put us a big step back" (Portland OREGONIAN, 9/15).
Raptors rep Dee Brown: "We might have a shortened training
camp, a few pre-season games, but I'm optimistic we won't
miss any regular-season games" (TORONTO SUN, 9/16). Pacers
F Chris Mullin: "From what I've heard, it doesn't look like
training camp will start on time. After that, who knows?"
Pacers G Fred Hoiberg: "We just have to stay positive and
stay together. If the guaranteed players do get paid, there
can't be any jealousy" (INDIANAPOLIS STAR-NEWS, 9/16).
Rockets C Hakeem Olajuwon: "It's sad. Both sides know
there's so much at stake" (AP/S.A. EXPRESS-NEWS, 9/16).
Grizzlies F Shareef Abdur-Rahim: "This is something you
think would happen more to truck drivers or pilots. In
professional sports, you wouldn't think this would be going
on. ... As players, we have to put up the best deal, but
hopefully we can do a deal where both sides are comfortable"
(Vancouver PROVINCE, 9/15). Warriors rookie Antawn Jamison,
on coming out of college early: "Honestly, I don't regret
(my decision) at all. ... I definitely didn't think it would
last this long and be this serious. I thought everything
would be fixed by now. At most, I thought we'd miss a
couple of days of training camp. But I didn't know it would
be this much of a headache" (SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS, 9/17).
MOVING CAMP: In Toronto, Frank Zicarelli reports that
NBA teams "have been put on official notice to seek
alternative training camp sites" (TORONTO SUN, 9/17).