MEMO TO the NFL: Keep the throwback uniforms. They look great.
Now, how about a throwback to old ticket prices?
Taking It to the Hill
It's a disconcerting thought, but after weeks of stalemated nonnegotiations between baseball owners and striking players, the game's best hope for an end to the walkout may lie with the U.S. Congress. On Aug. 18, six days after the players went out on strike, Rep. Mike Synar (D., Okla.) introduced a bill that is drawing increasing support across the political spectrum. The 363-word bill, which bears the title "Baseball Fans and Communities Protection Act of 1994," would apply antitrust laws to baseball in instances in which "any party that has been subject to an agreement between the owners of major league baseball and the labor organization representing the players" imposes any "unilateral terms or conditions."
To put it more simply: Under the Synar bill baseball players would enjoy the same privileges as their NFL and NBA counterparts. For instance, if the owners attempt to impose a salary cap—which they could do as early as next month—the players could take them to court, leading to the same sort of litigation and bargaining that in 1993 produced labor peace and a seven-year contract in the NFL.
Testifying before a House subcommittee last week, players' union chief Don Fehr and Los Angeles Dodger pitcher Orel Hershiser both insisted that passage of the bill would end the strike. "The players will return to the field; it is a promise," said Hershiser.
Meanwhile, acting commissioner Bud Selig and his team of lobbyists are working hard to kill Synar's proposal. They face an uphill battle. The owners may be able to postpone a vote on the bill before Congress adjourns for the year, but with Rep. Jack Brooks (D., Texas), one of the most powerful figures on Capitol Hill, pushing for passage—along with such unusual senatorial allies as the conservative Orrin Hatch (R., Utah) and the liberal Howard Metzenbaum (D., Ohio)—the Synar bill appears almost certain to become law before next season.
In a packed hearing room last week, Brooks warned Selig that the owners "may be underestimating Congress's ability to respond." Reminding Selig that a new Congress will begin its work in January, well before the opening of spring training, Brooks made it clear how little support the owners enjoy on the Hill in the wake of the strike. "Don't think for a moment," he said, "that Congress will forget the sorry spectacle we have witnessed in the summer of 1994."
The Gutting Edge
Even if Synar's bill fails to gain congressional approval, major league baseball might still be around next season. It just won't be "big league." Owners are talking about using replacement players, and—sadly but predictably—they've already responded to the fiscal crisis resulting from the season's cancellation by slashing their front-office staffs.
One of the biggest cut men has been acting commissioner Bud Selig. Selig's Milwaukee Brewers have dumped 30 of their 73 front-office people, including public relations director Tom Skibosh, who had been with the Brewers for 19 years. Skibosh took the firing with equanimity but thinks the staff reductions do not bode well for the game.
" 'Minor league' is the perfect way to describe them," says Skibosh. "We were understaffed before the layoffs. Owners in baseball have no clue what we do."
The Cincinnati Reds had 53 full-time employees before the strike; they now have 20. The San Diego Padres cut 25 workers, 40% of their payroll. The New York Mets axed 28 of 79. The Montreal Expos eliminated 30 full-timers, about half their staff, and the San Francisco Giants sent 43 of 94 packing. The Houston Astros sacked 19 of 62 full-time employees, the Oakland A's 17 of 71, the Pittsburgh Pirates 16 of 80. On and on it goes.
No doubt some of the layoffs are temporary, and some teams may have been carrying front-office fat. But many owners are bound to use the strike as a pretext for downsizing. "Will teams use this as a vehicle to streamline the operation?" says Selig. "With all the money they've lost, yes."
The talk of replacement players makes most owners a little more skittish. Even so, at least four owners, David Glass of the Kansas City Royals, John Harrington of the Boston Red Sox, Jerry McMorris of the Colorado Rockies and, naturally, Marge Schott of the Reds, have spoken openly about replacements, and others are whispering. "I know Mr. Robinson [K.C. general manager Herk] will take the best 25 players available to him from whatever source," said Glass. From what-ever source? At least Harrington was honest. "You wouldn't call it major league baseball," he said referring to the use of replacement players, "but you would call it professional baseball." Barely. If the Synar bill passes, replacement players won't be needed. However, baseball's pooh-bahs may already have their minds made up about radical staff reductions, and not even Congress can do anything about that. Teams need a strong lineup behind the scenes almost as much as they need one on the field, and it will be a pity if the owners' obsession with the bottom line downsizes their franchises right into the minors.
Jerome Hauer was recently appointed commissioner of the Indy Racing League, a new series organized to compete with the one sanctioned by Championship Auto Racing Teams. Should we read anything into the fact that Hauer, in a previous position as deputy director of New York City's emergency medical services, headed that city's ambulance drivers?
He Made the Grade
When the most electrifying basketball player of all time took up baseball last spring, many voices in the press, this magazine included, urged him to give it up as a futile endeavor. But Michael Jordan loves challenges, and in meeting this one he has proved his critics wrong. Playing his first season of baseball since he was a high school junior 14 years ago, Jordan hit .202 with three homers, 51 RBIs and 30 stolen bases in 436 at bats for the Birmingham Barons of the Southern League. If those numbers seem anemic, consider that in all of Double A ball this season only six players knocked in as many as 50 runs and stole as many as 30 bases. What's more, such big leaguers as Carlos Baerga, Lenny Dykstra, Travis Fryman, Howard Johnson, Roberto Kelly, Dale Murphy, Ryne Sandberg and Alan Trammell didn't drive in as many runs in their first 400-at-bat seasons in the minors—and most of them didn't begin in Double A.
Even more impressive is what Jordan is up to now. He's putting in long and inglorious days in the Florida Instructional League. For deconstructing the breaking ball with White Sox hitting guru Walt Hriniak, for playing intrasquad games in which no stats are kept and at which the stands are largely empty, for plunging his famous face in the dirt again and again while practicing dives back to first base, Jordan is getting nothing more than a $38 per diem.
By going to the instructional league, Jordan has reaffirmed his commitment to baseball and all but ruled out a return to the NBA this season. Further, a publicity stuntman wouldn't be joining the Scottsdale Scorpions of the Arizona Fall League next week for more of the same. At 31, Jordan is still far from being a major league player. However, Terry Francona, who managed him in Birmingham and will manage him in Scottsdale, says, "He's a ton better. By the end of the season he was doing things by instinct. In the late innings, in clutch situations, he was far beyond a .200 hitter. If he dedicates the time, he has a chance to play in the big leagues. Even if he quits tomorrow, this will not have been a hoax. By the end of the year, he was a baseball player."
Which is to say, much more than an outsized Eddie Gaedel.
Call Him Sam
Thailand's Samson Elite-gym, who recently stopped Colin (Kid) Nelson of Australia to win the vacant World Boxing Federation junior bantamweight title in Bangkok, took his last name from the gym where he trains. No wonder. You might look for a new name too, if your real one were Saenmuangnoi Lookchaopormahesak.
Confronted with a mystery straight from the pages of a Dick Francis thriller, the Australian government last week shut down horse racing throughout southeast Queensland. The move came in response to the deaths over a three-day period—Sept. 20 to 22—of 13 thoroughbreds, 12 of them stabled in the yard of nationally known trainer Vic Rail. The horses all died in the same horrific manner: They abruptly stopped eating, their jaws, lips and genitals swelled, their skin broke into a rash, their lungs filled with fluid, and within two days, after massive bleeding from the nose and mouth, they were dead. Even more alarming, Rail collapsed on Sept. 20 and was taken unconscious to Royal Brisbane Hospital, where, as of Monday, he was still in critical condition with what his doctors were calling a bacterial lung infection.
While national health authorities searched for links between the deaths of the horses and the illness of their trainer, Brisbane police said they had received a tip that Rail had recently been the target of death threats and that a bacterial agent had been introduced into his stables.
A 14th horse died on Monday, by which time Queensland health authorities had called in equine-disease experts from the U.S. and Hong Kong. Tests have ruled out such known killers as African horse sickness, equine herpes and equine influenza. Says veterinarian Peter Reid of Brisbane, "All we know is that there has been a catastrophic outbreak in one situation, with no sign of it anywhere else."
Until his death last year, agent Bob Woolf represented such stars as Larry Bird and Joe Montana. Sportscaster Bob Wolff, who has called championship games in the four major sports, will be embarking on his 50th year in TV in November. The Wolves were often mistaken for one another, with each fielding compliments from people impressed that he had distinguished himself in two fields.
The confusion persists. The Basketball Hall of Fame's newsletter recently ran an obituary of Bob Woolf with a photograph of Bob Wolff. And the broadcaster, who is currently the sports anchor at News 12, a Woodbury, N.Y.-based cable channel, has gotten astonished looks over the past few weeks from passersby. "Actually," Wolff told one pedestrian who gave him a double take, "you're watching me on replay."
AP/WIDE WORLD PHOTOS (STONEWALL)
NEIL LEIFER (REGGIE)
MANNY MILLAN (MARTIN)
MATHEW B. BRADY/PICTURE PARADE (GRANT)
With two victories last weekend the North Carolina women's soccer team extended its mind-boggling winning streak to 91 games. Here's how the Tar Heels stack up against some other historic streakers.
Men's College Swimming
Indiana, 140 dual meets, 1966-79.
Snapped by SMU on Jan. 20, 1979.
Men's College Tennis
Miami, 137 dual matches, 1957-64.
Snapped by Princeton on April 3, 1964.
Women's College Soccer
North Carolina, 91 games, 1991-?
Regular-season and postseason games included.
Men's College Basketball
UCLA, 88 games, 1970-74.
Includes 76 regular-season victories and 12 games won in NCAA tournaments.
Snapped by Notre Dame on Jan. 19, 1974.
Oklahoma, 47 games, 1953-57.
Includes 45 regular-season victories and two Orange Bowl wins.
Snapped by Notre Dame on Nov. 16, 1957.
Los Angeles Lakers, 33 games, 1971-72.
All regular-season wins.
Snapped by Milwaukee Bucks on Jan. 9, 1972.
Major League Baseball
New York Giants, 26 games, 1916.
Snapped by Boston Braves on Sept. 30, 1916.
Four teams, 18 games, most recently San Francisco 49ers, 1989-90.
Snapped by L.A. Rams on Nov. 25, 1990.
This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us
Quaker Oats, manufacturer and distributor of Gatorade, is finalizing a three-year, $30,000 deal that will make the beverage the "official sports drink" of the Arkansas High School Coaches Association.
They Said It
The Detroit Tiger second baseman, on his arrival at a players' union meeting in a stretch limo: "I'm rich. What am I supposed to do, hide it? This is me, just like Tom Selleck."