IS baseball back? Or has it followed what was arguably its worst
year ever with its second-worst year ever?
On paper, some of the figures look more grim than a sub-.200
batting average. For instance:
*Average attendance at big-league games during the regular
season dropped 20 percent, from 31,612 to 25,257 fans.
*An Associated Press poll released Oct. 1 found that 6 out of 10
people say they are less interested in baseball now than in August
1994, when a seven-month labor strike began.
*According to some sources, local TV ratings are down.
But beyond pure data, individuals who consider themselves
"baseball people" indicate that, at best, the major leagues are
still piecing together their shattered public support.
Sports columnist Tom Weir of USA Today says baseball remains an
Paul White, editor of Baseball Weekly, draws a similar
conclusion: "There's something different about this season," he
says. "It hasn't quite felt comfortable. It hasn't quite felt
right." He wonders if it's "a temporary thing," something that an
exciting playoff season - in which Cleveland, Seattle, Atlanta, and
Cincinnati have advanced to the League Championships - might
Even a year after a bitter strike wiped out the 1994 playoffs
and World Series, people are still "exorcising their own demons as
to how they will respond" to professional baseball, says Bill
Sutton, an associate professor of sports studies at the University
of Massachusetts, Amherst.
Professor Sutton says that the loss of the '94 World Series was
a turnoff to many fans, a breach of almost unbridgeable
proportions. "Some people have pointed out to me," he says, "that
the World Series was held throughout World War I and World War II.
War couldn't stop it. The only thing that stopped it was baseball
itself. That's significant."
Now the big leagues are trying to make amends with various
fan-oriented initiatives and by playing until a new champion is
crowned. The latter activity has produced some riveting theater.
The Yankees, for example, won a 15-inning thriller from Seattle
in their series opener, only to lose the decisive fifth game of the
first round when Ken Griffey Jr. scored the winning run in the
bottom of the 11th inning. Cleveland opened the playoffs with a
13-inning victory over Boston, then swept the Red Sox in three
Although there was some unevenness in the first round, a few
were decided by one run or late-game heroics before capacity
crowds. The tension could increase tonight as the best-of-seven
league championship series begin with Cincinnati hosting Atlanta
and Seattle hosting Cleveland. …