To SI's Steve Wulf, the first few days of November seemed like a baseball fantasy week. His report:
The New York Yankees announced that they were improving the quality of their 4,300 best seats, while raising the price of those seats from $17 to $25. The major league owners' expansion committee listened to presentations from four groups willing to ante up $140 million per team. And an entirely new outfit, the United Baseball League, unveiled plans to begin play in 1996.
Helloooo. Anybody home? There is no baseball.
Yankee fans are no doubt salivating at the prospect of watching their team from the comfort of those newly cushioned seats as newly hired servers stand by to take their orders. ("Hi, my name is Stump, and I'll be your waiter this evening.") But before fans are asked to pay 47% more for box seats, shouldn't they be given some assurance that there will be a real season, with real players?
Yankee boss George Steinbrenner and other owners certainly seemed to be ignoring reality when they summoned four groups interested in forming two expansion teams, to begin play as early as 1997, to a meeting in Chicago on Nov. 1. Major League Baseball—what's left of it, anyway—likes those big initiation fees so much it's talking of expanding by two more teams around the turn of the century. Don't these prospective suitors realize that they're buying swampland made even oozier by all these periodic labor disputes? Wannabe cities are being played for suckers the same way Yankee fans are.
On the same day that four candidates for expansion—Tampa-St. Pete, Phoenix and two groups from northern Virginia—auditioned for the owners, the United Baseball League held a press conference in a Manhattan hotel. The United League hopes to field 10 teams in 1996 (Year 3 of the Strike) and promises an average franchise fee of $5 million, an average crowd of 17,500 and an average annual player's salary of $520,000, numbers that seem simply made up. The man behind the new league is Dick Moss, a player agent who used to work for the players' association, so you know that the new league has union backing. The players should be careful of what they wish for, though: They just might get it. Until now, TV money has fueled baseball's humongous contracts. If the product is watered down by a players' league competing against an owners' league, no broadcast entity in its right mind is going to give either one big bucks.
Unfortunately the owners and players seem to think that the rest of us are as crazy as they are. Stop the insanity, fellas. As of Nov. 14, there will be 141 days before the 1995 season doesn't start.
Meanwhile, back in baseball reality, Dwight (Doc) Gooden proved again to be one messed-up cat. Only this time, with nine lives gone, Gooden was banished from any season that might take place in 1995 as a result of a reported 10th positive test for cocaine since his last suspension for drug abuse, in June. People may debate whether this latest turn is tragic, unforgivable or both. But it was clearly obscene to hear his agent, Jim Neader, discussing how the enforced layoff would resurrect Gooden's pitching arm. There's only one part of Gooden that anyone should care about right now, and that's his head.
It's Not the Heat
The new Des Moines-based entry in the Arena Football League has put out an APB for suggestions for a team nickname, and the editorial page of an influential Iowa newspaper is lobbying hard for one of the nearly 3,000 submissions: the Humidity. "If the Miami Heat can play in the NBA," opines The Daily Tribune of Ames, "why not the Iowa Humidity?"