A Week They'd Sooner Forget
We don't generally put much stock in omens. But one would be hard-pressed not to connect the accident at Toronto's SkyDome last Thursday, in which seven spectators suffered injuries, to other events last week in the sports world. For North America's four major professional sports, it certainly seemed as if the sky—and not just roof tiles at SkyDome—was indeed falling.
Has there ever been a week this unremittingly bad for pro sports? In the NFL the Los Angeles Rams packed up the last truckloads of their belongings to complete their previously scheduled move to St. Louis at the same time that former neighbor Al Davis announced he was moving his Raiders back to Oakland (page 26). Going from two franchises to zero in the nation's No. 2 market represents a bad decade for pro football, never mind a bad week.
And isn't it sad when loyal fans, whose team has at last won a championship, face the possible loss of their heroes? That's what's happening in the NHL. Even as the New Jersey Devils won the Stanley Cup (page 18), talk persisted that the new champions could soon skate right out the door to Nashville, thereby becoming only the second franchise to defend its championship in a new city.
In the NBA, where labor tranquillity has been a way of life for the past decade, there is so much internecine squabbling that Montel Williams could do a show about it. On Friday team player reps, under pressure from the rank-and-file members, delayed a vote on a new collective bargaining agreement that had been speedily carved out by the league and the NBA players association leadership. Worse, a large group of players, led by such superstars as Michael Jordan and Patrick Ewing, declared a civil war by advocating decertification of the union, thus adopting a harder line than the general membership.
Will the majority of players follow Jordan's gold-plated footsteps? Is there any way that Simon Gourdine can survive as union executive director with his labor deal in jeopardy and an angry pack of superstars attacking his administration? Will the league take a hard line and hold to its lockout deadline of Saturday, signaling the possibility of a long, hot summer of labor discontent and perhaps a delay to the start of the next NBA season?
Well, take heart, Commissioners Tagliabue, Bettman and Stern: When things look bad in your sport, they're always worse in baseball. At a time when their sport needs every friend it can get, baseball's owners registered a lunkheaded double play by infuriating executives at the top of the sports divisions of two networks, NBC and ABC, and torpedoing the fledgling Baseball Network. An impressive week's work, even by baseball's standards.
All this happened because baseball did what it does best—drag its feet. NBC and ABC last week angrily announced they were leaving The Baseball Network, their television partnership with Major League Baseball, after this year because the owners refused to make a decision on extending the deal, which expires with the conclusion of the 1995 World Series. And as they left, both NBC's Dick Ebersol ("We've been treated like scum") and ABC's Dennis Swanson ("Major League Baseball seems incapable of giving us an answer on anything") fired beanballs.
Some baseball owners are not upset that TBN is finished, because they believe that either CBS or Fox will throw millions at them in a more lucrative deal than the one they had with TBN. But in baseball's current perilous public-relations predicament, it should not have surrendered an established relationship for possibilities that are, at best, nebulous. CBS, a.k.a. the Can't Buy Sports network, after all, hasn't forgotten that it lost $500 million in four years on its misguided $1.06 billion baseball deal from 1990 to '93.
This latest problem reaffirms the need for a full-time baseball commissioner. But there will be no commissioner until there is a labor agreement, and there is no labor agreement in sight. Misery loves company. And baseball's best news in this turbulent week is that it has plenty of it.