At least baseball got past the trade deadline with three of its four marketing strategies intact.
1) The Annual Randy Johnson Trade Rumor. It should be apparent by now that this, and not the All-Star Game, was the true mid-season classic. Seattle fans believed that they would awaken on Aug. 1 to see Hideki Irabu or Chad Ogea or Antonio Osuna toeing the rubber for the Mariners. Interest among fans of the teams bidding for Johnson generated a nationwide buzz. All of that wasn't bad for what turned out to be the trading of a sub-.500 pitcher for only the second-best-known Freddy Garcia and the third-most-celebrated Guillen in the game.
2) The Expos' Perpetual Going-Out-of-Business Sale. Like Lucy yanking the football away from Charlie Brown's approaching foot, some traditions must be preserved. Nothing helps sell the game better than watching rich-market pennant contenders systematically strip-mine the ever-fruitful Montreal farm system. Whether it's a midseason deal sending lefthander Carlos Perez and shortstop Mark Grudzielanek to the Dodgers or an off-season one shipping second baseman Mike Lansing to the Rockies or outfielder Henry Rodriguez to the Cubs, the process still creates a curiosity about which Expos youngster will next sparkle, ripen, mature and then be dealt off for the heart of the lineup of the Asheville Tourists or the San Antonio Missions.
3) The Appeal of New Old Stadiums. If official attendance statistics (through Aug. 2) are adjusted to exclude the expansion Devil Rays and Diamondbacks, major league attendance was up a resounding 273 fans per game, an improvement over last year of nearly 1%. Four of the top five teams in average attendance—Colorado, Baltimore, Atlanta and Cleveland—play in stadiums where the paint may have dried but the enthusiasm over the new parks hasn't. (The other top five team is Arizona, a new team in a new park.) Two or three new $250 million ballparks every year, and attendance could actually rise 2%!
4) The Chase for the Home Run Record. Baseball has to hope that Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Ken Griffey Jr. all come close to Roger Maris's record but don't break it. The chance that one of these guys might hit 69 homers this season could jeopardize interest in the game ever after. Next season the hoopla over whether anyone could break a one-year-old record might be pretty slim. If that happens, the Mariners might have to re-sign Randy Johnson as a free agent this winter just to start the rumor that they're going to trade him next July.