At midseason only eight of the 20 major league baseball teams had shown increases in attendance over last year. Cleveland was up the most, 25%, partly because it could hardly have failed to improve on last year, when there was talk of moving the franchise. Boston, reaping the residual benefits of its championship, was up 19%, and Minnesota, Philadelphia, St. Louis, the Mets and the Cubs showed slight gains. Clubs such as Cincinnati (down 36%), the Chicago White Sox (down 31%), Atlanta (down 28%) and Washington (down 17%) have been affected, to a considerable degree, by the location of their stadiums in or near ghetto areas or by the general racial unrest. Baltimore, in seventh place a year ago but in second place now, was down 29%. The Athletics have drawn 36% fewer fans in Oakland than they did last season in Kansas City. In fact, in all of baseball, the only really bright spot was Detroit, up 23% despite the tense mood of the city and an eight-month newspaper strike. The Tigers, on their way to a pennant, expect to draw 1.8 million this season, which would be the second best attendance in club history.
But once baseball's administrators look past that cheery fact, the view is indeed a disturbing one. Their sport is faced in midseason of 1968 with the vanishing hitter (SI, June 17). the vanishing pennant race and the vanishing fan.
Consequently, the quiverings in the pocketbook must have been extreme when both leagues agreed to two-divisional play for 1969. The risk in breaking up old patterns of rivalries is obvious. Now there will be four pennant races instead of two, which ought to double the fun, but will it? The NFL thought so, and much of its regular-season play last year turned out to be a big yawn ( Green Bay could have won its division with a 7-5-2 record). One has to wonder about the thrill of the race in the American League's West Division between Minnesota, Chicago, California, Oakland Seattle and Kansas City. Right now Minnesota, with its 41-44 record, would be the leader in that one. Will that pull in the fans? Baseball hopes so. They have to start coming from somewhere.
The Canadian town of Centreville. New Brunswick, which lies on the banks of the narrow Presquile River, moved heaven, earth and finally the Canadian and U.S. governments last week to do something about its polluted water. Dead fish were coming down the river, which rises in Maine and flows through Centreville to the St. John, and maggots crawled over the trout and salmon fry littering the banks. Before a potato processing plant in Maine started spilling excessive waste into the Presquile, it had been a fine fishing stream. Now medical authorities considered it a health hazard. Unable to rouse Canadian or U.S. authorities to anything but routine lethargy, the townspeople, led by a former mayor. Robert Caines, decided to dam the river near the Maine border and let the polluted waters back up into Maine. They bulldozed earth, trees and rocks into the stream, and in two hours the Presquile was blocked. Water backed up nearly a mile into Maine before authorities took any action. "I thought they would have been down here to keep us from damming the stream," Caines said. Something had to be done. I don't think there is a fish alive there now due to pollution."
Within 24 hours the attorney general of Maine was investigating the factory causing the pollution of the Presquile. And at week's end the Canadian minister of resources declared, "We have been in contact with the United States Government on this matter and have been given assurance that effective measures are being taken."
Confident that their problem is now getting a hearing, Centreville has broken down its dam and is allowing the tainted Presquile to flow again. It might be wise, however, for the townspeople to keep their bulldozers handy.
As an owner and president of the San Diego expansion team, Buzzie Bavasi had expected to participate in the National League meetings held last week at the Shamrock Hilton in Houston. But while the league was voting to split into two six-team divisions and play a 162-game schedule, Bavasi and the owners of the equally new Montreal franchise were left standing in a hallway. They were not even invited to break bread with the other owners. "We learned that our $10 million admission fee didn't include lunch," Bavasi said.
HIGH OLD TIME