To protest the new ban on the use of tobacco in ballparks by minor league baseball players, members of the Phoenix Firebirds of the Triple A Pacific Coast League last week stopped signing autographs and talking to the press. Although this oddly targeted action was greeted by a resounding "so what?" the Firebirds said they had no better way to dramatize their anger over being deprived, in mid-season, of their beloved chaws.
The ban was imposed by major league baseball, but major league players aren't affected by it. That's because they're unionized, while minor league players aren't; any such policy in the big leagues would have to be negotiated with the Major League Players Association. Baseball officials say the ban was imposed to protect health and improve the image of the national pastime.
But what about billboards that advertise tobacco products in big league parks? Baseball higher-ups say that nine parks have outlawed tobacco signs and that others would have done so except that, says one official, "certain clubs don't own the billboards in their stadiums, and in other cases, lengthy contracts have been signed." Even so, with 35-odd tobacco signs still adorning major league stadiums—and generating well over $1 million a year in revenue—there appears to be at least a pinch of hypocrisy in the crackdown on tobacco use by minor leaguers.
The NBC Connection
Chalk up another rehab job for NBC, that renowned halfway house for coaching has-beens and will-be-agains. Mike Fratello, a veteran of seven seasons as coach of the Atlanta Hawks and three seasons as a color commentator on the network's NBA telecasts, was hired last week as the Cleveland Cavaliers' coach. Other coaches who have passed through NBC's revolving door include the New York Knicks' (and formerly the Los Angeles Lakers') Pat Riley, Stanford's (and formerly the San Francisco 49ers') Bill Walsh and the New England Patriots' (and formerly the New York Giants') Bill Parcells. And let's not forget NBA analyst Quinn Buckner, who will make his coaching debut next season with the Dallas Mavericks.
Based on these precedents, former NFL coaches Mike Ditka and Joe Gibbs may be future NFL coaches as well; both recently signed as NBC color guys. Why, even NBC announcer Bob Costas claims he may exchange his microphone for a whistle. After the Fratello announcement. Costas confided, "I'm interviewing next week with the Albany Patroons of the CBA. I'm very hopeful."