Fiasco latest headache for baseball

Posted: Thursday, July 11, 2002

MILWAUKEE -- John DeClue took 9-year-old son Kyle to Miller Park to see his very first All-Star game. The boy ended up getting an up-close look at why baseball is in trouble.

When the teams and management agreed to stop the game with the score tied 7-7 in the 11th inning, fans were left in the lurch -- again.

No winner. No real explanation. No player to receive the MVP award, newly named after the late Ted Williams. And little appreciation for the disappointment and rage of fans already upset by a possible strike and reports of steroid abuse in the sport.

''They did not do themselves any service by doing this,'' DeClue said, holding Kyle's hand as they left the ballpark in a stream of disgruntled fans early Wednesday morning.

Players will be well rested when they return to work this weekend, but fans who shelled out as much as $175 for their tickets -- and plenty more to scalpers -- didn't get what they believed they deserved.

Some fans still haven't come back to the ballparks after the 1994 strike, holding a grudge against rich athletes and their even richer owners.

Those that have stayed are venting their anger in letters to newspapers and on talk radio, threatening to quit baseball for good if there's another work stoppage.

And just when the sport had a chance to redeem itself, to give people something positive to grab onto, baseball showed again that it seems to be out of touch with its fans.

''I don't think it's going to have a long-term impact on the integrity of the sport,'' Houston Astros outfielder Lance Berkman said.

Oh, no? Try telling that to David Cuscuna, who came from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to see the game.

''They treated it like it was a meaningless game,'' he said. ''It sends a lot of bad messages.''

Both teams had run out of players, and managers Bob Brenly and Joe Torre didn't want to risk hurting pitchers Freddy Garcia and Vicente Padilla by making them go more than the two innings they'd already worked.

But fans didn't know that. There was no explanation at the park when Torre and Brenly consulted with commissioner Bud Selig after the top of the 11th. The Fox Sports broadcasters figured out what was going on, but even they didn't know what would happen.

''What is the decision? Why should it take so long?'' announcer Joe Buck asked.

Finally, with only two outs left in the bottom of the 11th, the stadium public-address announcer told the crowd a tie would be declared if the NL didn't score.

''The decision was made because there were no players left, no pitchers left,'' Selig said. ''This is not the ending I had hoped for. I was in a no-win situation.''

He said he was so upset he couldn't sleep, and he vowed Wednesday to make sure the game never ended in a tie again.

It was only the second All-Star game tie, the other one coming in 1961 because of rain.

Fans booed Selig, yelling ''Let them play!'' Many left the stadium in disgust, not even waiting to see the final two outs. Some fans in right field tossed bottles.

''I'm assuming Bud made that call?'' asked Joyce Petrowski, who'd come to the game from Phoenix. ''Well, he's not winning any fans.''

And the way things are going, baseball can't afford to lose any more.

Attendance at ballparks throughout the country is dropping. Fast. Fancy Miller Park is on pace to draw nearly 1 million fewer fans this year, which would set a modern record for largest drop-off in a new ballpark's second season.

Ratings for the All-Star game, which rebounded last year, dropped 14 percent to a 9.5, the lowest ever in prime time and the second-lowest ever, ahead of only an 8.6 for the 1953 game in Cincinnati.

Fox said ratings for its national Game of the Week, however, are up from last year. Ditto for regional games on Fox Sports Net.

''If something were to happen and there would be a work stoppage, in our careers the game would never be the same,'' Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Curt Schilling said. ''I'm 35 years old. I want to play five or six more years. I don't want to play five or six more years in front of 7,000 people.''

Others doubt that would happen. The national pastime is too ingrained in American society, they say.

''It would be hard for me to believe a strike would eliminate major league baseball from our culture,'' Berkman said. ''Not that it wouldn't be catastrophic. But you can't convince me people wouldn't come back.''

He obviously hasn't met Tom Boese.

In the 1980s, Boese went to 20 games a year at the old County Stadium in Milwaukee. When he wasn't at the ballpark, he was listening to the Brewers on the radio or watching them on TV.

But after the 1994 strike, Boese staged his own walkout. Over the past eight years, he's been to just four games. If County Stadium hadn't closed and Miller Park hadn't opened, he might not have gone to any.

And with the threat of a ninth work stoppage looming, Boese has a message for baseball.

''I probably would never come to a ballgame again,'' he said. ''Period.''



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