VICTIMS OF GREED
This is an article from the Feb. 19, 1990 issue
In Florida and Arizona last week, everyone from peanut vendors to tourism officials winced at the bad news. Baseball's owners confirmed that spring training camps will not open as scheduled on Feb. 15 unless management and players come to terms on a new collective-bargaining agreement before then. At week's end that seemed unlikely. The two sides were still far apart, though the owners were hinting that they soon might come to the bargaining table with compromise proposals, including, perhaps, a revised revenue-sharing plan and an offer to scrap their pay-for-performance idea (SCORECARD, Feb. 12).
The owners, who in the past few years have been reaping hefty profits, don't seem overly concerned about the economic damage that they will inflict on others by keeping camps closed. Each year spring training generates $300 million of economic activity in Florida and another $145 million in Arizona. If camps are closed for long, the victims will include:
•Nonprofit organizations. A number of Arizona service groups, including the Mesa HoHoKams and the Scottsdale Charros, make most of their money from spring training sales of programs and souvenirs. Each year these groups donate several hundred thousand dollars of their proceeds to underwrite scholarships, youth leagues and other worthy causes. Smaller organizations will be hurt, too: The Dunedin, Fla., Little League raised $10,000 last spring by selling programs at Blue Jay games.
•Cities. Small cities without other tourist attractions, such as Winter Haven, Fla., where the Red Sox train, will suffer the most. Plant City, Fla., which built a $6 million training facility for the Reds two years ago at taxpayer expense, could lose $155,000 in municipal revenue if spring training is wiped out. West Palm Beach, Fla., which hosts both the Expos and Braves and which recently spent $1.4 million to upgrade Municipal Stadium, will lose $265,000 if the stadium sits empty all spring. In addition, more than 100 seasonal stadium workers will be without jobs.
•Private businesses. Deidre Draper, manager of a Mesa, Ariz., motel at which the Cubs have reserved 61 of the 136 rooms for all of March, estimates that her motel will lose $220,000 that month if Chicago pulls out. "We believe people will wait until the last moment to cancel, which will make it even more difficult for us to find people to use the rooms," says Draper. All sorts of mom-and-pop businesses—motels, diners, knickknack shops—count on spring training revenue to help carry them through the year.
Even if a lockout lasts all spring, visitors to Florida and Arizona will be able to watch some baseball. Minor league camps open soon, and one big league team is already training in Arizona: the Yakult Swallows of Japan's Central League.
THE ORANGE MONSTER
Last week the Caribbean Baseball Series was held in the U.S. for the first time, and it was darned near disastrous. In the deciding game on Sunday the Escogido Lions of the Dominican Republic defeated the San Juan Metros of Puerto Rico 16-5 before only 7,064 fans in Miami's Orange Bowl. Players from all four teams in the round-robin series—the champions of the Mexican, Venezuelan, Puerto Rican and Dominican winter leagues—were happy just to have survived the week.
The Orange Bowl was no place for baseball. Shortly before the week-long series opened, the field was chewed up by both the Pig Bowl, a tackle football game between the Dade County and New York City police forces, and by a soccer tournament. The dugouts were makeshift. The 32-foot-high left-field wall, dubbed the Orange Monster, was at most 250 feet from home plate. A ball hit over the Monster was a double, unless it also cleared the first 24 rows of seats behind the wall. Then it was a home run.
The annual series has been around since 1949 and over the years has featured such big league stars as Roberto Clemente. It was brought to the U.S. for increased exposure—mostly bad, as it turned out. The series is scheduled to be held in Miami through 1992, but the organizers may decide to move it from the Orange Bowl to 9,548-seat Miami Stadium, which was built for baseball and is only a few miles away.
GET ME TO SCHOOL ON TIME!
Last week brought a strong reminder of how powerful a hold big-time sports has on kids. In anticipation of Sunday's NBA All-Star Game in Miami, the Dade County public school system and the NBA promised every middle-school student in the county who maintained a perfect attendance record between Jan. 2 and Feb. 1 an invitation to a special All-Star Weekend exhibition in Miami Arena that would include a preview of the NBA's slam-dunk and three-point-shooting contests. Based on past attendance records, school and league officials expected no more than 15,000 students to qualify.
Instead, 26,244 of Dade's nearly 60,000 middle-school students had perfect attendance during the time span—an estimated 75% increase over the same period last year. Because Miami Arena seats only 15,008, the NBA decided to offer the qualifiers their choice of a ticket to the exhibition, a basketball, or a sports bag or jacket bearing the NBA team logo of their preference. Nearly 14,000 opted for the ball, bag or jacket, worth about $40 apiece. About 12,500 chose the exhibition, at which they heard former NBA great Bob Lanier and Detroit Piston All-Star Isiah Thomas speak about the benefits of staying in school.
Kansas City radio station KXXR-FM couldn't resist zinging Royals third baseman George Brett after Brett complained in a newspaper interview in late January that he was unappreciated and underpaid by his team's management. Brett, who earns $1.5 million a year, said the Royals should either pay him more or trade him to a team that would.
KXXR disc jockey Steve Douglas organized a mock charity drive at a local tavern, "in recognition that a significant Royals player [is] down on his luck." Listeners dropped off, among other things, canned goods, clothing, Kleenex (to wipe Brett's teary eyes), a plastic horn (so Brett could blow his own) and a gift certificate for preventive maintenance on Brett's Mercedes. A travel agent offered two free one-way airline tickets to anywhere "for George and his ego."
Contributions of any value were passed on to the Salvation Army. As for Brett, he turned contrite and called his whining "about the dumbest thing I've ever done."
FOR THE MOST DOGGED FAN
It hasn't been lost on the NFL's licensing mavens that two of every three American households have a pet. Next month the league will be out with an official catalog of team-logo-emblazoned products for cats and dogs.
"We'll have all the basic items covered," says Ann McDowell, senior licensing manager for NFL Properties. Those "basics" will include NFL sweaters, jerseys, collars, leashes, scratching posts, tags, bowls, bandannas (made by a company called Poochi), chewing toys (shaped like footballs and cleated shoes) and litter boxes (known as End Zones). Perhaps the most eye-catching offering, however, will be the Helmut Hut, a polyethylene doghouse that stands 27 inches high and is shaped and colored to look like a helmet. It will sell for $199 and be available in the colors of about 20 NFL and eight college teams.
Helmut Huts are made by Domation, Inc., of Columbus, Ga., a general contractor in the building of domed structures. When Domation began test-marketing domed doghouses two years ago, "a lot of my friends kidded me that they looked like football helmets," says company president Randy Marshall. Thus was the Helmut Hut born. Since September, Domation has been selling two versions, resembling the helmets of the University of Georgia and the Cleveland Browns. Last season the Browns kept a Helmut Hut on the field near the Dawg Pound, the section of stands at Cleveland Stadium in which their most rabid supporters sit.
The NFL hopes to see sales of as high as $5 million worth of pet products this year, and far more in the future. "Everything in the line is being done with a sense of fun," says McDowell. "We hope to expand it as far as it will go, even to birds and horses." What, no plastic Dolphins for the fishtank?
THEY SAID IT
•Dan Quisenberry, veteran relief pitcher, on his new contract with the San Francisco Giants: "It has guarantees through the year 2020, or until the last Rocky movie is made."