Sports

PICKING POCKETS AT YANKEE STADIUM

Citing increased costs as a reason for raising ticket prices makes no economic sense—if prices are already at optimum levels, raising them will reduce revenues by scaring off fans—but it sure makes for one hell of a scapegoat. So when the Yanks announced ducat surcharges for 2003 on Friday (bleacher seats are now $10, tier reserved $20, and above that if you gotta ask, you can't afford them) and blamed MLB's new revenue-sharing plan, prepare liberal doses of salt. More likely, some functionary in the Steinbrennerpalastnoticed last summer's string of sellouts, decided the market could withstand a price hike, and figured Bud Selig made a better whipping boy than unbridled greed.

While the new prices will take a Giambian bite out of fan wallets—if subway fares had risen at the same rate as bleacher tickets over the past 20 years, the D train would cost five bucks—the Yanks will offer $2 discounts on tickets bought in advance of game days. (This is no doubt a nod to the ticket free fall that teams like the Indians and Orioles experienced once games no longer sold out weeks in advance—if you can't scare people into buying tickets they may not use with the threat of sellouts, scare them with increased day-of-game prices.) All this for a team that's rumored to be ready to dump its All-Star catcher, while acquiring All-Flop Mike Hampton. Those Knicks mini-plans are starting to look good by comparison, no? —Neil deMause


PASS IS PROLOGUE

Two wins and a pair of narrow losses testify to the fact that Chad Pennington is not the QB of the future, but the QB of right now. As heroic as coach Herman Edwards and any number of TV talking-head ex-QBs made Vinny Testaverde out to be, the difference in the Jets' fortunes can be attributed to the fact that Pennington understands how to maneuver offensive coordinator Paul Hackett's schemes, and Testaverde didn't.

For as many calls as Hackett has received to open up the team's attack (i.e., pass), New York's offensive resurgence, capped by Sunday's 44-13 rout of the Chargers, has been marked by a scheme significantly more run-conscious. The West Coast system Hackett has brought to the New Jersey swamps isn't built to gobble large swaths of real estate with a single pass. It is built to repeatedly punch at the chest of a defense with quickly executed plays to a variety of possible options, a style that meshes with Pennington's oft-reported film study sessions. "He's a great student of the game," says Hackett of the former Marshall signal-caller. Nobody ever said that about Testaverde.

With Testaverde under center during the first month, the Jets passed twice as many times as they rushed the football (2.02:1, to be precise), and averaged a paltry 154 yards of offense and 12 points a game. From Pennington's debut in the early moments of a 28-3 loss at Jacksonville (in which Testaverde was injured after misfiring on his first four pass attempts), the pass-to-run ratio has been balanced to 1.25:1, while the team's production has more than doubled to 353 yards of offense a game. "The offense is better suited to Pennington," said Todd McShay, an analyst for the War Room, a football think tank. "He is accurate enough and has the quick release to trigger Hackett's offense." —Paul Forrester


HOWE NOW?

While it wasn't quite as good as Yogi Berra's "Thanks for making this night necessary" line, we liked Art Howe's remark at the press conference last week introducing him as the new Met manager: He straight-facedly expressed gratitude to the New York media "for all the wonderful stories written about me," once the news leaked out that Howe was indeed leaving the AL West division-winning Oakland A's for the mess that is the Mets. Of course, the biggest laughs generated at Shea since Howe's hiring have been coming from owner Fred Wilpon, whose mastery of talking out of both sides of his mouth is rapidly reaching Señor Wences-like proportions.

Throughout the past decade, and certainly since the Yankees began piling up their recent championships, Wilpon has veritably demanded that GM Steve Phillips make sure the Mets field (and we use that term loosely) a team of established major leaguers year after year rather than try to build from within. The result has been a farm system utilized primarily as trade bait (remember Terrence Long for Kenny Rogers?) and, not surprisingly, a thrown-together big-league squad that, for the past two years certainly, has been as fundamentally soft as Mo Vaughn's stomach. Hearing Wilpon suddenly rhapsodize about how the Mets "have a lot of great players here, old ones, young ones" (meaning, we suppose, Timo Perez and Grant Roberts) and how confident he is that Howe's strengths in bringing along young players will help the club "get over that line" (whose? Mendoza's?), we're reminded that we heard a lot of the same talk not that long ago when another reputedly quiet-but-firm "teacher" was designated by ownership to turn around an uninspired Met club. That guy was named Torborg. —Billy Altman

 
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