Bronx to George: Show ‘Em the Gate
It’s been a quiet summer on the baseball front for Bronx borough president Fernando Ferrer. He’s hardly issued a single sound bite about keeping the Yanks at the Stadium. That’s because neither Rudy Giuliani nor George Steinbrenner has uttered a peep in recent months about moving the team to the West Side, Jersey, or Nashville. There’s a political motive behind Giuliani’s omerta—flogging his hugely unpopular pet project could only hurt GOP chances in this election year. But what’s with George? Simple: He’s got nothing to complain about. With little fanfare, the Yankees have joined the magic 40K club, averaging 40,695 per home game—which ranks them a solid third in the AL, only a couple thousand fannies behind Baltimore and Cleveland. This first-half performance puts the Boss’s Bombers on a pace to break last year’s franchise attendance record of 3,292,629.
As for Steinbrenner’s fellow owners, they don’t have much to complain about, either. Despite a round of blue-ribbon paneling and whispers about impending contraction, overall attendance is actually slightly ahead of 1998’s record pace, teetering near 30,000 per game. And lest the game’s powers-that-be forget that they’re selling upper-deck homers, not luxury boxes, we give you the story of the Cincinnati Reds. Home attendance at eyesore Riverfront Stadium jumped from 25,136 to 33,407, a bigger increase than Houston and Detroit, which put dreadful teams in shiny new parks. But the bigger story is the Reds’ road numbers—up from 28,392 to a best-in-the-Majors 40,126. Why? Simple: National League fans are hungry for a first look at history in the making in the person of Ken Griffey Jr.
Jockbeat has no problem with the Mike Bordick trade, which should solve the Mets’ shortstop problem for this year. But hey, what was with all the gnashing of teeth that ensued when it was revealed that the Mets were prepared to deal hot prospect Alex Escobar in the abortive Barry Larkin deal? True, Escobar is touted as a blue-chip talent, but he’s having a mediocre season in AA, and the Mets have a history of inflating their minor leaguers’ reputations in order to get better trade value for them (remember David West?). Maybe more to the point, can’t-miss prospects often do miss—for proof, think back to the Mets of the early ’90s, when the team repeatedly traded big-name stars for up-and-comers who never panned out.
Quick, who did the Mets hold out for when they dealt Bobby Bonilla to the Orioles in ’94? Right: Alex Ochoa, a supposed five-tool player, just like Escobar. And what alleged king’s ransom did they extract from the Rockies when they dealt Bret Saberhagen in ’95? Juan Acevedo, who hadn’t won any Cy Young awards the last time Jockbeat checked. And remember who the Amazin’s got for David Cone way back when? Ryan Thompson and Jeff Kent, the latter of whom has admittedly become a top player—but not under the Mets’ tutelage.
Granted, if you can get a decent player like Bordick without giving up your best prospects, so much the better. But it’s worth remembering that sometimes giving up top prospects for big-league established talent is a good idea, especially for a team like the Mets, who have the resources to offer the kinds of massive signing bonuses that can replenish a minor league system in relatively short order.
Bond-ing With a Superstar
In the beginning, people used to hang around baseball clubhouse entrances hoping to get an autograph from anyone. Then came baseball card collectors who would hang around hotel lobbies and baseball clubhouse entrances for autographs that they could sell at a card show. Then came Home Shopping Network and players hawking their own signed items to TV viewers.
Now comes Keen.com, the “Live Answer Community” where you get answers to your questions over the phone, and AthletesDirect.com, a developer and publisher of official online sites for athletes. The two companies are putting two auction listings on eBay for 15-minute live phone calls with Barry Bonds through Keen.com.
“Anyone who wants the opportunity to ask Barry how it feels to steal 400 bases, or what he likes about playing for the San Francisco Giants, can go to eBay and place a bid on a Keen Call with the legendary baseball player,” reads Keen.com’s news release. Nowhere does Keen suggest the winning bidder ask Bonds why he is such a colossal asshole. The starting bid for the calls was $1 and the auction runs through August 4.
Jockbeat wishes good luck to all bidders, especially those who really want to talk to that guy.
• Is there anyone—anyone—who looks forward to listening to Brent Musberger‘s daily sports spiel, which runs at 3:40 each afternoon on WFAN? It’s hard to decide which is worse: the tired news “analysis” Musberger trots out each day (invariably cribbed from various wire-service stories and Internet sites) or the faux-dramatic basso profundo in which he intones these tidbits, trying to lend a phony air of theatrics to the proceedings. Musberger’s act might play in some sports- and media-starved Southern Succotash town, but in New York he’s a joke. Why does WFAN waste airtime on his spot? . . . • Not sure if that blue-ribbon panel on baseball economics noticed this, but Vladimir and Wilton Guerrero of the Expos both have “Guerrero”—with no first initial—printed on the backs of their jerseys. We’re always hearing about how cash-strapped the Expos are, but would it really be such a budget-buster to put the V. and W. on the brothers’ unis?
Contributors: Paul Lukas, Allen St. John, Evan Weiner
Sports Editor: Miles D. Seligman