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Lockout Hasn’t Caused Walkout By Fans

NEWSDAY

Baseball fans have recovered quickly from the anger and frustration they displayed during the owners’ 32-day spring-training lockout. They are attending games at a rate that would set a major-league attendance record for a sixth straight year.

Though 15 of the 26 clubs reported a decline in attendance through Sunday, overall major-league attendance increased slightly. It was up by 47,133, or 0.6 percent, over 309 dates as compared with the same number of dates last year. Major-league clubs drew a record 55,173,096 fans last year.

“Given everything, I’m pleased with the numbers,” Commissioner Fay Vincent said Tuesday by telephone from Washington. “Attendance is up and that’s despite numerous doubleheaders and bad weather. I don’t think the lockout caused any effect on attendance. I didn’t think it would, not since my first day in spring training and the response I heard from the fans. They were glad to have baseball back.”

Said New York Met Vice President Al Harazin: “I don’t doubt there are a few people out there who are teed off because of the lockout. But I don’t see that in terms of macro numbers. There just aren’t enough of them to show up in the numbers.”

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American League attendance is up by 252,788. Virtually all of that increase is attributable to the Toronto Blue Jays, who are playing their first full season at the SkyDome.

National League attendance is down by 205,675. Much of that can be blamed on the Mets, who have suffered the biggest decline in attendance of any major-league team.

“As I read the numbers, the American League has been helped by Toronto being so powerful,” Vincent said. “They weren’t playing in the SkyDome at this time last year. The National League has been hurt by the Mets, who are traditionally one of the biggest draws, so I wouldn’t worry about that. They’ve had some bad weather. I know; I’ve sat through some of their games.”

Why are the Mets not drawing? Harazin admitted the lockout had one direct effect on the team’s attendance: Few people bought single-game tickets during the lockout.

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“It just killed our advance,” Harazin said. “During the months of January to March we took it right in the solar plexus. I’ve got to think everybody’s been affected by the lockout at least a little bit in that respect. People are going to hold their money in their pocketbooks if they’re not sure you’re going to play.”

Harazin also conceded that fans have stayed away from Shea Stadium because of the Mets’ poor start. The club lost 13 of its first 23 games.

“The team has gotten off to a slow start coming off a year that was not equal to the year before, when we came within one game of the World Series,” Harazin said. “That has been a factor. Also, there is a factor created through the media. Newspapers, television and radio keep saying, ‘Gee, the Mets are disappointing; Gee, the Mets are disappointing ... ' The steady drumbeat of that does have an effect on attendance.”

Harazin said Mets management was considering “little things” to improve attendance, including attacking the public perception that “you can’t get a seat out here and if you do it’s a seat behind the foul pole in the upper deck.” But he indicated the decline in attendance was not a cause for concern.

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“It’s too early for that,” he said. “If we would continue to see the gap widen, then we would be. But it’s like the season. It’s a little too early to start jumping off bridges. The key is to start playing better baseball.”

Here is how each team’s 1990 attendance, through Sunday, compares with its 1989 attendance through the same number of dates:

Toronto +245,277

New York Mets -125,475

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California +103,090

Minnesota -77,769

Oakland +74,833

Texas -73,311

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Seattle +71,076

Los Angeles -59,353

Chicago Cubs +58,483

Philadelphia -47,673

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San Francisco +47,032

Atlanta -44,970

Houston +37,687

Detroit -43,963

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Milwaukee +37,125

Kansas City -32,606

Baltimore +25,202

Boston -32,318

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San Diego +8,935

New York Yankees -29,970

White Sox +7,937

Montreal -26,813

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Cincinnati -24,525

Pittsburgh -22,865

Cleveland -21,815

St. Louis -6,138

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Through Monday’s games, Mets pitchers Frank Viola, Dwight Gooden and David Cone ranked 1-2-3 among the National League strikeout leaders. Only once before have three teammates finished a season in that order. That was in 1961, when Dodgers pitchers Sandy Koufax (269), Stan Williams (205) and Don Drysdale (182) completed the trifecta.

That Dodger staff produced three current major-league pitching coaches (Williams of Cincinnati, Larry Sherry of San Francisco and Ron Perranoski of Los Angeles) and one manager (Roger Craig of San Francisco).

There have been only 20 cases when teammates finished 1-2 (without ties) in their league in strikeouts, most recently in 1987 when Nolan Ryan and Mike Scott of Houston did it. In only eight of those 20 cases did the club with the two strikeout leaders finish in first place.

Expo Manager Buck Rodgers recently wrote an article for ,one of Montreal’s French newspapers, titled, “The Story Behind Mound Searches.” He was asked to write the article after he ordered umpires to check Houston pitcher Dave Smith and then the Astros countered by ordering them to search Expo pitcher Dennis Martinez. But the pitcher Rodgers most incriminated was the Yankees’ Pascual Perez, who formerly pitched for Rodgers in Montreal.

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Rodgers made one reference to the hair gel Perez uses. Then he wrote, “To come back to my friend Pascual, who so many managers suspected (of doctoring the baseball), let’s say I never directly asked him the question. If I don’t know something, I don’t have to lie when I talk about it. Sometimes ignorance is bliss.

“But according to my own observations, if he came back into the National League, I would be the first guy to have him checked.”

In a span of 372 games from Sept. 9, 1987, through Saturday, the Expos went 186-186. That broke down to 12-12 in 1987, 81-81 in 1988, 81-81 in 1989 and 12-12 this year. But don’t accuse their publicist, Rich Griffin, of turning in a mediocre effort. Griffin recently came up with these gems:

--When the Expos faced Houston’s Mark Portugal, Griffin noted that Montreal was 4-4 in decisions against other pitchers with significant European geographical names: Alex Madrid (1-1), Paul Moskau (1-2), Jim York (1-0) and Al Holland (1-1). Montreal then beat Portugal to run its European mark to 5-4.

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--The Expos are 5-7 on Youppi’s birthday, including a 7-0 win on Sunday. Youppi is the team’s mascot. On the day Youppi was born, Bill Lee beat Gaylord Perry.

--When Montreal’s Dennis Martinez started Thursday afternoon against the Dodgers’ Ramon Martinez, Griffin billed it as “the revival of the two-Martinez business luncheon.”


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