For Ted Simmons, general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Teamsters' strike that has shut down the Press and Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh's two newspapers, since early May, goes beyond the loss of something to read with his morning coffee.

It relates to a loss of income for his team.

"It killed us," said Simmons, a former major league catcher.

"We're working very hard to take a small market and put people in the park, but when a newspaper strike hits, I believe people get out of the custom of following their team.

"We have a kid pitching tomorrow night (Tim Wakefield) who should be one of the most salable young players in baseball, but we can't sell him because the best vehicle for selling him hasn't been available."

Although they won their third consecutive Eastern Division title this year, the Pirates fell 237,907 from their record attendance total of 2,065,302 in 1991.

The depressed economy was an obvious factor in that, Simmons said.

"But the major portion can be directly attributed to the newspaper strike," he added. "And when you lose 200,000 in our market, it hurts. I mean, every day the papers have been on strike, it's hurt more."

Simmons also said he did not accept the theory that the players might have benefited by the reduced media pressure, the fewer questions, the absence of any negative reporting.

He said there was also an absence of any positive reporting.

"And I think everybody likes to be stroked for the most part," Simmons said. "When they're not, it can affect them. But fortunately for us, it didn't become a problem or distraction, and I suppose there's something to be said for that."

Simmons added that he thought it a shame that most players don't understand what should be a symbiotic relationship with reporters. If they did, he said, "the clubhouse would be a hell of a lot more pleasant place."

Tonight's Game 3 of the National League playoff series with the Atlanta Braves at Three Rivers Stadium is a sellout, as is Game 4. Six thousand tickets remain for Game 5, if it is needed. The city and the Pirates drew criticism last year for their failure to sell out the four games in Pitttsburgh, but Simmons said that trying to sell out a 58,000-seat stadium is different from trying to sell out 35,000-seat Fenway Park or 46,000-seat Camden Yards.

"We've been beat up for three years in a row, but it's a matter of perception," he said of how a park's size can twist attendance totals. "Unfortunately, the camera behind the plate picks up those empty seats in the upper deck of the third level--picks them up pitch after pitch after pitch."

The Pirates' small-market payroll was a significant factor in the departures of Bobby Bonilla, John Smiley and Bill Landrum from the 1991 team. Barry Bonds and Doug Drabek, both eligible for free agency, may be playing their final home games in Pittsburgh.

Would Simmons favor an NBA-style salary cap, as some have suggested?

"When the NBA cap lets Magic Johnson sign for $14 million a year, I don't think that's the model we should have in mind," he said.

With the Pirates trailing the Braves, 0-2, and Bonds unable to correct his pattern of postseason slumps, Manager Jim Leyland again discussed what he insists is the media's misplaced focus on Bonds.

"It bothers me a little that so much of it is on Barry," he said.

"This is the last time I'm going to say this. Barry is a big part of our team and we need him to do something, but we don't need him to carry us. We need a lot of people to do something. I mean, Barry can't carry us any more than Terry Pendleton can carry the Braves. They've gotten contributions from a lot of guys, and that's what we need.

"We didn't have (the division title) clinched five minutes when somebody was asking if Barry's postseason blues would continue. I don't think that's fair. We're a team."

Bonds has a new house in Temecula, but acknowledged that he went house hunting in Atlanta this week, as he did previously this season in New York and Chicago.

"I just want to be prepared, and I would say there is nothing wrong with that," he said of his intention to test the free-agent market. "I don't want to be put in a position where I'm not familiar with the area."

The Braves probably won't know until Sunday if Deion Sanders will be with them for Game 5, if it's needed, or in Miami, where the Falcons play. The Braves are operating on the assumption that Sanders will honor his agreement to remain with them throughout the postseason, but Manager Bobby Cox said Thursday that he still has a hunch that Sanders, who doesn't speak with reporters, will try to charter a plane and be in uniform for both games.

Sanders participated in Thursday's workout, or as General Manager John Schuerholz said, "He was on the plane, but I didn't see if the back door opened."

Formerly general manager of the Kansas City Royals, Schuerholz went through some of this with another two-sport star named Bo Jackson. "They're great athletes, but they're just a little aggravating," he said.

Schuerholz said it is a "tragedy" that Cincinnati General Manager Bob Quinn wasn't being retained by Red owner Marge Schott.

With the resignation of Manager Lou Piniella, who may be in line to manage his hometown Tampa Giants if the move from San Francisco becomes a reality, Schott is minus the two architects of the Reds' 1990 World Series victory.

Schuerholz shook his head and said Quinn worked "with the skill of a surgeon" in identifying the Reds' problems last winter and correcting them with the acquisitions of Greg Swindell, Tim Belcher, Dave Martinez and Scott Bankhead, among others.

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