National | Sports

Issue: "Iraq: The image war," May 22, 2004

Good bad news

While his team was still in training camp, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban told Access Hollywood that while Kobe Bryant's legal problems might be a personal tragedy, the self-styled owner said the controversy was good for the NBA. Criticized at the time, Mr. Cuban could be proved correct, but only on his broader point-any news is good news.

Consider baseball: Ripped in the media and in Congress for their response to the steroid issue, major-league baseball's attendance figures were up nearly 17 percent in the first month. Could it be that baseball's supposedly juiced sluggers created more interest than contempt? Or has the sport, following an exciting post-season, simply regained ground lost to the NBA or NFL?

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It would be one thing if traditional baseball towns like New York, Boston, and Chicago were the only ones seeing attendance boosts. But the defending World Series champion Florida Marlins drew more than 30,000 per home game during the first month-almost two times more than last season. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays, long thought to be a franchise without a pulse, are up 10,000 fans per game through the first month.

Commissioner Bud Selig hasn't stopped to explain why ticket sales rise even as average ticket prices soar to nearly $20. He probably wouldn't use Mr. Cuban's explanation. Rather, he might say the spring of 2004 bears no resemblance to last spring. With the economy in better shape and no war to watch on television, baseball fills the gap.

Pay cut

Last month Kerry Collins woke up to find it was Eli's world, and he was just living in it. For Mr. Collins, the Giants' trade for rookie Eli Manning meant the end to a lucrative $7 million salary. It also meant Mr. Collins had to hit the streets to market his wares again after a five-year stint with the Giants. Young quarterbacks like the St. Louis Rams' Marc Bulger sure make life tough for veterans these days (ask Kurt Warner). Come to think of it, life isn't easy for the rookies either. After all, Mr. Manning was this close to having to play in sunny San Diego.

Call it a buyers' market for teams looking for quarterbacks. As of the beginning of May, teams looking to scrape the bargain barrel for a quarterback could choose from former Pro Bowlers, Super Bowlers, or both. Not to mention teams looking to turn some scrap-heap ballplayer into the next Tom Brady or Jake Delhomme. Want to win now with a veteran who has been through the NFL wars? Vinny Testaverde or Mr. Warner should suffice. How about a quarterback who, at least theoretically, is in the prime of his career? That would be Mr. Collins, and this time he won't cost $7 million.

Around the horn

A good performance at the Wachovia Championship may not save Tiger Woods from slipping from his top spot in the golf world. As Fiji native Vijay Singh keeps performing, Mr. Woods's stretch of nearly five years atop the world rankings may be coming closer to an end. Mr. Singh stands poised to overtake the slumping American superstar, perhaps a week after the U.S. Open.

Perhaps even greater than major-league baseball's urge to make a buck on advertisements on bases for the movie Spider-Man, sportswriters everywhere sought to turn a phrase like a double-play. "Even before he got on base, Spider-Man was picked off," Associated Press writer Ronald Blum wrote after baseball officials reversed course. Said a Newsday report: "Now, like a villain in a Spider-Man movie, [Bud] Selig and his cronies have made a quick getaway."

Most sports franchises want taxpayers to build them new stadiums or arenas. NASCAR wants North Carolina to build it a $50 million test track to service the $1.5 billion stock car racing industry. And the state agrees. Gov. Mike Easley pushed the state legislature to spend $15 million for the project, possibly linking the test track to the University of North Carolina-Charlotte's motorsports engineering program.


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