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'Enough, already,' Angelos says to baseball's critics


The drumbeat of criticism for baseball owners from the media has been so relentless that it has affected the sport's attendance and its ratings, or so Orioles owner Peter Angelos believes.

Angelos says the turnstiles have not been turning as much as they should because writers and broadcasters continue to pick at the owners for the continuing labor strife.

"It [baseball] certainly is going to suffer to some degree, but it is suffering attendance-wise to a larger degree than I would expect because the press keeps on talking about the work stoppage," said Angelos.

"And I know why. You want to see them get a labor-management agreement. You want the sport stabilized, and I agree with all those objectives, but it might be better if you [the media] were pushing us, rather than hammering us. In other words, push us in the right direction, rather than slamming us periodically."

Angelos, who took the most player-friendly stance of the 28 owners before last season's strike, says the public's indifference to baseball runs counter to the usual pattern after strikes and work stoppages.

"Generally, the public forgives and forgets. That's the usual American way. We can certainly see that in the large consumption of German and Japanese automobiles. If we can forgive and forget that [World War II], I'm sure we can forgive and forget a baseball strike in which the owners and the players didn't use their best judgment," said Angelos.

The X-factor in Angelos' judgment is the media's writing and talking about the problems of the game.

"The constant discussion about the mistakes of both sides has caused fans to be turned off who maybe by now would have forgiven and forgotten," said Angelos. "I believe that criticism is to a large extent justified, but it seems to me that there comes a time when you say, 'OK, enough, already. You said it. You said it a thousand times. We got the message.' "

The Orioles, who lead the American League in average attendance with just over 41,000 customers per game, are still down almost 5,800 tickets per contest from the same number of dates last year.

Their local television ratings also have suffered, as Channel 13 is averaging an 11.1 rating through 12 telecasts, down from last year's 15.4 through the same number of airings. Channel 54 is posting an 8.0 average rating this year through 10 telecasts, down from an 11.9 from last year.

Home Team Sports, the team's cable carrier, also is experiencing a drop-off, getting a 3.8 as opposed to last year's 4.9, through 31 dates.

Angelos said he was not alarmed by the attendance and ratings figures, saying the team's poor early-season play and the lack of a full off-season to get group sales have contributed to the lower numbers.

Angelos also took exception to the latest round of media criticism for baseball owners, which came last week when ABC and NBC, partners with Major League Baseball in The Baseball Network, announced plans to quit the venture after this season.

The presidents of the networks' sports divisions -- ABC's Dennis Swanson and NBC's Dick Ebersol -- accused baseball leadership of leaving a "trail of broken promises" and treating the networks like "scum," presumably in search of a better deal next season with Fox or CBS.

Angelos said the tenor of Ebersol and Swanson's remarks, were "in baseball parlance, bush league."

The Orioles owner also chastised the networks for calling an end to The Baseball Network venture -- in which the three entities divvied up production costs and advertising revenues in lieu of broadcast rights fees -- six weeks before the Aug. 15 deadline for its future to be decided.

Swanson and Ebersol complained that their sales and programming departments needed to know if baseball would be continuing the project and that MLB was slow to answer.

"In a fit of pique, they castigated Major League Baseball and criticized the leadership. But all they said was, 'They haven't responded to us yet,' " said Angelos. "Well, we don't have to respond to them until Aug. 15. I would say there was sufficient time for the two sides to physically meet and to determine what they propose to do jointly or to go their separate ways."

No avoiding the draft

The most interesting amateur draft in all of sports, the NBA's version, takes place tonight from Toronto.

TNT will have live coverage from SkyDome, with Ernie Johnson, Hubie Brown, Dick Versace and Kentucky coach Rick Pitino on hand. WWLG (1360 AM) will augment NBA Radio's coverage of the draft with local reaction, anchored by Stan "The Fan" Charles. Everything gets under way at 7:30.

Sharper image for ESPN

ESPN is expected to unveil former Green Bay Packers receiver Sterling Sharpe today as its "NFL GameDay" studio analyst, to replace Phil Simms, who went to NBC. Sharpe was forced to retire from the game last season because of a neck injury.

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