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Fans Send Message, But Is It Sinking In?

Three cheers for baseball fans!

No one - owners, players, sportswriters, even fans themselves - believed that addicts crazy enough to shell out $2 for lukewarm hot dogs ever would forsake their beloved Yankees, Braves or (fill in the blank). After all, “fan” is short for “fanatic.”

Maybe the true baseball fanatic hasn’t abandoned the game this summer. But enough marginal “fans” have done so to cause heartburn from Dodger Stadium to Yankee Stadium.

As the July 11 All-Star game nears, many sports fans remain indifferent to major-league baseball. Attendance is off about 20 percent overall, including 46 percent at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park. Television ratings have plummeted 24 percent. And two TV networks have announced plans to quit baseball after this season.

Said Dick Ebersol, president of NBC Sports: “The fact of the matter is: Major-league baseball seems incapable, at this point in time, of living with any long-term relationships, whether it’s with fans, with players, with the political community in Washington, with the advertising community in Manhattan or with its TV partners.”

Fan apathy worries greedy owners and players - but not enough to force them to resume labor negotiations. The players could strike again at any time.

Meanwhile, labor unrest in other professional sports proves that the lessons of this summer of baseball’s discontent aren’t sinking in.

National Basketball Association owners have locked out players for lack of a long-term contract; a contract proposal has been hammered out, but it has encountered some major snags.

The National Hockey League’s season began with a strike and ended with the Stanley Cup champion New Jersey Devils threatening to jilt their fans by moving to Nashville, Tenn.

Baseball fans have learned to deal with similar arrogance by withholding their support and money. They have discovered that time spent following their favorite club on radio or television is time taken away from their families. There are better things to do with $300 than blow it on a weekend at Seattle’s Kingdome.

The Ghost of Baseball Future attended the Seattle-Oakland game Tuesday. The crowd of only 9,767 at the Kingdome was so quiet that fans could hear players on the field talking among themselves. Said Seattle Manager Lou Piniella: “It was like a morgue in here.”

Maybe baseball is beginning to listen, after all.

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = D.F. Oliveria/For the editorial board