Home Team Moves: Far and Maybe Near

WHEN pro sports teams pick up and move, they often leave a trail of bewildered and alienated fans in their wake. Fans grumbled when the Dodgers fled Brooklyn for Los Angeles in the 1950s, when football's Raiders crossed California's north-south cultural divide in switching from Oakland to L.A. in 1982, and when Baltimore's beloved Colts shipped out under cover of darkness to Indianapolis in 1984.

Leagues have learned to create more legal safeguards to prevent such migrations unless necessary for business reasons. But what happens when a team decides to move, yet stays within the "neighborhood"? That, too, can have its unsettling aspects. No doubt fans of the New York Yankees and New England Patriots considered some of these last week, when news circulated that moves were afoot to find a new home for the Yankees and to try to lure the Patriots from Foxboro, Mass., to Hartford, Conn.

Evacuating Yankee Stadium, a veritable shrine, would seem baseball sacrilege, but the team's lease runs out in 2002, and club owner George Steinbrenner has hinted at moving the franchise to the suburbs. Acting early to head off such an eventuality, New York Gov. Mario Cuomo has begun to explore ways of keeping the team's New York address, maybe by constructing a new Yankee Stadium on Manhattan's West Side.

The Yankees have been concerned about declining attendance, which in part must be a reflection on their lackluster performance in the recent past. But attendance hasn't perked up significantly with a better team, and one may assume that the Bronx's reputation as a rough-and-tumble neighborhood may have something to do with it. A move somewhere may be inevitable.

The Patriots' news also involves a prominent politician. Connecticut Gov. Lowell Weicker participated in a Hartford press conference in which Francis Murray, a former part-owner of the Patriots, unveiled a sketchy plan to buy the club and relocate it to a proposed new stadium on state land along the Connecticut River. The Patriots' current owner, James Orthwein, is a St. Louis businessman who would like to acquire a new team in St. Louis, if the league decides to expand there. (Two cities will be selecte d sometime in October.)

Orthwein obviously couldn't own two franchises simultaneously, so he may soon put the "For Sale" sign out on the Patriots, who began in Boston and moved some 20 miles southwest of the city, to Foxboro, near Rhode Island, in 1971. They ceased operating as the Boston Patriots then, and elected to hang their helmets in "New England," thus creating the first and only pro team identified with a region and not a city or state.

Now this decision has taken an unexpected turn. In promoting a move to Hartford, Murray says he's trying to make sure the Patriots stay in New England. For many reasons, their Foxboro "home" has been less than ideal, and in the aftermath of some lean seasons, speculation has grown that the franchise might desert the region altogether.

Hartford has not been wildly supportive of its hockey Whalers, but then they've never really distinguished themselves on the ice. Plus, the National Hockey League doesn't have the NFL's cachet.

If the Patriots were to move to the Hartford area, many ticketholders would still be within reasonable driving distance. And if the proposed stadium were sited in or near Hartford, this might anchor the franchise, which seems in limbo in Foxboro. An attempt to tie tennis tongues

When a player yells an obscenity in tennis, lip-reading isn't required. Most everyone hears it loud and clear, since there often is less crowd noise generally than in other sports, and TV microphones are placed right at courtside. At Wimbledon this year, tournament officials seemed especially vigilant, cracking down on players not known for their volatility. Generally well-mannered American Jim Courier was fined, as was Patrick McEnroe, whose behavior seldom resembles that of his older brother John. Comm endably, what one woman player called "female restraint" kept the women out of Wimbledon's language dog house.

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