ANYONE tempted to think Buffalo, N.Y., lost interest in baseball after being passed over for a major-league expansion team should think again. The city's support of its minor-league team, the Bisons, is exemplary. Their attendance is far and away the best in the minors, at about 14,500 a game.
Two key factors in the strong attendance figures are Pilot Field, a first-class ballpark built five years ago in hopes of getting a big-league club, and an aggressive promotions department.
There are attendance incentives almost every game: Batting helmets, kites, collector's cards, and coloring books are among the giveaways. Added attractions have included a picnic-tent party, a Beach Boys concert, and carnival rides in the parking lot.
And, oh yes, the team, a farm club of the Pittsburgh Pirates, plays some pretty good ball. Buffalo is the two-time defending champion of the American Association's Eastern Division, where its rivals are the Nashville Sounds, the Indianapolis Indians, and the Louisville Redbirds. The Bisons got off to a slow start this season, and have been hovering near .500.
Since moving to Pilot Field from War Memorial Stadium (where the movie "The Natural" was filmed), the Bisons have had a higher single-season average attendance than 14 major-league clubs and have sold out 59 games in the 21,000-seat park. What makes these figures easily expandable more impressive is that Buffalo is only a short trip from one of the biggest attractions in baseball, the world-champion Toronto Blue Jays. The Jays topped the majors last year with more than 4 million spectators - many, presum ably, from the Buffalo area. Missed opportunity for some double Magic
While most sports news out of Orlando, Fla., recently has centered on whom the National Basketball Association's Orlando Magic chose in the draft of college players (Memphis State's Anfernee Hardaway, via a trade of draft picks), little attention was given the team's coaching change. Assistant coach Brian Hill replaced Matt Goukas, who became the team's vice president of basketball development. Hill was called a "logical" choice, because he is considered one of the NBA's top assistants, says a team execu tive. But there was an even more logical choice if the team had elected to pursue a "name" candidate: Magic Johnson.
Magic coaching the Magic certainly seems an intriguing prospect, and who better to tutor Hardaway? The 6-ft., 7-in. guard has been called "the next Magic Johnson" by some scouts, and surely Orlando's top draft pick could have benefited from Magic's advice, especially on how to get the ball to seven-footer Shaquille O'Neal, this past season's NBA Rookie of the Year. Racial makeup of sports is scrutinized
"Information picketing" is slated to take place tonight in Baltimore outside Oriole Park at Camden Yards, site of this year's baseball All-Star Game. The picketers, representing the sports arm of the Rev. Jesse Jackson's National Rainbow Coalition, want to encourage baseball to quicken the pace of minority hiring in the front offices of the major leagues. The specific concern is with the power positions, not with clerical or secretarial slots.
Joe Morgan, the all-star second baseman of Cincinnati's powerhouse teams of the 1970s and a Hall of Famer, makes an interesting observation on the subject. In his autobiography, "Joe Morgan: A Life in Baseball" (Norton, 303 pp., $21.95), he challenges anyone who doubts that discrimination still exists in baseball to consider the fact that blacks hired as managers have all been prominent players. "There are no black equivalents of Earl Weaver or Sparky Anderson or Buck Showalter, guys who had little or no
major-league experience as players," he writes.
Targeting baseball for its civil rights shortcomings is nothing new. What raised more eyebrows was when the Rainbow Commission for Fairness of Athletics took aim at the National Basketball Association, which is generally thought of as more progressive in this area. A survey released recently by the commission found that 78 percent of NBA players are black but 92 percent of front-office executives are white.
Commissioner David Stern defended the league, saying that while the NBA supports the work and intent of the Rainbow Coalition, "in this instance their criticism is misdirected."