MINNEAPOLIS, JUNE 30 -- Maybe it was the lockout. Maybe it's the weather. Maybe it's still early. Or maybe it's something else.

The Baltimore Orioles are on a club-record attendance pace, but seven of the 14 American League clubs are down from 1989. In each of the last three seasons, a majority of clubs have had increases.

Through Wednesday, AL attendance was up for the sixth consecutive year. But credit Toronto for about 80 percent of that increase. It has the defending AL East champs and The SkyDome -- a facility in which the Blue Jays didn't play until June 5, 1989.

Moreover, the Red Sox -- fourth in the AL in total attendance despite Fenway Park's small capacity -- is one of the clubs lagging behind last year. That should change with the Red Sox leading the AL East. Also, Cleveland's attendance is down slightly.

But in 1989, nine clubs enjoyed increases, with Chicago down by fewer than 1,000 per game. In 1988, eight clubs had increases, with Chicago and Kansas City down only slightly. And in 1987, 11 clubs had increases.

So, what does all of this mean?

Given that interest in the game does not seem to be waning, it may mean the baseball boom is cooling down. It also may mean baseball cannot take attendance for granted.

NL attendance is virtually unchanged from last year. Even though eight of the 12 clubs are up, the top three clubs in total attendance -- St. Louis, Los Angeles and New York -- are each down by more than 110,000 from last season.

Not Shy About Chisox

It was good to see the Athletics handled their fall from first place with grace and equanimity. After he lost the last game of a three-game sweep by the White Sox last Sunday in Oakland, Dave Stewart said:

"There's not one player over there, with the exception of maybe Carlton Fisk, {Ron} Kittle, {Ivan} Calderon -- maybe -- that can hold my jock as far as I'm concerned.

"The Chicago White Sox, they're a club that's having a little success, but to me they have to learn how to handle success. And until they do, they'll always be a second-rate club no matter how well they play or who they beat."

The White Sox have won 13 of their last 14 road games. And they've done it with flair. Tuesday night in Anaheim they beat the Angels, 11-9, after blowing an eight-run lead. . . . The Rangers went into the weekend having not hit a three-run homer since May 9. . . . The Indians are 0-4 with a rainout and a snowout when their games have been on ESPN.

Not Wasted on the Young

The Dodgers' Ramon Martinez, 22, who usually throws the ball into the stands after a complete-game victory, altered his routine Monday night in Atlanta. When he walked off the field with a victory over the Braves, he handed the ball to a boy near the Dodgers' dugout.

"He was cute," Martinez said. "Why not?" . . .

On Monday, Padres Manager Jack McKeon benched 14-year veteran shorstop Garry Templeton. Templeton, 34, has been with the club 8 1/2 seasons, and had started 58 of its first 66 games.

"I've got to look down the line," McKeon told San Diego writers. "It's not like we're a half-game up or a half-game down. We're 10 games out. We have to face reality. . . . I told him {Templeton} this could be short term, this could be long term. But if everything goes right, it could be forever."

Everything didn't go right. Bip Roberts, who moved in at second base when Roberto Alomar was switched from second to shortstop, botched a double-play grounder, costing the Padres two runs in a 5-3 loss. . . .

The Royals escaped last place for the first time in nearly three weeks on Tuesday by defeating the Mariners in Seattle.

"Sixth place is a step, that's for sure," Manager John Wathan said after the game. "We're not too far out of fourth place either."

So much for optimism: the Royals lost to Seattle on Wednesday and Thursday to return to last place, 1 1/2 games behind sixth-place Texas and five behind the fourth-place Mariners. . . . Dave Parker has taken charge of names and faces for the Brewers. He has dubbed Darryl Hamilton "Sausage Nose" and Gary Sheffield "Home Plate Face."

The Mets Are So Hot . . .

They finally caught Vince Coleman stealing. He had been 57 for 57 in his career against the Mets before pitcher Ron Darling and catcher Mackey Sasser did the honors in the first inning Tuesday night with Coleman running on Busch Stadium's artificial turf.

"I finally got that son of a gun," Sasser said. "I knew I'd get him."

And what did it take, Mackey?

"It was the right day and the right time and I threw the ball right there -- knee-high, right on the bag. As good as you can make."

Coleman, who said "I'm glad it's over so people won't have to read about it anymore," went on to steal three bases in three more attempts during the rest of the series. . . .

This past week's three-game series between the Tigers and Athletics provided a thrilling matchup between Cecil Fielder and Jose Canseco, two of the AL's top hitters. Canseco went zero for five with two strikeouts, but he was busy signing a zillion-dollar contract. Fielder went two for 12 with seven strikeouts and two double play groundouts, one that came in the eighth inning of Tuesday night's game after Oakland had intentionally walked Alan Trammell to load the bases. Fielder went into Friday's games without a homer in 10 games and without an RBI in eight. . . .

It was a kidney stone that felled Kurt Stillwell, not a herniated disc as thought, and he's already back with the Royals. . . . The Indians' Keith Hernandez wouldn't go to Colorado Springs on rehab, but he's concented to go to Winter Haven of the Gulf Coast League on a 20-day rehab.

Worms in the Apple

Negative New York Note of the Week (Mets File): Amidst his club's massive winning streak, Sasser's batting-practice line drive hit infielder Tom O'Malley's forehead, inflicting a concussion.

Positive New York Notes of the Week (Yankees File): When Tuesday night's game against the Brewers was delayed 16 minutes by a power failure that caused nearly all of Yankee Stadium's lights to go out, Yankees management entertained the crowd by showing Bugs Bunny cartoons on a videoboard that remained operational. . . . Outfielder-pinch runner Deion Sanders was demoted to Class AAA Columbus. Since the beginning of last year, his teams have totaled six head coaches-managers. The Yankees have had Dallas Green, Bucky Dent and Stump Merrill. The Falcons have had Marion Campbell, Jim Hanifan and Jerry Glanville.