If someone had asked me six months ago how I expected to feel now, on the morning after the end of the baseball season, I would have said: "Exhilarated or depressed, depending on how the Orioles do." I would not have said: "Indifferent." But indifferent is how I feel, as so I suspect do millions of others.
Indifferent, that is, to the intradivisional playoffs that begin this week to determine which baseball teams will play in the interdivisional playoffs that begin the week following to determine which teams will play in the World Series that begins the week following that. Get it? It will all go on until hell, or at least Philadelphia, freezes over. I will be watching on television, because I am a sucker; but my heart will not be in it, because I am not a fool.
I have had a love affair with baseball for almost 40 years, or since I was old enough to say "Cliff Mapes"; I have had a love affair with the Orioles, one that passeth understanding, since moving to Baltimore three years ago. Yet now, on the fifth day of October in the final month of my 42nd year, I look ahead to the orgy of "crucial" games that is about to begin with approximately the same enthusiasm I reserve for a proctoscopic examination.
No, it has nothing at all to do with the players' strike, per se. I supported the players from the beginning, and if they were still striking I would still be supporting them. The strike was provoked by the owners in hopes of turning public opinion against the players and forcing them to abandon constitutional rights awarded them by the federal courts. The strike had to be called and had to be supported.
Yes, it has a lot to do with the so-called "second season," that blatant (and blatantly unsuccessful) abomination dreamed up by the owners to hype attendance. The owners, Edward Bennett Williams being just about the lone exception, are a group of men whose stupidity is exceeded only by their avarice. The public criticism they have recently come under and the loss of attendance they have suffered are richly deserved.
But what it mainly has to do with is the traumatic break that this fractured season has inflicted upon the natural order of things, or at least the natural order of my things. When God made the world He ordained that the regular season of baseball should begin in early spring and end 162 games later in early fall. (Actually, He ordained 154 games, but that's another subject and another column.) He did not ordain that after 50 games had been played there would be a nice 50-day recess and then 50 more games would be played, to be followed by an interminable and indecipherable series of trumped-up games played under Arctic conditions.
But that's what we got this year, and that's why I do not give a tinker's damn whether at the end of all this folderol the champion of the World According to Bowie Kuhn is Kansas City, Los Angeles, Vladivostok or Hyderabad -- though it would be a fitting conclusion to this appalling year if Kansas City, which compiled a losing record for the combined "first" and "second" "seasons," won the tainted title.
The natural order of things has been so thoroughly mucked up that I did not lose a moment's sleep over the failure of my Orioles to find a place for themselves in this post-season mess. For one thing, they demonstrated quite conclusively in the "second season" that they didn't belong in any playoffs, not even tainted ones. But of greater importance, when my Orioles win their next championship, I want it to be fair and square, unalloyed by labor disputes or attendance gimmicks or Kuhnish blather. I want to win next year.
All the above addled thoughts passed through my mind yesterday as I sat in Memorial Stadium and said farewell to the season that never was. Back in January or February, whenever it was that the 1981 schedule was made public, I'd ordered up four tickets for this, the final game of the year, the foes being the archrival Yankees; back in May, my wife and I had invited a couple of close friends from New York to join us for what we confidently expected to be the climactic game of the season, the ultimate Baltimore-New York clash for East Coast supremacy.
What we got was a bright, chilly afternoon and a game that did not mean a thing, to the players who walked through it or the spectators who idly watched the innings pass. To me baseball is baseball is baseball, and so I enjoyed myself; but when the last out had been recorded, I scooted right on out of the park.
The contrast with the past two final home games was stark and depressing. On the evening of Sept. 26, 1979, the crowd started to salute the heroic championship club in the seventh inning and continued long past the end of the ninth; the evening turned into an orgy of affection, players and fans cheering each other in a display of urban community the likes of which I had never seen. Then, on the afternoon of Oct. 5, 1980, the scene was repeated even though the Orioles had failed to win the title; this time the cheers were for their doughty pursuit of the Yankees and for the memory of a five-game series against those hated rivals, played in Baltimore in mid-August, that was the greatest moment of baseball the city had known.
Yesterday nothing happened, but then there was no reason for it to. There were no cheers in Baltimore because there was nothing to cheer for -- except the end of the worst season in baseball history. Hip. Hip. Hooray.