SUSPICION IS as essential to baseball as superstition and beer. Take away the suspicion that somebody -- owner, player, manager, umpire -- is pulling a fast one, and the game is reduced to a tedious matter of velocities, angles, athletic ability and Wheaties for breakfast.
This has been a banner year for suspicion, primarily because it has been a banner year for home runs. Since everyone knows that players aren't as good as they used to be, the most revered of baseball suspicions must be invoked to explain all the homers: it is the perennial suspicion that the Rawlings Sporting Goods Co., on orders from the baseball powers, has done something to hop up the ball and make it travel farther.
On the opposite page today, George Will attempts to dispel the cloud by arguing that the spate of home runs is the result of a number of recent developments in the way athletes play the game and prepare themselves for it. He says that "the homer glut, properly understood, illustrates the inadequacy of explanations that involve a single cause or a malevolent motive."
But this is to underestimate the imaginativeness of the average baseball conspiracy theorist, who believes not in a single cause but in a multiplicity of them, including these: the ball has been hopped up, the bats are all corked, the fences have been surreptitiously moved in 12 feet, the air is ionized and the force of gravity in the ballpark has been reduced 10 percent by a machine housed in a nearby abandoned power plant that stands on land owned by the brother-in-law of the commissioner of baseball. For all the converts Mr. Will is likely to make in this atmosphere, he might as well be preaching Methodism on a street corner in Tehran.
Currently a rookie whose name most people still misspell is on a pace to hit more than 60 home runs, and the general reaction is, "So what? My 5-year-old daughter could hit that rabbit ball out of the park." The crisis of confidence will come later this season when George Steinbrenner's Yankees give up eight consecutive home runs to lose in the ninth inning. As a sign of good faith and to soothe Mr. Steinbrenner, a top executive of the Rawlings Sporting Goods Co. will send his 5-year-old daughter to bat for the Toronto Blue Jays against the Yankees. After she clears the bases with a screaming triple into left-center field, the commissioner of baseball will tell reporters: "See? The kid didn't hit a home run. I hope this ends all the talk."
Mr. Steinbrenner, suddenly seized by a new suspicion, will demand to measure the amount of pine tar on her bat.