No way Earl Weaver is going to win this one. The Baltimore Orioles' main brain may have earned the workingman's admiration when he told the big, bad umpire he didn't know a tarp from a carp. But the umpire made the Orioles forfeit a game they figured to win, and if the Birds miss the pennant by one game, that will be The One.
The Orioles are still arguing. Weaver and his general manager, Hank Peters, have appealed to Lee MacPhail, the league president. Their argument is that umpire Marty Springstead should have ordered the Toronto Blue Jays to completely remove a tarpaulin covering a bullpen mound Thursday night.
When Springstead attempted a compromise - he ordered the tarp pulled further away from the foul line - Weaver called his team off the field and refused to play. Trailing, 4-0, after five times at bat, Weaver said his players' safety was more important than any game. Springstead said he would forfeit the game to Toronto if the Orioles didn't get back on the field. They didn't. He did.
The Orioles want MacPhail to order the game replayed, or at least continued. "It's an umpire's mistake," said Weaver, whose claim is that Sprindstead, the umpire in chief, wouldn't remove the tarpaulin because Toronto wouldn't let him.
Weaver says the umpire has complete authority on the playing grounds once the game begins. The manager is correct about that, but he's going to lose this argument - MacPhail will support Springstead's forfeit - because Springstead will contend he believed the field ready for play. That being the case, Weaver is questioning an umpire's judgement - and no one ever wins when disputing an umpire's judgement.
While Weaver did have a legitimate complaint, his pursuit of justice was excessive. It is as if Jack Nicklaus, on the tee, sopts a beer can in the rough and refuses to play the 18th at Augusta out of fear his drive will wind up in the can. Edward V11 may have given up his throne for a woman, but why should Earl 1 give up the pennant because of a tarp?
Weaver was afraid one of his players would run onto the dread tarp and fall down. The night before, his left fielder had stumbled on the bullpen mound. The addition of the tarp only two or three feet into foul territory at Toronto was dangerous, the manager said. How dangerous? "Sure death," Weaver said. He was serious.
So Weaver, who considers most umpires tourists stopping by a ball field on their way to perdition, spoke to Sprindstead. They have spoken often, and Waever says of the umpire, "The man gets incoherent." Weaver said the umpire didn't know what to do, and suddenly he was in the Toronto dugout and, next thing you know, he's telling Weaver to get his team off the field.
"He talked to the Toronto dugout and said he's got no authority to have the tarp removed," Weaver said.
Did Springstead actually say that to Weaver?
"No, but what else could've happened?"
A lot of things. Perhaps Springstead thought the danger was minimal. He had removed coffee cans filled with concrete that had been used to hold down the tarp. He had folded the tarp back maybe 10 feet from the foul line. Perhaps springstead doesn't like Weaver, either, and decided the manager ought to suffer the consequences of his foolishness.
Weaver said the umpire has rule-book authority to keep the playing field in order. "If a banner comes out on the second deck in Detroit, they'll stop the game and make'em take it down." Weaver said. "They'll stop a game and take a coat off the railing. But you're telling me they won't move a tarp?"
Springstead did move it. Only not far enough to please Weaver. "Ot was a power struggle between Earl and Springstead," said Doug DeCincs the Orioles' third baseman. And we all know who wins those in baseball.
What if? What if the Orioles lose the American League pennant by a game? There are no guarantees they would have won that one at Toronto, but when you're only four runs behind baseball's worst team, you're still in the game.
"If we don't replay that game, it will be a supreme injustice to baseball," DeCinces said. "And if the league rules against us, you can come back to me and I'll have something to say. It may make them fine me, but..."
What if? Baseball's veterans live by the idea that a game in April is as important as one in September, and that is true mathematically but not spiritually. A losing streak of four games, say, in April is no cause for panic. Let it happen in the precious days of September, when a pennant is there for the taking, and the world collapses.
So when somebody asked Weaver the ultimate What If, the manager said, "No one game means anything.I could go back right now and count six games, 10 games, we should have won. I just did what'd right. Us playing our next 16 games with a healthy team is more important than one game - because we can win 16 straight. We've done it here before."
Shortly before tonight's game, league president MacPhail appeared at an impromptu press conference here and sais he had talked with Weaver and Peters and wwould announce a decision on Baltimore's appeal Saturday morning.
"I want to talk to the umpires again," said MacPhail, who said he had the power to set aside the forfeit if "something obviously improper and incorrect happened."*