The unraveling of the New York Yankees, which has been gradual and generally comic most of the season, is accelerating as the season's end nears.
Even if the Yanks win this World Series, there will be no need to break them up. That is now inevitable. Never have so many players wanted so badly to leave a great team.
"There is no way I will be back next year," was the word today from Roy White, who has conducted himself with quiet dignity in the midst of mayhem. "Plenty of others feel the same way."
Among them are Mickey Rivers and Thurman Munson, who have demanded to be traded. Mike Torrez is playing out his option and would vastly prefer Boston to New York. Ken Holtzman, the man at the bottom of the mine shaft, cannot possibly return. Catfish Hunter admits he may be finished.
"I have two years left on my contract. I intend to be paid. I can do Holtzman's job," Hunter snapped, meaning collect big money for doing nothing.
Few teams in history have had the talent, the proven names, that these Yankees do. Perhaps none ever has been so unhappy.
Manager Billy Martin flung incentive in the direction of Reggie Jackson, and prefaced it with several hundred works of cogent reasoning about Jackson's recent second-guessing of him, about how Jackson's job was to shut up and produce, and about how he - Martin - would "stand on my record."
Gabe Paul, the Gunther Gabel-Williams of general managers, tried to get his big, dangerous cats back on their stools today in a fierce and preposterous morning press conference.
"In Toronto, earlier this year, I told our players to cut out the bull and play ball and they did," said Paul. "I'm telling our players now to bear down and forget all the bull . . ."
Paul maintained that "this is just another chapter in the tumultous history of the '77 Yankees." But every Yankee knows this also is the final chapter, Year-long frictions, long documented but officially covered up, now are coming full into the open.
"If I had managed this team this year," said a veteran Yankee starter today, we'd have won by 20 games. We're here on dumb luck. We had too much talent not to win, no matter how badly it was used.
"We haven't used our speed. We just worship the home run and the big inning. The owner orders lineup changes," said the player who refused "for now" to have his name used.
Today the Yankee knack for the ridiculous may have peaked when Jackson and Munson, who seldom agree, both insisted that they would boycott the rest of the Series if their boxseat ticket allocations here were not improved.
"These tickets are a disgrace," said Jackson. "I won't put on my uniform. I'll sit in the clubhouse until Bowie Kuhn brings me tickets.
Poor Paul's only answer to that was, "We did the best we could with what we had . . . Here are my two tickets and I'm giving them up to nobody."
Plenty of teams have had five personalities as complex, fractious and touchy as George Steinbrenner, Martin, Jackson, Munson and Rivers. But no team has had the misfortune for such a quintet to be (1) the owner, (2) the manager, and (3) the three most important everyday players.
Add to that the new freedom of speech that players of the free-agent era feel with their multi year, set-for-life contracts, and - voila - you have the New York Yankees.
It often has been said that the fear of losing is the most powerful motivation in sports. If that is true, the New Yorkers remain dangerous down to the last out. No team in memory has so much to fear in defeat as these Yankees. In victory is refuge. In defeat, a thousand thorns in New York's briar patch.