The most wrong-headed baseball idea imaginable is beyond the whisper stage. Said Yankee owner George Steinbrenner: "By 1980, I think you'll see . . . wild-card teams."
Already, blood should be boiling within baseball purists. That would be a disaster, the ultimate sell out for television money, the last reasonable major pro sport lowering itself to basketball, hockey and football.
If Commissioner Bowie Kuhn really cares about "the best interest of baseball," his every ounce of energy will be in opposition. But Kuhn's bosses, the owners, have watched the wild-card seed grow, especially in the NFL, and have been fascinated with its lush, dollar-green color.
The wild-card concept, allowing non divisional winners into the postseason playoffs, has been with us for years, for so long in fact that there might well be a tendency to quietly accept it from baseball as part of some sporting evolution.
It deserves a spirited fight.
In truth, one of the most popular proposals calls for something good in addition to the awful playoff idea. That would be a realignment of divisions and interleague competition.
But to get the Yankees playing the Phillies and the Dodgers playing the Red Sox on a mildly regular basis, baseball seems to think it must allow the best second-place team in each league into the playoffs to make the playoffs fair.
That hardly need be the case, because what applies to the NFL, NBA and NHL simply does not have any relationship to baseball.
Baseball is trying to determine what in the near future would generate the most new television revenue. More divisions lead to closer competition and more meaningful games. Wild-card teams lift this notion one step higher - and thus make it more profitable.
One can almost condone the wild-card idea in the NFL, because its season is reasonably short and teams have a chance to overcome injuries and bad luck. If an important player, a quarterback for instance, misses a few games, a gifted team still has a chance to win the Super Bowl.
Pro basketball and hockey is another matter. Their seasons are long - and thus fair for everyone. Injuries come and go to every team, bad calls even out and by the end of 30 or 82 games the best teams are known.
But nearly every team still alive at that point gets to the playoffs. It took 51 games involving 10 teams for the NBA to determine a champion last season and the team with the seventh-best regular-season record - the Bullets - won.
Abe Pollin wonders aloud why Washington has not supported the Bullets this season in a manner befitting champions - and a major reason is that the regular season is almost meaningless. If a team wins four more games than it loses, it probably will make the playoffs.
The baseball season is nearly twice as long as basketball, just more than twice as long as hockey and 10 times as long as football.It is more than fair - and this season just completed offers evidence both to that fact and why a "no wild-cards admitted" should be tacked to the playoffs.
This season's lingering memory will not be the World Series but the Red Sox-Yankee drive that ended with that playoff in Boston after both teams ended the regular season tied for first in the American League East.
The Yankees had an early stretch of injuries and discontent - and had enough time to recover. The season was long enough for an equally disastrous string of injuries to hit the Red Sox. Theirs was the most memorable stretch run in a generation - and had a wild-card playoff system been operative, it never would have happened.
Both the Yankees and Red Sox would have clinched playoff positions and the final days of September would have been as dull as they actually were delightful. And the home-field advantage in baseball means far less than what the wild-card fight is all about in the other sports.
Baseball is a pitcher's game - and if the Yankees could have manipulated Ron Guidry so he would have been healthier for the playoffs, if it meant they would finish second, they gladly would have grabbed the wild card.
There always will be screams from fans and teams with better records that failed to make the playoffs. The Red Sox had the second-best record in all of baseball this season - and were left home. The Dodgers in prior years suffered an almost similar fate, by being in the same division as Cincinnati.
So what? The sanctity of the season is all important, as basketball and hockey may now be learning. And these apparent inequities have a way of evening out over the years.
On the eve of the Yankee-Red Sox playoff, Yankee Manager Bob Lemon was asked if one game would be a fair way to separate the teams. Why not a best-of-three series or best-of-five?
"Because you have to cut all this off somewhere," Lemon said. "Besides, if we kept up much longer, we'd be into the basketball season." In fact, they already were.