Where is the bell jar big enough to cover an entire baseball team and preserve it from harm, exactly as it exists this instant, in a comely state of grace?
If Earl Weaver had his wish, his Baltimore Orioles would be put into suspended animation at this hour.
For those who have watched the hatching and harboring of the current Birds for the last three seasons, this September will pass far too quickly. It ought to have more than 30 days.
The evenings and afternoons are dwindling down for watching and savoring one of baseball's true flash powder paradoxes -- the '79 Orioles, a team of young, low-paid no-names that not only has become a winner but verge on becoming a dreadnought.
In future, all discussions of baseball's internal chemistry, all hot stove debates about the game's hidden gears and levers, may have to start with theories that explain these Orioles.
The pennant race in the strongest league in four-division history has been extinguished by this unexpected and almost whimsical powerhouse that has played about .700 baseball for its last 130 games and has a huge 11-game division lead.
The Orioles, who have won 50 games during seven winning streaks of six or more games, have reached a point of being held in awe within the game. "Whoever they meet in the playoffs," says New York's Reggie Jackson, "they will beat in three straight."
"The Orioles may be hard to explain on paper," says Boston's Carlton Fisk, "but they're easy to understand on the field. You can sense them. They seem to feel invincible."
For the last three weeks of this regular season, the O's simply will be a club on display, a sort of public exhibition of what the word "team" means on those rare and only partially explicable occasions when that mysterious creature comes into being.
"We can't wait to get to the ballpark," says Rich Dauer. "There's no place we'd rather be than around each other.
"If anyone starts to get a big head, we all jump in their shorts at once. These guys won't let you grow up. I feel like a rookie."
These Birds are far, far from being invincible, though their armor of highspirits is impregnable right now.
Carl Yastrzemski can say, "Baltimore has the best and deepest pitching staff I've seen in 19 seasons." But that doesn't mean that the Orioles can't come apart like a wet paper towel in the playoff or World Series.
"This team doesn't feel pressure," says Dauer, blissfully. That's because it has never been under any. But it will -- soon.
That is why these September days should be relished. The playoffs of October are pure three-out-of-five Russian roulette, a system to decide a pennant that seems to have been created so that the better team can lose as high a percentage of the time as is humanly possible.
If the O's were in the AL West, they would lead California by 16 games and Kansas City by 20.But that doesn't mean that it won't be the Angels or Royals who end up in the Series.
That is all the more reason to appreciate the Orioles now. In football, it is one crisis game that best tests a team's mettle.
But in baseball, the long haul is always the best judge. And it is for that long track that the Birds are best suited by far -- by virtue of their pitching and their team temperament.
Pitching is baseball's equivalent to mental health. A team with doubtful hurling will develop a different neurosis every day. A team with stability on the mound has calm nerves, since it feels certain that its pitcher will give it time to find a way to win.
If one characteristic epitomizes the Orioles, it is patience. "All summer we've been looking at the damn scoreboard," says Fisk, "and every night Baltimore is tied up, 1-1, in the fifth inning. And every night we know their pitching will hold the fort until they win, It's depressing."
Last Saturday, the O's beat Boston, 3-2. A Red Sox player was told, "That's the most runs Baltimore has given up in one game in a week."
The Oriole's five starting pitchers are all ranked among the top 16 in the league in earned-run average. In fact, the highest I's ERA is Steve Stone's 3.69 -- and that is lower than the team ERA of the Yankees, which is the second best in the league. Every other club is above 4.00.
In fact, the Orioles have a chance to become only the fourth team in modern major league history to finish the season with a team ERA more than a run lower than the league average. The Birds currently are hurling at a 3.23 pace while the league stood at 4.24 after Sunday's games.
The other teams to exceed that one-run standard are the 1926 Yankees (3.00/4.02), 1948 Indians (3.22/4.28) and 1939 Yankees (3.31/4.62).
"Our pitching can be fantastic for years to come, and I'm talking about 10 years, says Weaver. "People think we're at a peak, but our pitching just just has to get much better.
"I don't hestitate to say that this club has a better staff than those '69, '70, '71 teams that won 109, 108 and 100 and went to the Series every year," Weaver, who obviously thinks he is sitting on just such a three-year dynasty.
"Jim Palmer'll go to the Hall of Fame. Mike Flanagan and Dennis Martinez will probably both win over 200 games and have 20-win seasons. Scott McGregor is in the Dave McNally mold. I think he'll have a 20-win year.
"Sammy Stewart and Dave Ford . . . we don't know how good they'll be, but I'd say that they are right in the same pattern as Wayne Garland, Flanagan and Martinez at the same stage."
Nevertheless, Weaver is candid enough to admit that his club, which has won 14 of its last 18, is "right now doing more than we're capable of doing. You just can't keep on winning and winning the way we are."
Flanagan has won 11 of 12 and McGregor nine of 11. Stone has not lost since July 6. Martinez pitched a shutout in his last game. Palmer has returned and well may steal away with the ERA title.
The team's hardest thrower, 6-foot-7 Tim Stoddard (1.56 ERA), would like more bullpen duty, but Tippy Martinez (9-2, 2.79) and Don Stanhouse (7-3, 18 saves) have the top jobs locked up.
Ford, 6-foot-4, has a 1.37 ERA in 40 major league innings and will have to buy a machine gun to get into a game.
Let's see, who did we forget? Oh, yes, the best long reliever in baseball -- Stewart.
"I keep waiting for our starters to have a 'bad round,'" Weaver says meaning a string of early knockouts."We're long overdue for one. It has to come."
Just as impressive as the Birds' hurling is their collective personality.
"IVe never been on a winner," Stanhouse says grinning. "But this must be what it's like"
From Weaver on down, the O's live by ritual and superstitution. Stanhouse must let out a horrid scream 10 minutes before every game. Ken Singleton must lead the team in a locomotive cheer as Al Bumbry steps into the box to leadoff the game. Lee May must pick a screaming mock-argument with a different player each day after batting practice. May and his victim rant and curse at each other until both have used up a week's ill-will toward mankind. Then, everybody laughs.
No one knows what "the boat" is, but Pat Kelly is in charge of deciding who is who and who is not on it. To be left "off the boat" is considered a dark fate. Currently, Frank Robinson, the coach is in danger of being left off unless Kelly forgives him.
Taking Weaver's lead, the Birds may be the most open and loose team in baseball. Candor is a trademark. They have stumbled on a unique method of dealing with the press; they tell the truth, within the limits of common sense, since they know Weaver will never make reprisal against a player who exercises his freedom of speech.
"I leave my players alone. I stay out of their private lives. It's not my business," Weaver says. "They can say what they want, about me or anything else. That doesn't mean I won't chew 'em out. I got a right to say what I think, too.
"But I don't play politics or personalities when I make out the lineup card. It's my job to be above that."
When the Orioles lose, they are momentarily, subdued. But out of genuine disappointment, not sham. By the time they reach the team bus, the music is playing and their mood is normal -- that is to say, neither jubilant nor depressed.
"Somebody asked why I allowed the players to blow noisemakers and play music after we lost," says Weaver.
"I told him. 'We play those things because we're two games ahead of everybody else in this league and we worked our butts off to get here. We've earned the right to feel bad about ourselves.'"
For those who are accustomed to the number, and often cantakerous, clubhouse of baseball's rich children, the Orioles are nothing less than a revelation.
To be sure, their days of being at peace will end. Nothing good can stay. But for the time being, money is never mentioned in the locker room of the best team in baseball and everyone wears jeans and speaks his mind.
Stan the Man Unusual gives his Tarzan call to arms and the Orioles prepare for battle. For the moment, in one corner of their lives, they have found somthing better than wordy goods to drive them.
They have discovered what it means to play the game of basball properly, and to do it as a team.
Now, if someone only had a bell jar.