Anyone who get genuinely indignant about a game probably deserves a horse laugh. Be that as it may, if California beats Baltimore in the American League playoff, a lot of righteous beating of the baseball breast will be in order.
The Angels are fine fellows, and all that. They led the major leagues in scoring this year, ringing up more runs a game then any team in 15 seasons. That's right, more than the Cincinnati machines of the 1975-'76 or Boston's Over the Wall gangs. And they have two pitchers named Nolan Ryan and Frank Tanana.
But if they beat the Orioles, it will be a revolting development to anyone with a broad sense of baseball tradition. In fact, it will be foul play, a raw deal, and a kick in the shins to everybody's white-haired mother.
The Orioles, drained by free-agent defections, building their program on a shoestring, had a .642 record while running away in one of the strongest divisions in history.
The top four teams in the AL East had more wins than any other four teams combined among the other 22 in baseball. The Orioles outdistanced Milwaukee, Boston and New York by a total of 33 games in the standings.
By contrast, the Angels, bolstered by $15 million worth of free agents -- including 30-homer Oriole ex-patriot Bobby Grich -- had a .543 percentage while struggling until the last week before winning one of the weakest divisions ever.
As a whole, the AL East finished 68 games ahead of the West in head-to-head play. In the East, the Angels would have been fifth, 17 games behind the O's in the loss column.
Finally, the Birds beat the Angels nine of 12 games in '79.
The American League champion -- the best team in the circuit -- already has been decided. It is not a moot point. It's the Orioles by a clear margin. The results of the playoff can't change that subjective baseball understanding of which is best, even if they can put the wrong team in the World Series.
If a mad scientist wished to concoct a format by which the Angels would have the maximum possibility of upsetting Baltimore, he would have created the playoff at hand.
First, as an insult to logic, and a disgrace to any sense of fair play, our Dr. Frankenstein would give the home field advantage to the Angels. And make no mistake, in the last three years, no one knows why, home field has come to mean as much statistically in baseball as in the NFL.
Unbelievably, not only are three of the five possible games slated for Anaheim, but they are the last three. If Ryan and Tanana can get a split in Baltimore, the Angels need win only two of three in their park to be champs.
Is this a baseball crime? Should the game have incorporated season record in awarding home field edge long ago? Is the commissioner in his customary deep coma when the best interests of baseball might step on TV's toes?
You betcha -- on all counts.
In addition, and equally disgusting, two of the three games in Orange County are slated for 5 p.m. twilight starts -- that time of day when pitchers dominate, skills are ground down to the same level and luck can play a maximum role.
Should a fifth game be necessary, the O's probably would face the Ryan Express in the half-light. But TV will have prime time, starting with Wednesday night's opener in Baltimore in which Jim Palmer is scheduled to pitch against Ryan.
The playoff system has another inherent, though unavoidable, warping of the sport which, this year, hides California's greatest weakness while eliminating the O's greatest strength -- pitching depth.
The Birds have nine pitchers with 600 winning marks. In a five-game playoff, who cares?
The Orioles' only good break is that -- to accommodate TV, of course -- the teams must make a daffy transcontinental flight without a day off. Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, who could commute by riverboat, have a day off. The Birds on the Chesapeake and the Angels near the Pacific do not.
By pure accident, this screwball schedule helps the O's. In a fourth game, the crummy Angel staff (21st in ERA), would be reduced to five-game winner Chris Knapp against (13-6) Scott McGregor (or Steve Stone or Sammy Stewart or . . . ).
If, heaven help, the Angels had gotten a day off, the Orioles might, in significant situations, have faced only four Angel pitchers -- Ryan, Tanana, steady Dave Frost (15-9) and ex-Seattle reliever John Montague. Any contender has four quality pitchers; only the O's have 10. Little good it does them.
In slugfests, the O's should have a huge advantage. Getting into the Angel long relievers is like batting practice. But, in playoffs, slugfests are rare -- especially if two games are in the twilight.
The Birds do have two advantages. They won't play on synthetic turf, and they won't face the plastic grass monsters in Kansas City.
The Orioles' major lack is team speed. Turf exposes it. The Birds hate southpaw speed-changing artists. The Royals had three (Paul Splittorff, Larry Gura and Steve Mingori), while the Angels have only Tanana, who owns the Orioles.
Also, as Oriole Coach Ray Miller allowed, "We just don't seem to know how to pitch the Royals. All our pitchers establish the changeup early in the game. The Royals take these awful-looking off-balance swings at the changes, hit down on top of the ball and beat out turf choppers. It drives us crazy and almost takes the change up away from us.
"Let's just say," added Miller, "that we seem to have a good idea about the 'holes' in a couple of key Angel swings. You can never be sure, but we trust our book on them."
Ultimately, the Orioles have one basic advantage. They are a significantly better team. They deserve to win, not the Angels, who have split their last 70 games. And both teams know where the merit lies.
However, under a bizarre, and in some cases unjust, set of circumstances, that may not mean as much as it should.