You knew Earl Weaver had to be doing something for the past couple of months besides growing tomatoes and figuring out new ways to sandbag his golf handicap.
He was thinking.
"Well, by this time Thursday I guess the New York Yankees will be out of the race for the rest of the season," said Weaver today as his Baltimore Orioles worked out in Memorial Stadium.
What's that again, Earl? Speak slowly, please.
"Startin' Thursday, the Yanks can't get back in a race until October 5th (after the regular season is over). We don't have to pay no more attention to them until then," said Weaver. "We can just ignore all their games, cause they won't mean nothin' to nobody, except when we play 'em head to head.
"Anyway," said Weaver, "the Yankees probably won't try very hard the rest of the year, anyway, even though I guess they'L have to say they're tryin'."
Snicker, snort, chortle.
Earl Weaver loves nothing better than to be a half a step ahead of everybody else, and prove it.And right now, he's figured out the rest of the baseball season a little bit before most other people.
The baseball owners plan to vote Thursday (their scheduled Tuesday meeting was set back by the air controllers' strike) on how to play out the remainder of this defaced season. They'll decide on a "ontinuance" of the year with no format changes, or, far more likely, adopt a split season with first- and second-half champions and an extra tier of playoffs.
Like almost everyone else in baseball, Weaver assumes the split season will be adopted. Why else did the owners ask the players for permission to vote on it, and write it into the strike settlement, if they weren't going to use it? After all, a "new season" presumably would hype attendance in cities that would otherwise be out of the pennant race, while the extra four teams in the playoffs would create more revenue both at the gate and from TV. And a dollar fix, any way they can get it, is what the owners want.
"As far as our team goes," said Weaver, "I feel very strongly both ways. It doesn't make enough difference to us to care about.
"But if they vote for a split season, they'll be making a big mistake," said Weaver. "The time they ought to vote for a split season is NEXT year. It would be great for baseball; we oughta split every season in half, just like they been doing in the minors for years."
Okay, Mr. Genius of 33rd Street. Enough is enough. What are you talking about?
First, why is it bad to split this season in twain.
"'Cause the teams that are awarded the first-half title (Yankees, A's, Phillies and Dodgers) won't have any motivation to play well in the second half," said Weaver. "In the minors, the first-half champion has a reason to try to win the second-half title, too, because, if you win both, you get a bye in the first round of the playoffs. That's how it should be."
Well, then, why won't baseball award a bye this year to the four first-half winners if they prevail again and are double champions?
Weaver got a quizzical expression on his face.
"Are you kidding?" he asked. "Who in the hell would vote for it? The Yankees and Oakland'll vote for it, because they've already won it, but none of the other 12 teams would. You think we're going to vote the Yankees a possible bye that can't possibly help us and might well knock us out of the playoffs?
"The time you vote in the bye is BEFORE the season when nobody knows yet where his self-interest will be, because you don't know where you'll finish. Now, everybody knows what's best for 'em and that's how they'll vote."
What is the result of not having any bye?
"It means the Yankees, for example, know they're going to have to play SOMEBODY in the new extra playoffs whether they win every game of lose every game for the rest of the season. The only edge they'll get for playing well is probably the home-field advantage in one game. In baseball, that's next to nothing."
Couldn't the ingenious owners come up with some other gimmick to sweeten the pie so a team would give 100 percent to win both halves? The commissioner's office today said that "several options were being considered, the details of which could not be divulged."
"Like what?" asked Weaver.
Unless the owners decide to institute thoroughbred-racing-style weight allowances in baseball (six pounds for a shortstop, eight for a reliever), they'll have a terrible time coming up with the moral equivalent of the good ol' bye.
"You're not going to fool the New York fans, either. That game-winning hit in the bottom of the ninth don't mean much if everybody in the park knows that all you're playing for is a home-field advantage in one game.
"Who knows what it would do to attendance?" needled Weaver. "Of course, I guess there are some fans who just come out to see Reggie and Winfield swing and don't care about who wins."
So, now that the Yankees may soon be the invisible men for the rest of the season, what ARE the Orioles concerned about?
"If the Yankees keep playing well and win the second half, too, then we'd have to get in the playoff with them by heaving the second-best overall record for the whole season, both halves combined," said Weaver, again assuming that the current split-season proposal on the owners' docket will be approved.
"If the Yankees play bad, then we'd have to win the second half outright."
Doesn't that bring up an interesting wrinkle, oh. Sage? Doesn't it imply that the Orioles would have a slightly better chance of making the playoffs if the Yankees won the second-half title, rather than if they played badly?
After all, second-place Baltimore is a game ahead of Milwaukee, and further ahead of everybody else. If the Yankees won the second half, those Oriole edges would be incorporated in figuring an overall season winning percentage to see who was second best. However, if the Yankees went sour, the Orioles would have to win the second half of the season outright. Their first-half edges over Milwaukee and such would be eliminated, since everybody would start fresh.
"I guess so," admitted Weaver, who loves tanged motives and might just be trying to annoy the Yankees so they won't lay down the rest of the way.
Weaver's most novel notion is that, while a split season may be the worst sort of gimmick for '81, it might be an excellent idea for the future.
"Sure, we've got a good system, but maybe we could improve it," he said. "Just watch the rest of this year . . . the split season idea will catch on. If I had to bet, I'd say once it's in, it's here to stay.
"Set it up like the minors. Give a bye if you win both halves.That's plenty of incentive. Cut the season back to, say, 154 games -- two 77-game halves. Then, do the All-Star Game up properly, right in the middle. Give everybody a week off to heal injuries and start fresh. That week off would give you fresher players in the second half.
"When the kids get out of school around June 1, you'd have nearly 30 days of pennant race, right away. A team that had a bad first-half injury to an Eddie Murray or Reggie Jackson would be reborn around the Fourth of July. What's wrong with a second chance?"
Once the notion of a split-season, plus eight teams in the playoffs, is in place, one or both of the notions may look so flashy and lucrative that they never will be removed.
Ten years from now, it's possible that the Great Strike of '81 will have left relatively little mark on baseball. But a decision that baseball's owners will make this week, after no public discussion and in an atmosphere almost of afterthought, may have permanent repercussions.
Is it possible that the owners, after not getting all that they sought from their players, are now trying to sneak one of their long-dreamed-of money-making gimmicks past a dazed and distracted baseball public?