Meanwhile, Edward Bennett Williams burns. The Orioles' owner says of Boo-Hooie Kuhn and his bumbling buddies, Lee MacPhail and Chub Feeney, "It appears they would screw up a two-car funeral. Everything gets screwed up." This the counselor said after studying the troika's latest brainstorm, a real dilly that Williams calls "another outrage in a litany of outrages."
Williams has figured out how baseball can look dumber than a sweet potato. If Kuhn's Kommandos order this season played under the newest modified split-season plan -- which says, among lots of things, that a team winning both halves meets the second-half's second-place finisher -- then it is possible for the Orioles to have the best record in baseball and not get in the playoffs.
Yes, yes, yes, the Orioles could finish second, or even third maybe, in the second half. And if the Yankees fall dead with no motivation, having already won the first half, then the Orioles' overall record could be much the best. Then if Detroit, say, playing its first 18 games at home as it does, should win the second half, that leaves the Orioles at home watching the Kuhn Klassic on television.
"I hold my head in dismay," Williams said.
The consummate dramatist, Williams stared out his eighth-floor window, as if looking for Boo-Hooie in earth orbit, and then Williams did this: He rested his forehead in his palm. Dismay, clearly.
What baseball should have done is simple. So simple that maybe it can still be done. All we need is a Kommando brighter than a sweet potato. We need one who can call up Hank Peters and say, "Er, Hank, that plan you sent us six weeks ago, do you have a copy?"
Peters is the Orioles' general manager, a baseball man dating to the good ol' days when being a baseball man didn't cause small children to point at you while giggling. Six weeks ago he called the Kommando headquarters and said he had a plan for continuing the season when (if) the strike ended.
The Peters' proposal called for simple continuation of the season, with the 1-2 finishers in each division meeting in a best-of-five playoff to determine the division champion. Such a playoff would be a good thing because the strike took away 50 games from the full season that, almost without fail, reveals the truly best team. The playoff would give the second-place team one last chance to prove that circumstances short-changed it.
"We had a perfect solution," Williams said, "that made absolute perfect sense. It would have hyped enthusiasm, it would have compensated for the problem of losing one-third of the season. But it was summarily rejected. They had a plan they were wedded to, and they rammed it through . . . I just despair at the way things are fouled up."
The beauty of baseball is its simplicity.
They play all summer and the team that wins the most games is the champion.
No wild cards, no 16 of 21 teams making the playoffs, no point-differential calculus to compute.
We know Boo-Hooie protects the game's integrity. He tells us so. Bravely, he kicked Willie Mays out of baseball for the sin of shaking hands on behalf of a casino. The commissioner also went to the mattresses to protect the game from the dark temptation of a fellow's public relations work at a race track (Terry Crowley had to quit Timonium). With the full force of innuendo on his side, Kuhn worked to keep a pro football owner from buying into baseball. No absentee owners, Kuhn said.
George Steinbrenner III lives in Tampa.
He owns a race track.
He owns the Yankees, too.
Kuhn looks upon Steinbrenner and pronounces him okay.
With a commissioner this consistent in his application of integrity, it is small wonder his employers, the owners, never asked his advice during the strike. Nor is it any wonder that left to his own devices, Kuhn dreamed up a split-season playoff plan that opened heaven's gates to a devil's flood of games lost intentionally -- even forfeited -- so that a team might make it to the World Series.
"I think that when the strike ended, they (the Kommandos) must have breathed a sigh of relief," Williams said, searching for an explanation of how baseball got itself into this mess, "and nobody was really thinking what the split season could mean."
But they had heard from Peters, for 32 years a baseball man respected at all levels of the game. But they must have known a split-season would be looked upon as a cynical attempt to manipulate the fans' emotions. But they had to realize this throwing-games possibility. But, but, but . . .
Couldn't they have saved themselves this public humiliation by making a single phone call to someone who understands baseball?
Williams raised an eyebrow eloquently. "Well . . .," he said, explaining.
And why, really, should Williams expect more from his game? He has a happy team. He has a first baseman making $1 million a year. All his veterans are signed to multi-year contracts. He exists comfortably with the status quo which so many owners can't handle. This was a strike, Williams said, that should never have happened but did because the negotiators, Ray Grebey for the owners and Marvin Miller for the players, could not negotiate.
"There was so much animosity, old animosity and old anger and pride and envy at that negotiating table, it was a constant obstacle to resolution of the problem," Williams said. "Of the seven deadly sins, they had four of them there, a World Series of deadly sins. They had pride, envy, anger and avarice. All they lacked were lust, gluttony and sloth.
The melancholy irony, for Williams at least, is that the Orioles would be the first-half champions had the strike gone off as originally scheduled.
"If the players had gone on strike then, instead of after that judge's temporary restraining order, we would have been the first-half winners," Williams said. "We were in first place then, but in second when the strike actually began."
Williams sighed. "A judge," said the counselor, "won it for the Yankees."