"The loophole is now closed," Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn said proudly in officially unveiling what may become known as the Kuhn codicil.
As expected, baseball announced its patch-and-stitch remedy to its "integrity problem" yesterday: if a division wild card spot in the playoffs is necessary because the same team wins both halves, it will be awarded to the second-place team in the second half of the season, as opposed to the club with the second-best full-season record.
After that long-awaited, anticlimactic pronouncement, Kuhn expressed his feelings on a range of topics related to the controversial split season.
No sooner had Kuhn announced the new format than he brought up a startling point: the teams that complained most loudly and bitterly in the last week, and thereby forced this revision, are exactly the teams that, by pure accident, are most hurt and outraged by the new plan.
The teams in question are clubs that played well in the first half, but did not finish first: in particular Baltimore, Milwaukee, Chicago, Texas, St. Louis, Montreal and Cincinnati. Their victories in the first half are now -- literally and in every circumstance and sense -- completely meaningless. Under the new plan, they might as well have lost every first-half game for all the good it does them now.
"We had several teams complaining. Each was pushing for its own plan," mused Kuhn, citing in particular Baltimore, Cincinnati, the Chicago White Sox, Texas and St. Louis.
"In retrospect, you might say that they were all looking for an altogether different solution than the one that they got."
To give this oddity complete symmetry, the two teams that were, behind the scenes, giving most aid and comfort to the dissidents, were Milwaukee and Montreal.
"Unbelieveable," growled Baltimore Manager Earl Weaver, attacking the new plan even before it was announced. "For the most extreme example, take Toronto. We finished 17 games ahead of 'em in the first half. Now, if the Yankees win the second half, and Toronto beats us out for second place by a game, then they're in the playoffs instead of us, despite the fact that we were 16 games better than they were over the whole season."
Dozens of other permutations on the same theme are possible. However, the most elegant injustices -- with a second-half fluke edging a quality full-season team out of a wild card spot -- would involve the Rangers and Twins, the Cards and Cubs, and the Padres and Reds.
"What I call 'the Baltimore problem' has now been solved,' " said Kuhn.
"When we instituted this split-season plan (as part of the strike settlement), we absolutely were not aware of the possibility that a team could lose a game to make the playoffs.
"It's a very remote possibility. But, if it were going to happen, then it would probably have been Baltimore that was put on the spot in their final series (of the year) against New York."
Baltimore, among others, hardly likes the solution to the "Baltimore problem."
Kuhn also addressed himself yesterday to several ancillary issues that have arisen out of the split-season debate.
Is the split season, or the eight-team playoffs, part of baseball's permanent future?
"I don't think the split season has any future at all. It's a one-year abnormality...Something that's been done so that, after the strike, we could have a sense of a fresh start ...The split season is a dinosaur.
"However, as far as the eight-team playoffs go, we've had a study committee on that idea for some time. It's been on a back burner because of more pressing issues, like the strike, but, I imagine, it will move up to a middle burner now."
Who dreamed up the split-season plan that has had to be revised, and where does the responsibility for the whole format lie?
"There were a great many clubs which thought a split season and expanded playoffs had advantages ...It was an idea with broad support that grew up into a groundswell ...It doesn't have a specific origin ...Nevertheless, I'd have to say that this one (idea) really stops at my desk. Everything does, in a sense, but, yes, this more than some ...Yes, probably more than the strike issues."
Was there any motive, other than an effort to recoup revenues lost during the strike, for changing baseball's traditional format?
"If there is a legitimate way to generate revenues in the situation we were in, then it's certainly a proper part of my business...However, I think the more important aspect of the split season is that, after all the disharmony we had, it gave us a feeling of a fresh start and...a better platform to move ahead...The whole test is where the fans like what you're doing. I still think there's a very good possibility that some kind of Cinderella team will come out of this and cause a lot of excitment that will be good for baseball."
Is this split-season format far more conducive to a Cinderella or underdog team (winning) than a normal season ?
"Certainly there's a greater chance."
Is Kuhn's commissionership -- one that does not take an actively partisan role within ownership's own counsels -- in danger? Does the recent criticism of him by management people mean there is a growing tendency among clubs to be willing to take the chance of finding a commissioner who will take sides in their heated discussions on, for instance, labor issues?
"I don't know...That's a very hard question...I'm not going to bend with every wind. That's never been my way."
Aren't there still possibilities for a first-half champion to deliberately lose games so as to help pick its first-round playoff opponent?
"I know that talk about thrown games makes a heckuva story, but I think all of this has been blown out of proportion. Anybody who believes for a second that major league players are going to dump a game just has no sense of who these guys are. They're the most competitive group of people you'll ever find...Just look at how they reacted during the strike.
"Besides, Rule 21 (stipulating that a player must give full effort to win) is very clear. Anyone who breaks it is out of baseball for good. That's absolute."
Yesterday's revision changes the playoff format only if a team does win both halves of the season. If different teams win each half, they will play each other in a best-of-five series in accordance with the original plan.
Under the revision -- "It still has some warts," Kuhn said, "but not integrity warts" -- the opening game would be in the home park of the second-place team and all remaining games in the best-of-five series would be played in the home park of the double winner.
Marvin Miller, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, said the revision was as much as could be expected, given the circumstances.
"Once the owners made a declaration that four teams were winners of the first half, then even Einstein himself couldn't devise a system that didn't have bugs in it,"Miller said. "Ithink this change probably minimizes the possibility that you could end up with a situation where losing meant winning."
Several members of the Texas Rangers, who finished second to Oakland in the AL west in the first portion of the season despite losing one less game than the A's, weren't happy with the new plan.
"I don't like it, said pitcher Jon Matlack, the teams player representtive."It makes the first half meaningless except for the first place teams. Oh well, it makes it more interesting to make up the rules as you go along."
"They should have the playoffs between two teams with the two best records overal,"said pitcher Doc Medich. "teams that play well all year shouldn't be penalized."