I am becoming a desperate Chicago Cubs fan, and so should anyone who yearns for one last bit of integrity in professional sport. With its split season, baseball is staggering toward the sad, mad ways of leagues that still dare to call themselves major; only one supreme act of lunacy can keep it off that path of ultimate greed:
The Cubs making the playoffs.
Ever since Commissioner Klutz finally developed a second-season format that makes dumping games profitable only under the rarest circumstances, purists have been shuddering over one thought: What if the damn thing works? What if after all the fury the arrangement actually seems fair? What if four good teams other than the first-half champs win their divisions and the miniplayoffs are uninterrupted excitement?
Baseball will make it permanent, if not this atrocity surely some sort of multitiered playoff that involves second-place teams. To make more money, baseball will be more than willing to cheapen one of its staples, the pennant race; to split, amoeba-like, enough to become more farcical than the National Basketball Association and National Hockey League.
Before baseball's thinkers made a temporary mess of it, the split-season notion was vastly appealing to Oriole Manager Earl Weaver. To Washington Post reporter Tom Boswell in early August, shortly after the 50-day player strike ended, he said, "We ought to split every season in half, just like they been doing in the minors for years . . . If I had to bet, I'd say once it's in, it's here to stay . . .
"What's wrong with a second chance?"
In baseball, everything. Its 162-game season, twice that of basketball and hockey, is long enough so that the best teams emerge as champions. There is more than adequate time for most injuries not to be major factors, for one team's wounded to heal about the time another's stars go down.
The system is as fail-safe as prudently possible to keep ordinary teams from capitalizing on luck or temporarily inspired play and making the playoffs. There is little more compelling than a September pennant race, a high-stakes, winner-take-all chase.
Anything less than what it has now and baseball opens itself for an unworthy team to win the World Series. After all, the Houston Rockets, who finished under .500 for the NBA regular season, reached the sixth game of the championship playoff round this year.
Give a bad team enough chances and it cannot avoid something good.
Baseball needs to be shocked into this reality, so hard that allowing any team other than divisional winners into the playoffs would be unthinkable. That jolt could best come from the Cubs winning the second-half title in the National League East.
Toronto in the American League East or San Diego in the NL West would do nicely, but the Cubbies would be best of all. They are the athletic symbol of glorious frustration and incompetence, at .500 or above just 11 times since 1939 and higher than third only twice since their last pennant, in 1945. If he reappeared today, Job would be a Cub. Or worse, a Cub fan.
But these times call for all right-minded persons to rally around the Cubs, 17 1/2 games out of first at the end of the first season but just 1 1/2 games back shortly after the start of the second.
Any system that allows this season's Cubs to be one game over .500 on Aug. 25 is criminal. We should hope they get even better, that our prayers for them to get unimaginably hot will be answered by a just and baseball-loving God, that they will catch some fluky tidal wave and ride it to the second-half title.
What a thrill it was to read in Tuesday's paper: "Mike Tyson doubled home Ivan DeJesus with none out in the 11th inning to give host Chicago the win (over San Diego) in Wrigley Field . . . The Cubs went into the bottom of the ninth trailing, 8-6, but tied the game on Bill Buckner's two-run, two-out single."
Hooray! Maybe somebody up there realizes baseball should be embarrassed, and rudely, for its sins. Don't stop now, Ivan.
The worst possibility would be for the first-half near-misses -- Cincinnati in the NL West, St. Louis in the NL East, Baltimore or Milwaukee in the AL East and Texas or the White Sox in the AL West -- to win their respective divisions.
As the National Football League has shown us, late-season frenzy in cities unaccustomed to success often drowns out the fact that their teams should not be in the playoffs at all. The tendency is to forgive the system and celebrate uncommon good fortune, to shrug and apathetically join Weaver in asking: What's wrong with a second chance?
Because its season is the shortest and most injury-plagued, the NFL's structure can almost be justified. Basketball's and hockey's cannot. Baseball's movement toward that type of idiocy should be fought.
Let's try to will the Cubs to the title. Could anyone imagine Cub Power sweeping the country? We must hex the Dodgers and Expos, Cards, Padres, Pirates, Phils and Mets during games with our newly beloved heroes, the salvation for baseball.
Bowie Kuhn should be made to endure a Chicago Cubs-Toronto Blue Jays World Series, seven games, with more errors than runs, with the final game so cold that the man about to score the winning run is frozen between third and home.
We must dream grandly in these perilous times. Cub Fever. Catch it.