Each afternoon, like Einstein filling his blackboard with integrals, Earl Weaver sits in his hotel room cramming sheets of paper with numbers as he tries to solve his own problem in mathematical relativity.
What happens to his Baltimore Orioles is, of course, relative to what happens to everybody else in the five-way American League East lunatic asylum.
Before Monday's game here, Weaver thought he finally had it figured out. "If we lose tonight and Milwaukee wins, we're mathematically eliminated," said Weaver, who had already told the same theory to Detroit TV broadcasters.
"Don't think you are," I said.
"I wish we weren't, but yes we are."
"No, you aren't."
"You're on," grinned Weaver. "Watch out. You're in my area now."
"No, this is still baseball."
Several pages of scribbling later, Weaver, contesting every fact and premise, was delighted to discover he was wrong.
"Well, that's a relief," said Weaver, who would much rather lose a dispute than suffer the worse fate of not having anything to argue about. "Well, that's even better," said Weaver. "I want to figure these things out before the game. Don't want to be like Danny Ozark the year the Phillies were mathematically eliminated and the writers came in and said, 'What do you think, Danny?' and he said, 'It isn't over till it's over' and they had to tell him, 'It's already over, Danny.' "
What this little tale proves, unfortunately, is that Weaver and I are among the dwindling number of benighted birdbrains who still care what happens in the last few days of this season of sham and shame.
Baseball's problem isn't that nobody can figure out what's going on.
The far bigger problem is that alarmingly few people care.
Contrary to P.T. Barnum's dictum, there may actually be limits beyond which it is not possible to insult, con and bilk the American public.
Whatever baseball's crimes of venality and stupidity may be this year, they are now being punished with a vengeance that the game will take decades to forget. "Look at the attendance for 'pennant-race' games," says Weaver. "It's disgraceful . . . I'll just be glad when this season is over, win or lose."
If one franchise epitomized the ludicrous argument used to defend the split season, it was Minnesota. Without a fresh start to sucker fans, bad clubs would suffer an attendance disaster which would redouble the damage done by the strike.
So, on Monday, the Twins had their dream game. Minnesota was host to first-place Kansas City. If the Twins won, they'd be 1 1/2 games out of first. Open those gates wide, Calvin Griffith.
How many fans came to this paradigm of why the second season was created?
That's the rule in baseball this September, not the exception.
On Monday, Milwaukee entertained Boston. Attendance: 11,334.
"As far as I can tell, Detroit's the only city that's still interested in this . . . season," says Weaver.
The worst news is that traditional baseball fans, who long ago thumbed their noses at the game and said, "See you next year . . . maybe," are missing a unique three-dollar bill of a final week. It may be a fake, but, if you don't look at it too rigorously, it's a first-class forgery.
Everybody has their favorite choice of scenarios.
The most elegant plot of all is the one which has the Orioles winning on the season's final day over Milwaukee -- 29-22 (.569) to 30-23 (.566) -- with Boston and Detroit ending a half-game behind at 29-23.
Far-fetched? Not really.
Say the Orioles win their last four, including three this weekend in Baltimore from the Yankees (who now say they won't pitch either Ron Guidry or Tommy John, saving them for the miniplayoffs).
Then, assume that Boston beats Milwaukee Wednesday and that Milwaukee wins two of three from Detroit. Finally assume that Boston loses two of three to Cleveland.
Boston and Detroit each would lose because, by pure accident, they had to play one more game than Baltimore. Milwaukee becomes the first team in baseball history to end the season tied for first place, only to be knocked out by .003.
Could anything be worse?
Yes. If the team with the best overall record for the whole season in all of baseball were, somehow, eliminated entirely from the eight-team playoffs, that would be even more ludicrous and repulsive.
And, betcha a dollar, that's almost certainly going happen.
The club is the Cincinnati Reds, currently the only .600 team of '81 and on the verge of elimination from the playoffs.