Bowie Kuhn passed his gut check yesterday.
No lights in Wrigley Field.
No change in the National League playoff schedule.
No Chicago Cubs postseason "home" games played in other teams' parks.
No goofball warping of the World Series schedule.
No kowtowing to the preferences of network TV.
No fear of the anger of baseball's owners who will lose millions of dollars in TV revenue because of Kuhn's decision.
Here's how Kuhn decided to solve the blistering Wrigley Field controversy.
If the Cubs make it to the World Series, then Games 3, 4 and 5 will be scheduled for Wrigley Field, rather than Games 1, 2, 6 and 7, as originally planned. The American League now gets the home-field advantage -- an edge which, historically and statistically, amounts to almost nothing.
That's it. The whole deal.
A sane compromise with no sellout of principle, no damaging of the game's image or integrity.
If Peter Ueberroth wants to know how to be commissioner of baseball, all he has to do is study the way Kuhn decided to go out standing tall.
Kuhn may be a lame duck but he acted like a proud rooster as he decided yesterday to stand up for the rights of the Cubs, the traditions of day baseball and the interests of the fans of the long-suffering Cubs.
In the process, Kuhn told the TV moguls at NBC and ABC, as well as the baseball owners who hired and fired him, that, in the best interests of the game, they might have to sacrifice a few million bucks come October.
For once, profits and Neilsen ratings lost. Baseball won.
Some may laugh at Kuhn when he talks about the "integrity of the game," but this time he had some backbone. Maybe getting fired does that for you.
In football, a gut check usually comes on the goal line.
In baseball, that test of fortitude comes when the commissioner has to decide between the good of the game (and its fans) on one hand and the best interests of the owners' wallets on the other.
The last time Kuhn faced one of these showdowns, he blew it when he didn't stand up against the greedy split season plan of 1981. Then, his owners cooked up a way to flimflam the public out of a few more bucks after the strike. Kuhn folded on a basic "integrity of the game" issue. And he paid for it. The Cincinnati Reds had the best record in baseball and didn't even make the eight-team playoffs. It was a travesty that will always lie at Kuhn's door.
Now, he has a decision to balance against that one. It's hardly of equal weight, but it helps.
"There is no split season here," said Kuhn yesterday.
"We have reduced the loss (from TV revenue) by changing the World Series schedule," explained Kuhn, "but the loss will still be very substantial. A big figure. A multimillion dollar." An educated guess is that Kuhn's decision not to demand lights for Wrigley, or find some other solution, will cost baseball between $3 million and $4 million. Or, perhaps, $175,000 a team.
The Cubs will not have to install temporary lights in Wrigley Field, as some owners demanded two weeks ago at the summer meetings in Philadelphia.
The Cubs will not be have to play any of their postseason home games in Comiskey Park or County Stadium as some loony-bird in the game suggested.
The National League playoffs will not be changed one iota from their original schedule. That means, if the Cubs hold their 5 1/2-game lead in the NL East, the first two games of the NLCS will be played in the friendly confines of 70-year-old Wrigley Field in God's own sunshine on Oct. 2-3 -- a Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon.
If Kuhn has ever made a popular decision, this should be it. The common folk of baseball have been hopping mad for two weeks, mad as only violation of tradition, defiance of common sense and insolence toward civilized sensibility can make a baseball fan. Plenty have reached the point where they might agree with Clint Eastwood and say that it would "make my day" if the owners at that Philadelphia meeting had to take a bath so the Cubs could play in the sun.
At Tuesday's game in Wrigley, Cubs fans began showing up in sarcastic customs. Jeff Hoellerich, 30, had an orange flashlight attached to his Cubs cap. "We'll all wear miners' hats. That way we can protest the games by walking out and leaving them in total darkness," he told a wire service reporter.
On Wednesday, Chicago White Sox owner Eddie Einhorn set a new major league record for self-inflicted wounds (foot in mouth). "I have absolutely no sympathy (for the Cubs)," he told a columnist for the Chicago Tribune, the paper which just happens to own the Cubs. "I want the Cubs to play wherever they want to play but that's not the real world. The real world is money . . .
"I don't think the people of Chicago should take $700,000 away from the White Sox," said Einhorn, who helped negotiate the TV deal and based his $700,000 guesstimate on the assumption that neither the playoff nor the Series schedule would be changed at all. ". . . If it means so much to the Cub fans, let them pay double for their tickets."
Within hours, Einhorn had issued a public apology to Cubs fans for any "misconceptions resulting from the tone of the column." Einhorn said some of his remarks had been "facetious" and that others were "taken out of context." But he didn't deny any of his quotes.
In yesterday's episode of the daily soap, the governor of Illinois, James R. Thompson, jumped to the head of the bandwagon. The self-professed lifelong Cubs fan says a noise-pollution bill he signed in 1982 in effect forbids night games in Wrigley. "With my approval of that bill, talk today of playing night games -- with the aid of temporary or permanent lights -- is useless. It's simply against the law."
What about changing the law? Tough luck, says the hardball Gov. You can only do that by calling the state legislature back into special session. And he says he's not callin' 'em back.
Now all the fussin' and feudin' should quiet down. Kuhn has some sensible statistics to offer to counteract the notion that the Cubs are being done wrong by losing the supposed "home-field" advantage. In fact, almost as many Series end in five games (which would give the Cubs the edge this year) as end in seven. Since the 2-3-2 Series format began in 1924, 53 percent of the teams that opened the season at home have won -- hardly a big edge.
Also, of the seven teams which have trailed in the Series by three games to two, then come back to win both the sixth and seventh game, six of them were the visiting team.
Kuhn isn't being picked off base when he says, "The 'home-field' factor is not an advantage."
Here's the rest of the tentative plans, this part not involving the Cubs:
If the Cubs do not win the NL East, the NL playoffs will start with a night game at the NL East Oct. 2, followed by an afternoon game the next day. The American League playoff would begin with a day game Oct. 2 and a night game Oct. 3.
The AL playoffs will begin in the home park of the West winner.
If the Cubs do not win the NL, the Series will open with night games Tuesday and Wednesday, Oct. 9-10, in the NL park and move to AL for a night game Friday, Oct. 12, and day games Saturday and Sunday. The last two games, if necessary, would be at night in the NL city.
Kuhn's decison may bring some of the luster back to what has been, so far, less than a scintillating baseball season. There's not much that this trendy nation likes better than novelty and nostalgia. A weekday afternoon playoff or Series game with the Cubs combines both. If the first pitch of the baseball postseason is thrown in Wrigley Field in the sunshine, a lot of people are going to discover suddenly that they have an afternoon dentist's appointment.
In fact, for a few days in October, America might find out that the Chicago Cubs are the real Not Ready For Prime Time Players.