The tough thing about pigeonholing and categorizing people is that then you meet them.
And they're not much like your preconceptions.
When the Chicago Cubs and the San Diego Padres begin the National League championship series Tuesday in Wrigley Field, many fans will think they know all about the central protagonists -- the starting pitchers.
After all, how many players have been discussed more this year than the Cubs' terrible-tempered Rick Sutcliffe, the 6-foot-7 red-bearded brawler who once choked Dodgers Manager Tommy Lasorda, and the Padres' Eric Show, the right-wing version of Bill Lee, who belongs to the John Birch Society.
This series has lots of parallels and subplots. The Padres never have won anything before in their 15-year history; the Cubs haven't won a pennant since 1945 or a World Series since 1908. Both teams have two speedsters at the top of the lineup followed by power that goes down to the No. 7 spot in the order. Both teams have central stars who became famous elsewhere -- Ron Cey, Larry Bowa and Gary Matthews for the Cubs, Graig Nettles, Steve Garvey and Goose Gossage for the Padres.
In Game 1, however, no parallel is more obvious than that between the two starters who are half understood, but also half unknown.
The part that's conspicuous is easy to see. Sutcliffe knocks down hitters and Show sees communists lurking everywhere but the on-deck circle. Sutcliffe loves to dive into a bench-clearing brawl and Show, a physics major in college, says things like, "As long as air has weight, I'll have a slider."
That's the public perception of these 28-year-olds. To a degree, these are not distortions.
Sutcliffe, the Cubs' tower of glower, has had one of baseball's most explosive tempers for years, he does shave a lot of hitters and he's landed punches in a couple of brawls already this year. And Show is a devout Bircher who said today, "Some of the key people in our government are members of the Communist Party. I could tell you their names, but I don't need to read that in the paper tomorrow."
On the other hand, Sutcliffe and Show are very different up close. If anything, Sutcliffe projects gentleness, while Show seems fairly tolerant and almost winsomely boyish.
"All this is like a reward. What a neat feeling," said Sutcliffe, whose 16-1 record in the last 15 weeks will be retold in lore until he's an old man.
"I spent the last 5 1/2 years . . . well, put it this way, I'd have had to buy a reporter a drink to get him to talk to me."
Now, Sutcliffe is the toast of this town. "In Los Angeles, I'd get up in the bullpen and they'd boo me," said the former Dodger. "Here, I haven't paid for a check since I arrived.
"My wife and I were in a restaurant last night and only a couple of people nodded and said hello. I thought, 'How nice that nobody recognizes me and we can have dinner in peace.' When we started to leave, everybody in the place stood up and cheered.
"My wife Robin said, 'I didn't know they knew how much you ate.'
"Everything's just been going so great lately. My little girl has finally learned to call me 'Daddy.' I'm real glad of that because it's tough when your teammates come over and your little girl calls you 'Mommy.' "
Sounds like a real tough guy, doesn't he?
Sutcliffe has become philosophical about his Los Angeles-to-Cleveland-to-Chicago travels. "Maybe it all worked out for the best. Maybe I wouldn't have been able to handle this five years ago," he said.
"I was flighty. I had a temper. That Lasorda incident was all people had to talk about. I never treated it as a closed issue because I don't have anything to hide about my life."
The Sutcliffe bandwagon is now full to the brim. Only his family, however, is allowed in the front seat. "They went through the years of frustration with me when no one else was there."
Sutcliffe knows how many people are waiting for him to crash, people like San Diego General Manager Jack McKeon, who said today, "Hell, Sutcliffe's won 14 in a row. He's due to get beat."
As a result, Sutcliffe's only goal Tuesday is to think of the game as unimportant. "The only time I got sky-high for this year was against L.A. and that's the only game I lost," he said. "I'll have a cup of coffee 15 minutes before the game and that's when I'll start thinking about it.
"I'm pulling for the wind to be blowing out tomorrow," added Sutcliffe, making himself perhaps the first pitcher to wish for tiny Wrigley Field to be made smaller. "We've got a great lineup and I'd rather go out there knowing we're going to score a bunch of runs. I'll take my chances on keeping the ball in the park."
Show, who has won 15 games each of the last two years, is an even more unusual case. If you judged him solely by his words, it might be generous just to call him obnoxiously arrogant. A degree from Cal-Riverside and 41 big-league wins is a shaky platform from which to talk like this:
*"I disagree with almost everybody in this country. From politics to God to jazz, it seems everything I do is iconoclastic . . . I think I've burned enough midnight oil to be entitled to my opinions.
*"I love the way Ronald Reagan talks . . . but the way he's been spending he makes Carter look like Scrooge."
*"Why negotiate with the Russians? Would you sign a pact with Charles Manson?"
Whom does he admire?
"You mean somebody living? The people who come to mind are all dead. Thomas Edison, Aristotle, Thomas Jefferson, Charlie Parker."
Oddly, it's not what Show says, which is formulaic, that's interesting, but rather the almost touching way he presents himself.
Show, who pronounces his name to rhyme with "chow," says he's been "looking for the answer to everything since I was about 7 years old. I don't see how you can live if you think life has no meaning and purpose . . .
"I've been baptized into four or five different religions. I've been the circuit. I've investigated a little bit . . . I was pretty far left wing in college. I like everyone as a man. I don't think I hate anyone . . . I'm not trying to impose my (ideological) trip on anybody."
Show has been pleased and surprised that he and his Birch teammates -- Mark Thurmond and Dave Dravecky -- haven't been ostracized by teammates since their politics became a minor cause celebre.
"At best I thought they would be indifferent. Instead, they were empathetic. They've realized that we're totally human in every respect."
After answering questions on every conceivable non-baseball topic, including the unified field theory, Show began to drift away from reporters and said, "Fellows, don't blast me too bad. I'm really not that bad of a guy."
Show was the last Padre on the field as a San Diego clubhouse man came running. "Do we have a meeting?" said Show, suddenly as alarmed as a late Little Leaguer.
"Yeah, they're waiting for you."
Show raced across the infield, skipping with delight at the high energy of everything around him.
Would Eric Show feel pressure Tuesday against a lineup that has scored more runs than any other National League team in five years?
"Pressure isn't a baseball game," said Show. "Pressure is an atheist dying and meeting God."