For their showcase events, the majors might as well try what other cheap and shortsighted baseball leagues often do: scour the stands for somebody suitably impartial to ump.
They let fans decide who plays a third of the All-Star game now. With the real umpires on strike, four guys who haven't had too many pregame beers might be as effective as the amateur arbiters currently on hand.
Also much less expensive.
"A bad situation," Earl Weaver put it.
More like intolerable.
There is no way an enlightened management would have allowed this farce to take shape. But instead of getting every issue settled in a contract signed two years ago, baseball's brains allowed the umps to make fools of 'em.
What else could anyone have expected than what played through the first day of the National and American league playoffs? We all know umpires are the dumbest, blindest creatures that roam the earth, but even they know that striking during the postseason gives them more leverage than striking Aug. 12.
At first glance, the umpires seem right. According to the president of their association, Jim Evans, baseball wanted them to delay the issue of postseason compensation until a new television agreement was signed.
Trust us, Evans said he was told.
"We have waited," he added. "We have seen."
According to Evans, baseball realized a $150 million increase with the new televison contract; it is offering his guys $39,000 more. That seems enough to make the most patient umpire cry: "Play Stall."
Baseball is gambling that nearly everybody, players as well as fans, don't really give much of a hoot about who calls the games. You seen one guy in blue, you've seen 'em all.
The American way of life assumes that by our mid-teens we are fully qualified for three jobs: president of the United States, football coach at Notre Dame and major-league umpire.
Who hasn't umped some game some time?
Who hasn't known the strike zone since childhood?
Who hasn't had sharper eyesight and keener insight than the overstuffed fellow who called your favorite bubble-gum card out on strikes? Closer to heaven than the base, Bob Uecker knows the fielder missed the tag.
Both leagues insist the amateurs who worked in Chicago and here today were part of a reserve list for emergencies.
So the process was a little more sophisticated than ringing Dick Cavanaugh and his pals in the Big Ten last week and saying: "Got anything going Tuesday afternoon? Wanna work the Cubs and Padres?"
For the most part, managers and players chose not to bite the hand that also feeds them. Or at least not too hard. The party line was that, sure, the regular umps will be missed but the new guys'll be all right.
Until one of them has to think.
Came the first pitch of the opening game and Rick Sutcliffe was glowering. Tell the truth, I thought it was a strike, too. The Padres were complaining, too. "There was no telling where the strike zone was," said San Diego catcher Terry Kennedy.
Still, baseball got lucky with the Cubs and Padres. San Diego blaming the umpires for losing a 13-0 shutout would be like saying the national debt was caused by Dwight Eisenhower paying too much for golf balls.
Too many bloops; too many blasts. Sutcliffe pitched and hit too well. Sarge and Cey were sensational. The woman who owns the Padres even joked about donning a Cubs' hat in the sixth.
Still, let's say you are San Diego pitcher Eric Show and that you are certain Cavanaugh missed the first pitch you threw, to Bob Dernier. Maybe you figure everything must be grooved this day. Thus the chest-high fast ball to the Cubs' leadoff man; thus the wind-aided homer from a patty-cake hitter; thus a crack in confidence that leads to crisis.
The one obvious goof on the field at Wrigley was third-base umpire Joe Maher straying too far from his post to see if Leon Durham's single would drop safely and being a time zone away from his post on a play that wasn't close.
Shortly, National League President Chub Feeney hit a lunacy grand slam. When asked how come only four umpires were being used, instead of the customary six, he said that was "enough."
Four amateurs are better than six pros any day, eh Chub?
This is not to imply that the reglular umpires might not have blown a call or two, as Ken Burkhart did during the Mets-Orioles World Series in 1969. Larry Barnett got death threats for not calling interference during the Reds-Red Sox Series in '75.
The best still are human.
But the less experience an umpire has under pressure the more likely an error in judgment. I am hoping one of these new umps is not the one who worked a tense game of mine about 25 years ago.
Or that his courage has gotten stronger.
I was the third baseman who had slapped a tag on a runner coming from first on a single. When the dust had settled and no call had been heard, we both looked at the ump.
Safe or out?
"I'd just as soon not say," the befuddled man whimpered. Soon, the home-plate ump unfroze his colleague's mind enough for him to make a decision. It was safe, I believe, and correct.
And lucky. Same as Joe Maher today in the NL playoffs.
If the players care about the quality of postseason games they will be playing, they can get the regular umpires back to work in a hurry. The solution is quite simple.
All it takes is a scenario similar to this: the Tigers load the bases with one out; one of them winks at the Kansas City pitcher and they yell in unison to the box where AL President Bobby Brown is sitting:
"We're not moving another muscle until this business gets settled. You can negotiate over the phone or over our prone bodies, if you like. Just get it done."
That's the only way to even up the sides. Otherwise, management has all the advantages. Five strikes to settle one.