Two of baseball's valuable traditions are under attack: day baseball in Wrigley Field and the five-game league championship series.
Three guesses why the Chicago Tribune Company, which owns the Chicago Cubs, wants lights for Wrigley. Hint: it's the same reason all owners want to expand the pennant playoffs from five to seven games. Answer: to drum up a few million more dollars today even if it hurts the sport tomorrow.
Neither change is even remotely necessary nor demonstrably good. Each is an example of greedy tinkering with parts of a troubled sport that work well.
Unfortunately, new Commissioner Peter Ueberroth, a balance-sheet sort of fellow, already is on the wrong side of one issue and may be misguided on both.
Opponents against lights for Wrigley won a major battle yesterday. But the war isn't over.
The fight against expanding the playoffs may not fare so well today.
First, baseball fans can give a cheer for Judge Richard Curry of the Cook County Circuit Court; at the same time, we can all hope that he knows more about the law than he does about baseball.
Curry yesterday upheld the constitutionality of controversial state and local Chicago laws that bar the Cubs from installing lights at Wrigley Field.
Translation: Day baseball at Wrigley Field has been saved. Temporarily.
The grabby Tribune Co., which has lusted after lights since the day it bought the club, now will go to the Illinois Appellate Court to try to comply with Ueberroth's order to put lights at Wrigley or face "drastic consequences."
"Yes, you're out. O-U-T. The Cubs are out," wrote the Judge, concluding a 64-page opinion that was guilty of first-degreee grandstanding and a count or two of hot-doggery. "Justice is a southpaw and the Cubs just don't hit lefties."
The judge could use a fact checker. On maybe a season pass. The Cubs' .419 slugging percentage against left-handers led the National League last season.
With luck, this clearly erroneous finding won't be grounds for a reversal.
Judge Curry's reasoning was better than his bleacher banter. "The game of baseball may be everybody's business, but the business of baseball is greed," wrote Curry, irate that Ueberroth would write a winter letter threatening the Cubs with the loss of home postseason games if they didn't light Wrigley.
"The Cubs and the commissioner of baseball have lost their grasp of reality and perspective on values . . . On the basis of an alleged necessity to play championship games at night, they ask for a reversal of the status quo which has existed at this ballpark for 70 years . . . .
"(This) scheme, which has major league baseball trashing a residential community and tinkering with the quality of life aspirations of countless households so that television royalties might more easily flow into the coffers of 25 distant sports moguls, is not consonant with present day concepts of right and justice. Indeed, it is repugnant to common decency."
Come on, spit out, Judge. Whatta ya really think?
When the Cubs appeal, they should be booed out of higher courts as well. Baseball has an invaluable antitrust exemption, granted long ago on the understanding that it was as much a game -- a national pastime -- as it was a business. Baseball was special and immune because of the emotional and psychological connection with its customers and its communities.
You can't have it both way. You can't sell "Beautiful Wrigley Field" and "The Friendly Confines" for 70 years, then say, "We're a business and we want lights because it's good for profits."
When you buy the Cubs, you buy afternoon baseball.
The day baseball wants to give back its antitrust exemption -- which will be never -- is the day it can say that the issue of lights in Wrigley Field is a strictly business problem. The reason baseball gets a break -- a huge break -- before the law is because it is presumed that on certain issues -- like no lights in Wrigley Field -- organized baseball will view itself primarily as a conservator of a kind of national trust and as a business only secondarily.
You can't get away with being a trust and then violate your trust.
This is something that Ueberroth, fresh from his $200 million Olympic surplus, should learn.
Last week, baseball's owners, in search of another $9 million in TV revenue, asked the players union to approve a plan to expand the league championship from five to seven games, starting this season. The owners asked the players for an answer by today. That gave the fans of the game a whole weekend to debate the issue. If they knew it existed. Ueberroth has taken no position on the issue, but, as an employe of management, it might be assumed that if he opposed the proposal strongly, he would have blocked it behind the scenes before it got to the bargaining table.
Ironically, the owners' representative who put the plan forward -- honest Lee MacPhail -- doesn't even pretend to be enthusiastic about the notion.
"I thought the playoffs were working real well the way they were. Very dramatic, lot of interest," MacPhail, the former American League president, said yesterday. "The argument against seven games is that it could seem that the playoffs were overdone, that the start of the LCS might seem to drag a bit and that the World Series might feel like an anticlimax.
"On the other hand, baseball people know that seven games really is much fairer than five. As Dick Williams says, in a seven-game series you use four starters, not three, and if you lose one or two games, you don't feel desperate so quickly. The LCS is so important, just as or more important than the World Series to the teams themselves, that expanding the playoffs would probably be good . . . Anyway, when an industry is losing $66 million, you can really use that extra $9 million. That sways it for me. But I'll admit that you hate to change what works."
A seven-game league championship series, as long as it is not a harbinger of future dilution of the playoff format with cursed wild cards, might in time seem like an improvement on the five-game format. But why decide it so quickly? Even if the agreement is only for a one-year experiment.
Fortunately, it seems unlikely the union will give an answer by today. Perhaps Ueberroth should step forward, tell both sides to back off and stop moving so fast and invoke one of his pet new ideas.
Are you in favor of a five- or seven-game pennant playoff series?
Sounds like a pretty good question for a poll.