Whoopee, there goes the Chicago White Sox three-ring circus, packing its tent and taking its clowns to the next town. What a show!
In Ring No. 1, we have Tony LaRussa, the death-defying manager.
Will he be fired today? Tomorrow? Never?
Will he quit, as he did momentarily last week, actually saving his job by pulling one of the great renditions of "Take This Job and Shove It"?
"We lost six in a row and I got a vote of confidence," said LaRussa, who's fast turning into a folk hero for his gallows grace. "Three more and I might have gotten a contract extension."
In Ring No. 2, for comic relief, we have the Pale Hose brass -- co-owners Eddie Einhorn and Jerry Reinsdorf and General Manager Ken Harrelson. Known to White Sox players as Curly, Mo and Hawk. Whose face will they throw a cream pie into next?
Will they fire a respected veteran GM (Roland Hemond) to hire an amateur (Harrelson)? Will they cut adrift the team's infrastructure of scouts to hire Harrelson's cronies?
Will they make a joke of LaRussa's coaching staff by forcing him to have two batting coaches and three pitching coaches, none of whom agree on anything? Will they make themselves the mockery of the sport by continuing to negotiate publicly with Billy Martin while LaRussa's still the manager?
Actually, they've already done all of the above.
"I hope Tony turns it around," said Harrelson last weekend, "but if he doesn't, we'll talk to Martin's agent again."
"I understand this thing with Tony is not permanent," said Martin, blatantly hunting another man's job. "If the deal is right, I'd love to manage again. But the deal has to be right."
See why everybody loves Billy? He's so sensitive to others.
Or as White Sox pitcher Tom Seaver said here Monday night, as he watched teammate Carlton Fisk lifting 300 pounds of weights, "You think Carlton might just accidentally drop his weights on Billy?"
Yes, morale is high among the noble Pale Hose. "It would almost be a shame if we had a good season, because the people who've caused all this mess would get credit," said one of the White Sox' top players. "Of course, you try your best. But you hate to do it for them."
"The whole thing's a debacle," said Seaver. "Maybe the worst handling of a situation I've ever seen."
"But consistent with how we do things here," added Fisk.
Oh, yes. Ring No. 3. That's the one with Fisk and Seaver in it.
One of Harrelson's bright ideas was to make Fisk a left fielder. Fisk, 38 and a born-again bodybuilder, has his heart set on a late-career Hall of Fame push. Lots of catching records are in his grasp. Left field, by contrast, holds nothing but embarrassment for him.
"You look like a wounded moose out there," Fisk was told this week.
"Think I don't know it?" he said.
In the lastest schizophrenic White Sox development, Harrelson "surrendered" last Friday in his power struggle with LaRussa and agreed to let the manager actually manage the team. "My ideas weren't working," he said. "Let Tony have a clean shot doing it his way."
Out the door went two Hawk coaches, Willie Horton (best known as Martin's bodyguard and "tranquility coach" in New York) and Moe Drabowsky (best known as the Orioles reliever who once ordered carry-out Oriental food on the bullpen phone -- from a Hong Kong restaurant.)
In the door came Fisk, who's catching again. For now. "I feel very vulnerable," said the .208-hitting Fisk, who did bike work and aerobics for agility for months and now has switched back to his mega-iron-pumping regimen for bulk behind the plate and home runs at bat. "I don't know whether the whole thing has done more harm to my head or my body, but I certainly feel damaged."
As for Seaver, he just wants a ticket out. Ever since he won his 300th game, he and the White Sox have been in public agreement that he should be traded back east near his Connecticut home to the Yankees or Red Sox, both of whom want him. But for six months, nothing has happened, as Harrelson keeps asking for 100 cents on the dollar for a 41-year-old pitcher.
It's hard to tell what veteran baseball people gag on most when they think of the White Sox owners.
Was it the way they took the credit for the '83 division title, even though old Bill Veeck did much of the team building? Veeck found the pair so hard to swallow he took up residence in the Wrigley Field bleachers across town.
The GM of the Oakland A's, Sandy Alderson, put it most bluntly. "Everybody in baseball hopes the White Sox fall flat on their rear ends," he said. "They sold out the organization for entertainment. They have the philosophical approach of 'Entertainment Tonight.' All they care about is sex appeal. . . . We hired five of their scouts. Eddie Einhorn in particular has the TV mentality. What does he know about organizational behavior?"
In all of this, only one man has elevated himself: LaRussa.
At every turn, he has worried only about his team, which had won three of its last four after a 7-18 start entering Tuesday night's game here. Of Martin he said, "If I go, I just hope the club gets somebody good, 'cause they're a hard-working bunch of guys. I know Billy's good."
LaRussa shares blame for the failure of Harrelson's ideas, saying they might have suited somebody else, but not him. "If a player can be confused by a situation, then he will be confused," goes LaRussa's Law.
The manager even shrugs off the ovations he got in Comiskey Park during the darkest losing-streak, Billy's-in-town days last week. "I liked the support after we won the division in '83 better than now, when they feel sorry for me."
LaRussa's rules for behavior under stress -- and every indication is that he has followed them -- are a fine model.
"Just concentrate on how your club is going and win the next game. Period. Then there's no room for the rest of it. If you lose too often, they'll fire you, and they should. You can't manage differently just because your job is in danger. That way, you lose quicker. The players know it. A scared manager contaminates the team. . . . I don't care if I get fired. I care that we're five games behind.
"Hey," said LaRussa, earnestly, "the organization wasn't nearly as bad as they looked. They always kept me informed. Actually, they were real nice. They told me if things got too bad, I could quit and they'd still pay me."
Last Thursday, LaRussa called his bosses' bluff.
"I told 'em, 'Pay me. I quit,' " said LaRussa.
That's when the White Sox brain trust made its first smart move in a long time. The high-profile triumvirate gave the baseball team back to the manager and crept quietly off stage.
For the time being.
You see, there's a hitch. The team they've given LaRussa isn't much good.
Now, the next White Sox losing streak really will be LaRussa's fault.
Then they can stab him in the back and hire Martin. With clean hands.