SI Vault
Edited by Jerry Kirshenbaum
October 05, 1981
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October 05, 1981


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This most unloved of baseball seasons is mercifully nearing an end. Stunted by the 50-day players' strike, the 1981 season then was butchered by the split-season-cum-extra-playoff scheme. The notion that the new format would hype fan interest after the strike qualifies as the biggest marketing miscalculation since the Edsel. As for the increased playoff revenues that will be produced by adding a round of best-of-five divisional playoffs, these can scarcely compensate for the scheme's having sapped the regular season of its momentum, its logic and, ultimately, its credibility.

The first grotesquerie created by the split-season tinkering was the realization that, under the original format, a team might have qualified for the playoffs by deliberately throwing games. That situation was largely corrected, but another oversight was pointed up last week when Oakland A's Manager Billy Martin threatened to boycott the newly created round of playoffs because no provision had been made to reward coaches or managers with shares of the extra playoff loot. Another unwelcome consequence of the expanded playoff format is that the seventh game of the World Series is now set for Oct. 28, six days later than previously scheduled. And that's not allowing for rain delays that could produce the game's first November classic. In defending a later-than-ever World Series, Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, whose imperviousness to the cold is well established, said, "If you've studied October weather patterns as I have, you know that, historically, the weather does not change much from week to week." Kuhn's meteorological data aside, The Philadelphia Inquirer's Allen Lewis studied the weather in nine likely World Series sites for the past five years and found that the average decline in the median temperature from the third to the fourth week of October was a substantial 7�. The later start increases the possibility that there will be a foot of snow at the World Series, the amount that fell in Montreal on Oct. 22, 1969.

All this is in addition to the havoc the split season has already worked on 1981 pennant races. Such races had served to qualify four teams for postseason play, but this year's will produce eight, a proliferation that devalues regular-season games. The format being used has put some of the worst teams in contention for playoff spots—the Toronto Blue Jays, with a full-season record of 36-65 (.356), have printed playoff tickets—while Cincinnati (63-38, .624) could have the best record in baseball yet miss the playoffs. Having already locked up playoff berths, first-half winners like the Yankees are meanwhile sleepwalking through the second season. Outfielder Lou Piniella says, "The Yankees play their best when they have to win." The implication that they haven't had to play their best of late is an affront to the paying customers.

It's hardly surprising that those customers haven't exactly been beating down the gates. According to a St. Louis Post-Dispatch survey, post-strike attendance has averaged 19,255 in the National League and 17,884 in the American, down 2,162 and 1,134 from the same period last season, with 17 of the 26 teams experiencing declines. Many fans obviously have had difficulty taking the split-season races seriously. At Fenway Park, where the Red Sox were battling for a division title, only 14,575 turned out last week for a game against Milwaukee. The New York Mets briefly moved to within 2� games of first yet drew just 6,855 for a home night game against the Pirates. Flagging interest is also reflected in the fact that ratings for NBC's Game-of-the-Week have averaged 6.4 since the strike vs. 7.6 for a like period in 1980; that represents a loss of three million viewers per game. It's another indication of apathy that after the Twins recently won six in a row at home to pull into contention for a playoff berth, none of the four Twin Cities newspapers staffed the next road trip. When the Cardinals, then in first place, arrived in Chicago last week to play the Cubs, who had drawn to within 3� games of first, only 3,634 fans showed up at Wrigley Field. Scoffed Cardinal Manager Whitey Herzog: "You can talk about the Cubs being a contender, but if they go to the World Series, it would be a mockery. For the first time, baseball has done the same thing our country is doing—reward incompetence."

Herzog's ire is shared by Phillie Vice-President Bill Giles, who calls the split season "a disaster," and by Oriole owner Edward Bennett Williams, who hasn't forgiven management negotiator Ray Grebey for having all but engineered the strike ("Every time I think of what that guy did...") and who blames his fellow owners for making matters worse by splitting the season. Former Oriole owner Jerry Hoffberger, still the club president, adds, "As an owner, my primary concern was over baseball's leadership and I'm no less concerned now. It gets worse instead of better." He may be right. At least one baseball man, Padre President Ballard Smith, has actually expressed hope that the split season will become a permanent fixture. He's apparently encouraged by how splendidly the experiment has gone this summer.

The legacy that Notre Dame rookie football Coach Gerry Faust left at Cincinnati's Moeller High, where he coached for 18 years, could hardly have been more impressive: a 174-17-2 record and a 33-game winning streak capped by a victory over Massillon High last Nov. 23 for the 1980 state championship, Moeller's fifth such title in six years. The apprehension that Moeller partisans understandably felt when Faust departed has now eased considerably. While Faust has already twice tasted defeat at Notre Dame, Moeller, under new coach Ted Bacigalupo, who had been Faust's assistant for 13 seasons, has extended its winning streak to 37 by beating Centerville 21-7, Hampton (Va.) Bethel 17-0, Massillon 24-6 and Toledo Whitmer 37-0. Nor is there any sign the Moeller juggernaut will slow in the foreseeable future. Its reserve team, like the varsity, has a 4-0 record, and the Moeller freshmen are undefeated and unscored upon in two games.

In this era of specialization, two-way football players are exceedingly rare. Indeed, until the St. Louis Cardinals' Roy Green did the trick in a 40-30 win over Washington on Sept. 20, no NFL player in 24 years had caught and intercepted passes on the same day. Green, who also returns kickoffs—he ran one back 106 yards for a touchdown against Dallas in 1979—ordinarily plays safety but was pressed into semi-double duty three weeks ago because of an injury to starting Wide Receiver Mel Gray. Green takes Gray's place on offense and still plays on defense, as the nickel back who comes in on obvious passing downs. Against the Redskins, Green caught four passes for 115 yards, including a 58-yarder from Jim Hart for a TD, and he intercepted a Joe Theismann pass. Asked how Defensive Back Roy Green would cover Receiver Roy Green, he says, "I'd be part of a double zone against him. You can't bump and run with him. He has a little speed."


In granting the visas that allowed the Springboks, South Africa's national rugby team, to conduct its controversial U.S. tour, the Reagan Administration took the position that the rugbymen were engaged in nonpolitical pursuits and thus should be admitted to this country on the same basis as individual South Africans. Yet the now-completed tour had political overtones from start to finish. Defying as it did an international campaign to ostracize South African national teams, the authorization of the Springboks' visit undermined the U.S. position in the Olympic movement, which long ago branded South Africa an outlaw country. It also strained the U.S.'s sporting ties with black Africa, whose leaders protested that the tour played into the hands of the South African government, which seeks to use sport to legitimize its odious apartheid policies.

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