THE WAVERING WAIVER SYSTEM
Baseball fans reacted indignantly last week when pitchers Tommy John and Don Sutton were dealt from trailing teams to the contending Angels and Brewers. There was resentment not only in Houston and New York, where the Astros, Sutton's old team, and the Yankees, John's former club, seemingly threw in the towel for 1982 and more or less gave away star players, and in Boston and Atlanta, where the battling Red Sox and Braves failed to obtain much-needed pitching help, but also in other cities where fans in general expressed the feeling, "It's not fair."
They're right, it's not fair. Nonetheless it's an old baseball custom. Theoretically, there's a June 15 deadline for trades in the major leagues, a rule that was established more than half a century ago, after the two rich New York teams—John McGraw's Giants and Jacob Ruppert's Yankees—made it a late-season practice to buy star players from poorer clubs to help in pennant drives. That June 15 deadline slowed the 11th-hour transfer of players, but it certainly didn't stop it. In baseball, rules are made to be broken, or at least circumvented. The "waiver" system, designed to facilitate the moving of marginal players, has always had lots of loopholes. Witness the wily Yankees of the Casey Stengel era who were able to pick up star slugger Johnny Mize in August 1949, star Pitcher Johnny Sain in August 1951, star Pitcher Ewell Blackwell in August 1952 and star Pitcher Sal Maglie in September 1957. The 1959 White Sox, striving for their first pennant in 40 years, got home-run hitter Ted Kluszewski from the National League late in August. Last year the Astros, on their way to winning the National League West's second-half championship, picked up Phil Garner, an accomplished second baseman, from the Pirates on Aug. 31. Last month, a few weeks before they obtained Sutton, the Brewers plucked Starting Pitcher Doc Medich from the Rangers.
What can be done about it? Not much. The pointlessness of the system was made glaringly evident when, in the midst of the furor over the John and Sutton transactions, the baseball commissioner's office sternly canceled a relatively minor waiver deal between the Phillies and the Cubs because of a technical violation of an obscure regulation. "To the best of my knowledge, this rule has never been used before," said a befuddled Paul Owens, the Philadelphia general manager. It was typical of the way baseball polices itself—cracking down on obscure misdemeanors while felonies are being openly committed.
Johnny Kelley, the renowned distance runner who celebrated his 75th birthday early this week, has run 110 marathons, has competed in the Boston 51 times and won it twice, and is still racing. In fact, he's entered in a 13-mile road race this week in Cleveland. No wonder his home phone number is listed in the Cape Cod phone book as " Kelley, John A. (marathon)...."
MOSES AND THE PROMISED LAND
Moses Malone in Philadelphia? If the 76ers were lucky enough to land the free-agent Malone, to whom they tendered an offer sheet last week that proposes to pay him $13.2 million over the next six years, what would it mean in terms of Philadelphia's team performance?
The sports-minded computer at National Economic Research Associates, Inc. (SI, Aug. 30) cleared its throat and brripped out some figures. The Sixers last season were better than the league average in most statistical categories, but they were a sobering 12.3% below average in offensive rebounding. The computer deftly deducted from the Philadelphia stats the contributions of the 76ers' erstwhile center, Darryl Dawkins, who was sent to the New Jersey Nets two weeks ago in a separate transaction. Then it inserted those of Malone, who hammered the boards in MVP fashion last season for the Houston Rockets. The computer spun around twice, coughed politely and projected these impressive figures: With Malone, the Sixers' offensive rebounds would increase from 1,031 to 1,368, a glittering 32.7% improvement. In other words, Moses Malone would help the 76ers tremendously just where they need help the most.
Besides, the computer went on, with Malone dominating the offensive backboard Philadelphia would score an additional 1,396 points next season, and its winning percentage would climb from an already impressive .707 to an overwhelming .810.
The computer tried to hold the attention of ecstatic Sixer fans for one more statement, but failed. No one heard it say quietly that all this is only projection and that the real data get processed on the court during the season.