At the All-Star break, the Dodgers lead the National League West by a half-game over San Diego and by four games over Cincinnati. But don’t order the champagne just yet. There’s a long way to go.
Or is there?
According to the major league baseball schedule, the regular season will end Oct. 6. According to the Major League Players Assn., it will end Aug. 6, unless a new collective bargaining deal with the owners can be agreed upon.
What can be agreed upon is that Aug. 6 wouldn’t be too bad a day to be on top, just in case.
“I can’t look at it like that,” Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda said. “I don’t know if there’s going to be a strike, but I want to be on top no matter when--anyway, anytime, the first day of spring training or the last day of the season. It makes no difference. I’m not thinking about anything else but being No. 1.”
But nobody should know better the value of being on top if the pickets come out for Strike III. Remember Strike II, which followed baseball’s first walkout by nearly a decade?
It was 1981. The players took their bats and gloves and went home on June 11 with the Dodgers leading Cincinnati in the NL West by the same margin they now lead San Diego.
When the umpires finally yelled, “Play ball!” again, 61 days later, Los Angeles and the other divisional leaders of June 11 were declared first-half winners. Even though they finished the second half in fourth place, six games behind Houston, the Dodgers qualified for the playoffs on the basis of their first-half finish. They knocked off the Astros in the playoffs and wound up beating the Yankees in the World Series.
So don’t think Aug. 6 isn’t circled in red at Dodger Stadium, as well as at Anaheim Stadium, where the Angels could now perhaps be classified as runaway leaders in the American League West on the basis of a six-game lead over Oakland. Meaningless though it may prove to be, Angel fans will no doubt be glad to learn that the club’s magic number for clinching an Aug. 6 pennant is down to 13.
“It won’t affect the California Angels because we have a six-game lead,” Angel reliever Donnie Moore said. “If you find one guy who says he wants a strike, he’s lying through his teeth. I don’t think anybody wants to strike. I know I don’t. But we have to remain together on this. I have three kids to feed.”
St. Louis enjoys a 2 1/2-game advantage over the Mets in the NL East, 3 1/2 over Montreal. Toronto is on top by 2 1/2 over the Yankees in the AL East, 3 1/2 over Detroit.
In ’81, the early starting date of the strike left room for a second half. That may not be the case this time. A prolonged walkout could force baseball to crown the Aug. 6 leaders division winners.
“They might do that,” Detroit Manager Sparky Anderson told United Press International. “That would be fair. Everybody had the same chance to be there.”
Anderson, however, is going to have to kick his Tigers into a higher gear if he wants to be there for the second straight year. A 3 1/2-game deficit in July is not especially significant. That same deficit with less than three weeks to go is another matter.
But Anderson said he won’t panic and overuse a tired player in order to make a July stretch run.
“Suppose it (the strike) never happened,” Anderson said. “I would have shot him.”
Lasorda recalled: “It’s the same thing I told the players in ’81. If there’s a strike, I want to be on top. But we are not going to do anything differently.”
Whether or not they play out the regular season, there is a strong feeling there will be postseason play.
“I’m sure they’ll try to save the playoffs and World Series. That’s when the owners get the TV money,” San Diego third baseman Graig Nettles said at the All-Star game.
Lasorda said: “All the players have done is to set a strike date in case they cannot find a way to reach an agreement. But anybody--and I’m talking about players as well as anybody else--is guessing when they talk about whether there is going to be a strike. I just hope we don’t do anything to deny the fans. Without those people, we don’t have anything. If the players get what they want, they are not going to go out.”
But if they do strike?
“I don’t think anyone’s going to accept an Aug. 6 champion because those last 30 days in September is really what counts,” Met pitcher Ron Darling said.
Wrong. What really counts is who makes it to the World Series.
Just ask the ’81 Dodgers.