Even a hacker couldn't compute these hackers

JOHN EISENBERG

August 11, 1991|By JOHN EISENBERG

It was going to be big. Huge. An enormous moment in local sports history. The mother of all baseball series. Bad baseball, yes, very bad baseball -- but still a best-of-seven with bragging rights to the winner. And it was canceled. Canceled due to computer illiteracy.

But I'm getting ahead of the story. Let's go back to the beginning. Back to the recent All-Star Game in Toronto, where four ex-Orioles played for the National League. The question first occurred to me there: Could a team of active ex-Orioles beat the current Orioles?

Could the Ex's beat the O's?

I let the notion percolate awhile. Evidence gathered. Mickey Tettleton hit his 20th home run. Dennis Martinez threw a perfect game. I couldn't help continuing to wonder: Were the Orioles really so misguided that they'd traded away a better team than their current one?

It certainly was a possibility with the Orioles at .415 or so, and dropping faster than Ted Kennedy's, um, career.

More evidence gathered. Pete Harnisch threw another four-hitter. Eddie Murray hit another home run. I turned on the TV to watch highlights and heard: ". . . Finley scoring again." That was it. I had to get an answer. For the good of the population. For social science.

My plan was to put together the Ex's and play them against the O's on a computer. I got out a No. 2 pencil and got serious with the Sunday statistics page. The Ex's began coming alive, an exhilarating moment, sort of.

I began with the starting rotation. There was Martinez, Harnisch and Mike Morgan, three '91 All-Stars among the National League ERA leaders. And Mike Boddicker, with more wins than any O's starter. A terrific rotation. Ex's hex O's: Could it be? The O's certainly wouldn't score much.

But then I began building a bullpen, and things began evening up. Doug Sisk! The Human Blown Save during his Orioles tour in 1988, he miraculously still had a job. Curt Schilling was back from the minors with bad numbers. Others: John Habyan, Storm Davis. OK, but neither a deep nor strong 'pen. The opposite of the Nasty Boys. The User Friendly Boys.

Then it was time to draw up a lineup, and things got even more even. There was some substance, yes. Finley would lead off, Murray bat fourth, Tettleton fifth. But, after that, the choices began getting weaker. And weaker. And Brumley.

The lesson, I suppose, is the O's have not traded away as much as many think. Introducing the Ex's:

Steve Finley, CF

Dave Gallagher, RF

Terry Kennedy, C

Eddie Murray, 1B

Mickey Tettleton, DH

Rex Hudler, 3B

John Shelby, LF

Rene Gonzales, 2B

Mike Brumley, SS

Let's be blunt here. That is a horrifying lineup. That is one of the worst lineups every drawn up for any reason. That lineup would frighten babies. It hurt my fingers to punch the names into my word processor just now. My fingers will need BR (bum rehab) now.

Kennedy is batting third with 10 RBI. Brumley has nine hits in 1991. Shelby has eight RBI. But they were all productive enough to make the lineup ahead of subs Rick Dempsey and Ron Kittle and supersub Jamie Quirk. (Kittle would make the lineup on career stats, but only 1991 applies, and he has one homer and four RBI.)

Now, I could have bent rules to better the lineup. I could have included the Ex's in Japan. Jim Traber and Phil Bradley are having big years for the Kintetsu Buffaloes and Yomiuri Giants. Tom O'Malley is producing for the Hanshin Tigers.

But, as commissioner, CEO and El Presidente for Life of this Harbor Series, I decided that wasn't fair. Numbers generated against the Nippon Ham Fighters just wouldn't be accurate. The Whammer-san would not make his triumphant, microchipped return.

(As El Presidente, I also named Jack Luskin owner of the Ex's, setting up a cheap-off with O's owner Eli Jacobs. I also awarded Mike Flanagan, eligible to play for both teams, to the O's.)

It was time to play ball. Game 1: Martinez vs. McDonald. Game 2: Harnisch vs. Milacki. Sellout crowds in place at Charm Park. There was only one problem. The computer blew my mind. For the first and probably last time in my life, I felt like the phone company.

A co-worker said he had a piece of software that would enable me to load up the teams and statistics and, in conjunction with another piece of software, play the games. I went out and bought the game software. Looked at the pretty colors.

But then it turned out the two pieces of software weren't compatible. I couldn't put the Ex's together. I needed a third VTC piece of software. And the people who answered the 800 number started using words like "download."

I have found that a useful guide to life in the '90s is to immediately drop any conversation that includes "download."

Besides, I suddenly decided it was better not to play the games. Just leave the debate unanswered. Let people argue.

Could the Ex's beat the O's? Probably not with Terry Kennedy batting third. It would take some 1-0 games, and maybe a Roy Hobbs miracle from Brumley. Not likely. But not impossible. Less impossible, certainly, than software instructions.

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