PHILADELPHIA — So here was Cito Gaston, stepping into a mob of reporters and saying in a quiet voice that he’d been up all night but he’d made the decision: He had to put Paul Molitor into the lineup.

And here came Molitor, humble and grateful, saying he was ready to try third base and give it his best effort, even though he hadn’t played that position regularly in four years.

And here came Ed Sprague, humble and understanding, saying he knew he had to sit down and let Molitor take his spot. What could he do?

The reporters fired questions. The players and manager answered with patience. This went on for 20 minutes, and the whole time I’m thinking: Is anyone gonna ask the one thing here that really needs to be asked?

Why are we putting up with this nonsense?

Two sets of rules in a World Series? A designated hitter some games? No DH the other games? Pitchers sit some games? Pitchers bat the others? This is the dumbest concept since somebody said, “Talk show host? How about Chevy Chase?”

And yet they do it, both halves of baseball, without review, as if this were some sort of cute tradition that should be tolerated, like kids soaping windows the night before Halloween.

Sorry. But this is a different kind of whitewash. It covers the muck of a game that still divides itself by old league loyalties and doesn’t have enough gumption to put a man in charge who might make a decision. A commissioner — at least a real one — couldn’t help but see the lunacy of the designated hitter mess in the World Series. And he — or she — would be compelled to do something.

Especially after what almost happened here with Molitor.

Make room for Molitor

Molitor is arguably the best story going in this series. He is 37, an age by which many baseball players are selling cars or learning the insurance business. Yet Molitor has endured, all those years in Milwaukee without a title, all those years knocking out .300 seasons in relative obscurity, suffering through injuries, coming back, over and over.

Finally, after 15 seasons in the beer capital of America, he joins the Blue Jays, and voila — here he is in a World Series, smoking the ball, writing a wonderful climax to his career. Tuesday night, in Game 3, he hits a triple in his first at-bat, and later a home run and a single. His batting average is over .500 for the series. He’s an inspiration to his teammates. Even Philly fans applaud him.

And when the game ends, the TV guys grab him for an interview and they say,
“Great performance, Paul. Do you expect to play tomorrow?”

“No,” he says.

No? There’s no place for him in the lineup? Since when do you bench your best player? Did Magic Johnson come off a brilliant night in the NBA Finals and say, “Too bad I can’t play next game”? Does Mario Lemieux knock in three goals in the Stanley Cup finals, then say, “I’m finally healthy. I wish I could get in there tomorrow.”

Think how stupid this is. You go all year with a DH, you mold your offense around him — and then, in the biggest moment, he’s out. Or this: You go all year with your pitchers never touching a bat, then, in front of a worldwide audience, they have to try to hit a 90-m.p.h. fastball.

Thanks to this foolishness, we got to see Todd Stottlemyre, the terribly ineffective Toronto pitcher, come to the plate Wednesday night and reach base on a walk. Stottlemyre, an American leaguer his whole career, runs the bases about as often as Elvis ordered the diet plate.

But here he was, rounding second, foolishly trying to reach third on a Roberto Alomar single. Stottlemyre dove into the dirt, landed on his face, got tagged out, and came up bleeding from his chin. He was dazed. He told his trainer he “didn’t know where he was.”

Considering the way he’d been pitching, I’d call that a case of selective amnesia.

One game, one championship

The point is, what’s he doing in there? And why did John Olerud, the American League batting champion, have to sit out Tuesday night? And why did Sprague have to sit Wednesday, while Molitor, a DH whose defense has been limited by injuries the last few years, took his place at third base, the hot corner, and whispered to himself that old Little League mantra “Hit it to someone else. . . . Hit it to someone else. . . . “

“If I were in charge?” Molitor, always a gracious man, had said Tuesday.
“I’d make it one game. Either we all have DH or nobody has it. We have one players union, one TV contract, but we have two different leagues with two different rules. It doesn’t make any sense.”

It sure doesn’t. Especially from a game that claims “tradition” counts more than life itself. What kind of tradition do you have when, in the World Series, you arbitrarily give one team four games in its familiar style and another team three? This DH nonsense has been going on for two decades. And still nobody fixes it.

Come on. Championships are supposed to celebrate the things you’ve done well all year — not rearrange them. Fans are lucky they’re getting to see Paul Molitor’s talent reach full bloom in this series.

Baseball — as long as it practices hypocrisy — doesn’t deserve that nice a story.

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