I am not worrying about the Tigers. I am not losing sleep, or chewing my fingernails. I am not placing a Detroit cap next to a string of garlic to ward off evil spirits. I am calm and cool. “But they’re in sixth place,” my fellow workers say. “How can you not be worried?”
“Worrying never skinned the cat, boys,” I say, leaning back in my chair.
“Huh?” they say.
“Forty games,” I say. “That’s what Sparky Anderson said. Forty games before you can tell anything. And I believe the man.”
They shake their heads. They pace around the office. They don’t like these home runs off Jack Morris and Willie Hernandez. Not at all. They don’t like these injuries to Kirk Gibson and Mike Laga. Bad news. They don’t like a 15-17 record.
“The Tigers are not even a .500 team right now,” they say, wringing their hands. “How can you just sit there so . . . nonchalant?”
“Worrying never captured the worm, boys,” I say. “It’s very simple. Have the Tigers played 40 games? No, they have not. Did Sparky say we can’t tell anything until 40 games? Yes, he did. So relax. Have something to drink.”
I pop open an icy fresh can of Coke.
“Shouldn’t you be pointing out the losses?” they say. “Shouldn’t you be comparing the Tigers’ ERA to the national debt?”
I put my feet up on my desk.
“Forty, boys,” I say, “four times 10, five times eight, two times 20 . .
. Patience, patience
I have been expecting this. I must admit. It is not easy to keep your head when all others around you are losing theirs. For several years after a team wins a World Series, any less-than- fantastic performance sends people into a worried funk. But I am not worried.
“Worried feathers flock together,” I say. “Baseball is funny. It needs time to develop. Like a fine wine or a photograph in a tray of chemicals.”
“But when does this team start living up to its pre-season billing?” my co-workers say. “The Yankees were supposed to be good. They are. The Mets were supposed to be good. They are.
“Cleveland and Boston and San Francisco and California weren’t supposed to be good, and they are anyhow. Their fans are celebrating.
“But here? The Tigers were supposed to be great. And they are in sixth place. One spot from the bottom. And you just sit there, as if all is well.”
“Only a worried Englishman goes out in the midday sun,” I say.
“Huh?” they say.
I try to explain rationally. When you bowl, do you worry about the first few frames? When you fish, do you worry about the first few nibbles? No. I think not. Sparky said 40 games. I think we should wait 40 games.
“We don’t believe you,” they say, opening the windows. “Things are bad. We know it.”
“The bigger the worry, the harder it falls,” I say. “Now come in from that ledge.”
A 90-game winning streak?
I know the numbers, I tell them. I am aware of the depth of Lance Parrish’s batting average. I know that Dave LaPoint has yet to win a game in Detroit. I know the only group to leave more men on base is the U.S. Army.
“A worried stone gathers no moss,” I say, sliding a toothpick between my teeth.
“Huh?” yell my co-workers.
“Thirty-two games is not 40,” I say.
“But what can happen in such a short period of time?” they ask, as they inch out onto the ledge.
“Why, almost anything,” I say. “Players get hurt. Managers get fired. The entire Yankees team could check into a rehab clinic and forfeit the month of May. You never know.
“Or the Tigers could catch fire. Win the next eight games. Then win the next 80. That is what makes baseball great. Forty games. Just wait until 40 games have passed. Then we’ll see.
“Really?” they say.
“Yes. Now get in here. It’s getting cold.”
They crawl in slowly, wiping the seats of their trousers. I have reached them, I think.
“But what if you’re wrong?” they say suddenly. “What if the next week brings sorrow and despair? What if the Tigers bite the dirt like an upside-down Pac Man?
“What if the slumping guys keep slumping, and the guys doing well decide to follow them?
“What if after 40 games, things look worse than they do now?” they say.
I remove the toothpick from my mouth. I tap it lightly against the table for a minute.
“Fifty games,” I say, “is actually a much truer measurement, come to think of it . . . ”