YUMA, Ariz. — Let's play a game. What if some real smart people with a sense of humor--people who know nothing about baseball--one day decided to invent a very good baseball pitcher.
But after giving him an elbow and shoulder and all the usual stuff, what if they decided to get tricky?
What if they gave him a love for physics? A love for studying philosophers, historians and theorists? A love for writing classical jazz?
What if on road trips, while his friends are shopping and watching movies, he is in the basement of musty libraries trying to figure out why the Earth is round?
What if at home, while many players are at the ballpark several hours ahead of the required reporting time, he is still in his home, in his second-floor office, under a bright light, studying the effect of a new foreign government or ancient civilization?
What if, before he wins 20 games, he records and produces his own record album, and co-stars in a movie? Finally, just to throw everybody off, what if they made him an open, verbal member of the ultra-conservative John Birch Society? What if . . .
Forget the what ifs. Such a pitcher exists. His name is Eric Show.
His six seasons have established him as one of the National League's best pitchers and most unusual people.
Yet, after six seasons, another question is probably more applicable.
Why has he no close clubhouse friends? Why does everybody in there look at him so funny? Why do some think he's selfish and arrogant? Why did some even take to calling him 'Erica'? And why do things always seem to happen to him?
In 1984, his John Birch affiliation is uncovered when he is spotted passing out pamphlets at a fair, and black players think he doesn't like them.
In 1985, he gives up Pete Rose's record 4,192nd hit, but during the 10-minute celebration he sits on the mound, and now nobody likes him.
Last season, he hits the Chicago Cubs' Andre Dawson in the head and must flee Wrigley Field fearing for his life. When he returns to that city this season, he has only half-jokingly claimed it will be in disguise.
Show, 31, enters the 1988 season in the final year of a $725,000 contract and at the crossroads of his baseball career.
Can he find enough peace to once again become the pitcher that won 15 games to help lead the Padres to the 1984 World Series?
Or will he continue twisting in the winds of discontent, like last season, when he went 8-16 despite a 3.84 earned-run average?
Either way, the Padres say he's trying.
"There has been change in Eric just since the middle of last season," Padre Manager Larry Bowa said. "In the clubhouse, away from the stadium. He's really working at understanding and being understood."
Show says he's trying.
"As strange at it may seem, I have tried to be more a part of my baseball environment," Show said carefully. "If I'm still off, it's because I started way off ."
And whatever happens, only one thing is ever certain with Eric Show.
Something will get lost in the translation.
At the end of a recent lengthy conversation that covered only the major points of a basic 20-volume encyclopedia, Show grabbed a reporter.
"Wait a minute," he said. "Aren't you going to ask me about anti-si-hyperon particles?"
Everybody on the Padres has a good Eric Show story. Then there's Tony Gwynn. The punch line on his story is a broken bone.
It was 1982, Gwynn's first big-league season, Show's second.
"I get an off day in Pittsburgh, so during the game I am kicking back on the bench when Show comes over and sits next to me," Gwynn recalled. "He looks at me and says, 'There's 10 questions every American should know. Do you want me to ask you those questions?'
"I figure, I got nowhere to go, so fine, ask away. And he does. Who was the fourth president of the United States? What is the capital of Montana?"
After a couple of questions, Gwynn realized something: "We're in the middle of a game, and he's giving me a history test."
Then he realized something else: "I wasn't getting any of those questions right. I didn't know a single answer."
After missing all of them, all 10, Gwynn sat there, dumbfounded. Suddenly, he was called into the game.
"I run into right field, the first batter Jason Thompson hits me a fly ball, I break the wrong way, I have to dive to catch it, and I land right on my wrist, breaking my wrist," he said. "I was so messed up over that quiz, I am out for four weeks."
Show has spent his life messing people up, making them think where they don't necessarily want to think.
When he was a fourth grader in Riverside, he developed a three-dimensional model of the human digestive system out of foam rubber that is still used by the school system. Throughout grade school, he would finish his homework early and on the back, draw diagrams of the human body.
"I wanted to be a doctor, so I figured I had better memorize every part of the anatomy," he said.
By age 14, he had already taught himself to read music and play the guitar, and was being paid to teach others.