Friday, November 29, 2013

Let It Be ... APBA

Whenever the Beatles found themselves in times of trouble, Mother Mary would come to them.

When I find myself in similar situations, the game I of which I obsess comes to me. Let it be, APBA. (If you sing that like the Beatles' song “Let It Be,” it sort of works. Sort of.)

It happens sometimes like that. I clutch to the concept of the game like a set of worry beads; like a baby with a teething ring, a youngster and his thumb, a security blanket. I found myself doing that again today when work got a little frustrating. I received a message from an unhappy person complaining about a story I had written in the newspaper where I work. He bemoaned about me quoting him, and then he wrote that he had not actually read my story.

Also, I could not get information from a police department about officers' search for someone in connection with a double homicide. You'd think the police would want help in finding the guy. Instead, since it was the day after Thanksgiving, the officers were not at work. A dispatcher said they were all “at the house,” a common phrase uttered in the south meaning they were at their respective homes. But it gave an image that every policeman in the town was in one house together, probably watching the Arkansas vs. LSU football game.

So, it was not a good day at the workplace. But as I muttered bad things about each person who slighted my progress, I also began thinking of my 1942 APBA baseball replay, about future seasons I can do and about what new season I should buy sometime. While a criminal suspected of whacking two people lurked in hiding, I debated about the merits of purchasing the 1967 season or the 2006 season. Both were Cardinals' World Series-winning years. Both seasons fielded Minnesota teams. (As much as I enjoy the 1942 season, I do miss rolling games for the Minnesota Twins — and I know the Washington Senators' team is the forerunner for the Twins, but it's not the same).

I do this often. Once, while waiting for the jury to return on a murder trial I covered, I set up a grid of the National League teams in 1957 and tried to predict how many times each team would beat each other team head-to-head. When I added up all the wins and losses, I created final standings. It was a mindless activity, but it was peaceful in the eye of the storm that would soon turn once the verdict came back and the reporters had to do the post-trial wrap up interviews and then bang out a remote story from the courthouse on a tight deadline. Hack out a 30-inch story on a capital murder in 30 minutes? Hard to do. Figure out the Milwaukee Braves could win 93 games in 1957? Easier.

I've mentioned this a million times here before, but the APBA game is more than just a game. Many of the people who play it are in their middle ages of life or even beyond. It's not just a kid game. There's something about APBA that draws us in at an early age and then holds us. Maybe it's the return to childhood that we grasp. Maybe it's soothingness of it, the memories of more innocent times when we didn't know to be frustrated when the police we needed were “at the house.” Maybe it's the entire concept of baseball, of sports itself.

Whatever it is, it helps. While I stewed over my hate message from the man slighted by his quotes, I thought of the 1942 replay I'm doing. The St. Louis Cardinals are only a half game ahead of the Brooklyn Dodgers on Aug. 18, 1942, in my contest. I thought of the games ahead. The two teams play each other a four-game series beginning on Aug. 24, 1942. While it's not real, it's something to think about. And so is whether I should get that 1967 season, or the 2006. Or maybe the 1911.

Sing with me, “Let it be, APBA.”

Monday, November 25, 2013

APBA Thanksgiving

When I was younger and a budding APBA enthusiast, I used the Thanksgiving break from high school as a time to really play the solitaire basketball game that I, unlike nearly everyone else who rolled a few games of roundball, enjoyed.

Now, as an adult, I still use the holiday to catch up on games in whatever replay I'm undertaking.

It's a holiday tradition, and what a great one it is. Stuff yourself with turkey, watch a football game or two on television and play more APBA games than usual.

I began playing the statistically-based dice game when I was in school. I was introduced to the APBA company with its football game, but a year later, I took on basketball. It's a plodding game that, in the quicker solitaire mode, boiled down to players shooting the ball, rebounding and assisting. It still often took more than two hours just to play a game. For some reason, I obsessed with that game and I truly loved it.

But, as a school student, there wasn't much time for me to play many games. Fitting a two-hour game into an evening of homework, telephone talking and television watching was difficult. I didn't need much sleep, even then at an early age, but my parents could tell if I stayed up late to play the game. I tried the excuse that some of the games were west coast contests and had late start times, hence my sleepy look in the mornings. It didn't work.

So, the holiday break came at a great time. I could play several games during the day on the Thanksgiving Thursday and then on the subsequent Friday we also had off from school. And, because I was a nerd then and didn't have a jam-packed social life, I had plenty of time for playing the game.

I carried that over to adulthood. I am off from the newspaper job where I work on Thanksgiving and I generally get in a few games in the morning. In the seven holidays since my wife passed away, I've spent Thanksgiving dinner in a different place each year. When you have no family, others feel pity and, like taking in a stray dog, feel obligated to ensure I'm not alone. But it's the APBA games I want the most that day; it's the stability I seek in the unstable times of holidays.

I return to work at my one-man bureau office the day after Thanksgiving, but in the news world I reside, that day is usually the slowest news day of the year. One year, a woman charged with capital murder decided to plea to a murder one charge on the Friday following Turkey Day. Another year, a man hid in an attic and then had a shoot out with local police. Both of those events broke up the routinely slow day.

But on the other Fridays, while the rest of the world lay back an extra day and digested more turkey and pie, I'd sit in the office alone and, while waiting for something to happen, I'd deal with APBA. I'd either bring the game from home and roll a few games at work, or I'd bring the notebook I use to record games and fill out the lineups for scores of upcoming games.

Thanksgiving is always a good time to get serious with a replay. If I'm just starting a season, as I often did with the basketball game in the late fall, it was the point where I'd knock out several games and set the pace and further my commitment to the game. If I reached a slow, burned out stage in a long baseball replay, it was a time to motivate myself to surge on and complete the season.

This year, it'll be the same. Games in the morning, a football game later on the television and evening APBA contests will round out the holiday. It's a time-honored tradition.

APBA Thanksgiving, everyone.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Game No. 906; 300 to go

This morning I rolled Game No. 906 of my 1942 APBA baseball replay and while it's no big landmark, it does mean I have only 300 more games to play before I complete the year. I should wrap this up by the end of January or early February, and then begin yet another replay of some other season.

It's been a good season, but I always say that during any replay. I've never done a season replay from during the 1940s; this helped teach me about that era of Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams and the rest. The St. Louis Browns are a fun team to play. They find ways to win. Detroit is a frustrating crew. They find ways to lose. Both Philadelphia teams are just awful, and the Cardinals-Dodgers race to the pennant is sizing up to be a good one.

Here are the standings after Game 906, which is five games into Aug. 15, 1942.

                     W    L    GB
New York     73   38    –
St. Louis       68   47     7
Boston          65   47    8.5
Cleveland     61   53   13.5
Detroit          58   59    18
Washington  45   65    27.5
Chicago        42   68    30.5
Philadelphia 41   76    35

                     W    L    GB
St. Louis       76   34     –
Brooklyn      75   36    1.5
New York     59   56   19.5
Cincinnati    54   57   22.5
Pittsburgh     52   60   25
Chicago        53   62   25.5
Boston          51   70   30.5
Philadelphia 32   77   43.5

Ted Williams leads the league with 32 home runs so far. Dolph Camilli has 27 for Brooklyn and Max West hit 22 for the Boston Braves. Mort Cooper has 18 wins for the Cardinals and Denny Galehouse and Elden Auker, both of the St. Louis Browns, are tied for the American League with 15 victories each.

I have hit “the wall” a few times and the replay slowed down. I found myself looking ahead to whatever next replay I'll do. Maybe 1991, maybe 1919. I have even toyed with the idea of playing the APBA basketball game that really first introduced me to this company. While others have bemoaned how slow that game is, I played it all the time when I was in my late teens and I loved it. I may drag that out.

But for now, the focus is on completing 1942,and here are some tidbits that we, the game players, search to help progress the season.

New York Yankees: They win a lot, but they win on pitching and doubles. The big bats just aren't there. Charlie Keller leads the team with 21 home runs. Joe DiMaggio has only 9 home runs. This team reminds me of the Yankees of 2003, when Jeter told the dugout that they would beat the Red Sox in Game 7 of the AL Championship Series because the “ghosts” of Yankees past would guide team. Well, this 1942 apparently features some of those ghosts.

St. Louis Browns: In the replay, they are nine games better than in real life at this point. They are 6-11 against the Red Sox so far and and 9-9 versus the Yankees. They've beaten up on the weaker teams by going 13-5 against Philadelphia and 13-2 against the White Sox, hence their decent record.

Boston Red Sox: They lost their first 10 games in the season, but have rebounded and are streaky now. They'll go 6-2 on a run, and then lose two of three games. But they'll put it back together and run off another five or six wins in seven or eight games. Ted Williams is amazing in this replay. He's batting well over .400 (remember, I don't keep detailed stats. I know, blaspheme).

Detroit Tigers: I can't understand this team. Five of the six regular starters have 'B' ratings. (APBA grades pitchers. In the basic game, an 'A,' obviously, is the best. D is the lowest rating). Hal Newhouser has a rating of A. Each pitcher also has an above strikeout average which is reflected on the card. In a game that pretty much sums up the Tigers' season, Newhouser threw 8 innings of perfect baseball against Cleveland. Problem was, Detroit didn't score either. Newhouser opened the bottom of the ninth with two walks, got Jim Hegan on a flyout and hoped for a double play to send the game into extra innings. Instead, Oris Hockett hit a single and the Indians won on one hit.

St. Louis Cardinals: They were behind the Dodgers early on, just as in real life in 1942. They suddenly took off, winning 20 of 23 from July 4 to July 25. They passed the Brooklyn Dodgers and had a 6-game lead over them at one point. But since then, they've played .500 ball while Brooklyn has returned the favor, going 13-5 in its last 18 games. It looks like it'll be a fun finish for those two teams.

New York Giants: Mel Ott has 18 home runs and Johnny Mize has 17. It seems like whenever one hits one, the other follows. A friend of mine gave me a recording he found of the 1942 All-Star Game and in it, the announcer was discussing the virtues of rookie outfielder Willard Marshall. He's the third best long ball hitter for the Giants in my replay, and it was neat hearing the recorded broadcast about him.

Pittsburgh Pirates: The Pirates are 52-60. Without Vince DiMaggio, they'd be lucky to have won 40 games so far. He's hit 10 home runs, but seems to come through in the clutch with a lot of doubles to drive in runs. That's it for Pittsburgh. The rest of the team is mired in mediocrity. Or worse. Ken Heintzelman is the league's worst pitcher with a 1-14 mark.

So there's the recap so far. Those who don't play APBA, yet read this blog can see how replayers get caught up in the seasons. There are the nuances and quirks that pop up in every replay and it's what keeps us rolling and rolling the dice

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Missing the Games

Michigan State was playing Kentucky and Kansas faced Duke the other night in college basketball. Numbers 1, 2, 4 and 5 were squaring off on television; college basketball season, of which I truly love, had officially begun.

Add to that a St. Louis Blues hockey game on cable. And throw in the fact that I had to re-write and edit a story I sold to a magazine by the following morning. My evening was set.

So why then, when a friend called and asked me to come to her house to watch a movie, did I jump at the opportunity quicker than Vladimir Tarasenko on an empty net goal chance? I shirked my responsibility to the magazine. It was a paying job and I can always use the extra money. But, more surprising, I dodged the responsibility to my sports obsession and skipped the games.

I'll pause while those who know me pick their stunned selves off the floor.

Sure. I like the girl I went to see. A lot. I'd probably go watch a documentary about air just to hang out with her. But still, I missed sports and that is somewhat surprising. I tend to not miss most big sporting events on television. I've taken the day off from work the past two years just to ensure I'd be home in time for the kickoff of the BCS National Championship football game. I've watched nearly every World Series games since 1969 and I stay up late just to see the west coast NHL playoff games in San Jose, Vancouver, Los Angeles and, when they were decent, Calgary.

But as the Spartans and Wildcats tipped off the other night and as they dropped the puck in St. Louis, I and my friend watched the HBO documentary on the 1993 slayings of three West Memphis, Ark., boys instead. The film showed the arrests, trial, appeals and eventual release of three men who were convicted. I covered that case, which gained international attention from the documentaries, from beginning to end over 19 years for three different newspapers, and viewers can even catch a glimpse of me looking all reporter like in the second of the three movies. I offered a running commentary for my friend about the characters in the case and a behind-the-scenes look at it all while we watched at her home. My babbling rantings, I'm sure, were similar to the droning of Tim McCarver during a baseball broadcast on FOX.

I've written about my sports obsession here before. My own mother used to criticize me for that, saying I could not be a good husband, let alone a decent person, because of the fanaticism I beheld toward sports when I was a kid.

Have I grown up a little? Am I reaching out to some sense of social being? Missing a Number 1 versus a Number 2, which is somewhat rare in college basketball, was big. But my skipping those games, and putting off writing that magazine article was just as monumental. (I'm not too far gone. I did do the rewrite into the wee hours of the morning and met the imposed deadline)

I've got until the first week of January when the BCS National Championship game is held to figure it all out. If I miss that one, I may need to seek professional help.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Wall

I'm sure there is a wall every replayer hits when doing a season recreation of the APBA game. It generally comes late in the replay's progress when it's hard to get motivated to roll a game between two cellar-dwelling teams.

I've reached that wall now.

I'm at Aug. 8, 1942, in my current replay. And while it's a great season to play with Stan Musial and Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams and the surprisingly good St. Louis Browns, I find myself slowing down when I see on the schedule that the next game up is the Cleveland Indians playing the Chicago White Sox, for instance.

I think we replayers all slow down during seasons. It's a long process rolling each game. It takes a year or more to complete one season; I've been doing APBA baseball since 1998 and I've finished seven replays so far, and I play a lot of games each day. Consider that each game takes about 15-20 minutes to play, and there's anywhere from 1,200 to 2,100 games to play — depending upon the number of teams involved and how many games constitutes a full season for them — and it's easy to see how long these things take.

And I think that the enthusiasm for a baseball replay may also wane when the real baseball season concludes. I find that I've slowed down in my replay baseball now that the actual World Series is over. It seems that whatever sport is in season is a motivator for whatever game I'll play. With that in mind, I've contemplated about pausing the baseball game briefly and dragging out the APBA hockey or basketball game for a spell, just to shift gears.

But then I reconsider and roll on.

I am not an employee of APBA and, like I said here before, I'm not sure the game company even knows this blog exists. But, one of the really great things about APBA now is that they offer every single baseball season there is. And this game is so much better than other sports simulation game.

Game players often chose their seasons based upon personal likes. I bought 1987 and 1991 specifically for the reason that the Minnesota Twins won the Series in each of those years. I purchased 1919 after reading Al Stump's biography of Ty Cobb and I want to someday buy 1947 because that's the first year Jackie Robinson played for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

We also buy seasons that have sentimental value. I bought 1969 because that is the first year I really, really followed baseball closely.

So, like all APBA fans, I have a closet full of seasons to play. And I have to finish one season to get to the next. I'll pick up interest again in the 1942 season — maybe by seeking nuances of certain teams or players and focusing on them when I play the less desirable teams.

I should finish this 1942 replay by February and by then, hopefully, I'll figure out what's next to play.

We may all hit walls at times during our game playing, but those walls aren't impenetrable and we forge on, motivated by the next season on our horizon, and the next one after that and then the next one again.