Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Three Years of Love, Life and APBA

It's hard for me to believe that three years ago tonight I began the Love, Life and APBA Baseball blog. But now, 58,411 reader visits, 255 comments and many new friends I've gained later, I'm still hacking out things about sports, my quirky observations, my less-than-stellar dealings with my bombed relationships and, of course, the replays in which I'm currently engaged.

I've often thought I'd run out of ideas to write, but they still come, sometimes tumbling out of my head in a jumble. The main concept here is the game. Most of us roll the APBA games daily, or at least we try to each day. Whether we're doing tournaments, what-if series or replays, we find time to get in a game or two .. or three or four. And that gives me the material, the impetus, to come up with more things to write about.

So, I'll keep going on, rolling the games in the 1950 baseball replay which I began in March and writing about the season, the players, the updated standings and including other things I think of that come from the recesses of my brain while I play these games.

There are so many more games to play. I've slowed the pace of my 1950 replay a few times this year; on occasion I played instead the APBA hockey game or a basketball game by another company (Not Strat-o-Matic, mind you), so that took away time from the baseball replay. But I also came back recharged to play the baseball again. It'll soon be a year into this replay and I'll have only reached about 70 percent completion. It's time to pick up the pace because, like I said, there are so many more games to play. I've got the 1991 season waiting in the wings and then the 1972 season after. Those will take a few years. I'd like to tackle 1919 at some point and I just ordered the 1961 season. I have to stay alive for a while to complete all these replays.

So, as is the manner for the day, I hope to fulfill one of my New Year's resolutions to play more games. I think I had that as one of last year's APBA resolutions as well. But this time, I really mean it! Just like I do for losing more weight, making more money and being a better person in the upcoming year. Really. No. Really. I mean it.

That said, more games equal more material to write about. And that I will do. I've already got new ideas for 2015. Some obscure and weird, some about the 1950 season and the pennant race that's developing. It ought to be a good fall run in this replay the way things are shaping up.

It's been a long ride, these past three years. Thank you, readers, for taking the trip along with me.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

APBA Christmas, 2

Most of us who love the APBA contests we play were introduced to the sports replay game during a Christmas of our youth. At least I assume that.

I bet the game became a turning point from child to young adult when the packages were opened beneath the tree. The large box that the game came in was probably held back as one of the last gifts to be doled out and when it came, we knew we were setting off on a new adventure.

I've written about this before, my indoctrination to APBA on Christmas Day 1977 when my parents handed me the 1976 football season. It was a detailed game, far more complex than the simple card games I had played before. Like I said, it was a step into being more than just a child. We graduated to a more adult game to play.

We probably saw the advertisements for the game in a sports magazine. A majority of those who play the APBA games first played baseball, and probably saw an ad in an old Street and Smith's baseball preview magazine. I did it backwards, not getting into that sport until 1998 when, in December of that year, as 38-year-old, I opted to buy myself a Christmas gift.

I remember then having the same feeling, the same excitement of embarking on a new thing, that I did as a child.

And that's the draw of this game. What makes us stick with it for so many decades? Most of the people I've seen who roll the dice and do replays began as children and then continued on. Oh, sure, they may have put away the game while in college or when they got married, or had kids. But they always came back to it eventually.

So how does APBA do it? Does it have the magical formula to recapture our youth? When we roll the dice and play the games, the difficulties of every day life go away for a while. Although the difficulties were different back then, the same thing happened when I played the football and later the basketball game. Problems at school in 1978? Roll a game. Fear of finances and mortgage interest rates in 2014? Roll a game.

We've all gotten other games for Christmas, but I venture not many have made the trip with us into adulthood. Somewhere along the way, they are put aside; we out grow them; other aspects of life interest us more.

But not the APBA game. It is our constant companion, our wingman in the journey of life. And that's what makes this so interesting. I can't really figure it out, as we near Christmas this year. I first came to the game as a kid, only worrying about grades, a budding romance with a high school girlfriend and the vagueness of college years looming ahead. Now, nearly 40 years later, after graduating college with bachelor's and master's degrees, after losing both my parents, after being married and then losing my wife to kidney failure, after changing jobs a few times and after establishing a news career I've had for three decades, I still play the very same game.

Life changes, but the game remains the same.

Maybe we do the replays to hold just a little longer to that past life, that time when we were kids and we were excited by the heavy package that our parents slid out from under the Christmas tree.

I won't have a package beneath the tree this year, but I did recently buy the 1972 set of baseball cards to play sometime. Like a kid, I felt the anticipation as I waited for them to arrive in the mail and then the excitement of opening them and poring through the cards, just as I did when I was a young lad and that first Christmas present came to me.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

May the APBA Cat

Sometimes the more important things in life come in the smallest sizes.

In my case, it's a 5.6-pound cat that I've had for seven and a half years and, now that her mortality is in question, I have discovered the magnitude of smallness. My cat, named May by those at the shelter where I found her in 2007, has some ailment that is now causing her to have mini seizures at times. It's alarming to see; she's always been a quiet, innocent animal. But when these hit, she falls, curls up and lies still for a moment. Within 5 second or so, she awakens and, albeit a bit confused, returns to her routine.

I took her to a veterinarian two weeks ago and he prescribed May medication, saying she may have an enlarged heart that causes these spells. An enlarged heart. That's kind of appropriate, what with all the love the cat has provided me these past seven years.

May the APBA cat with a 1974
Milt May APBA card
She greets me at the door when I come home from work each night, she sits on the arm of the couch while I watch sports on television. When I roll the replay games I do, she often sits in the same room watching me toss dice. Yes, she is an APBA cat. When she was younger, she would jump on the table where I played thegame and scattered the baseball game cards to gain attention. She'd also paw at the dice, knocking them to the floor. I don't know if she rolled any 66s (the universal dice roll for home runs in our APBA game).

After my wife passed away in 2006, a grief counselor suggested I get an animal to care for. She assumed I needed to replicate the care I gave my wife and thought an animal would be a good continuation. So, I opted for a dog and I almost got one. I found a blind shepherd in Memphis and actually headed over to meet him when the weather turned rough and I forewent the visit.

A few months later, a friend told me of a cat at a Hot Springs, Ark., shelter and on St. Patricks Day, 2007, I adopted May. She's been here since.

I never thought I'd be a cat person. My parents owned cats when I was young, but I never had one when I was on my own. It became a contest of who could train who. I thought I had the edge, training May to not scratch furniture, to use the litter box properly and chase string. But she won out, knowing I'd feed her whenever she wanted, play with her and let her sit on me when I watched television.

We bonded in 2009, I think, when a massive ice storm struck. I was without power for four days. Others lost electrical service for weeks, so I was lucky. I covered the event for our newspaper and the paper offered to put me in a hotel while I waited for my power to be restored. The hotel wouldn't take pets, so I opted to stay home instead, stoking my fireplace with wood and wrapping myself with blankets to stay from freezing. May stayed by my side during that time, probably because I was warm, but we both survived.

This is the first time she's been sick since I've had her. And while the replication of care probably helped me in the long run, I've discovered I am reliving some of the trauma I did when my wife was fading with the kidney disease that eventually claimed her. Lately when I come home, like I did before with my wife, I wonder if I will find May passed away.

Maybe I'm being too melodramatic. The medication seems to be working. She had one spell last night, but she'd been free from them (that I've seen) for a couple of days prior. And maybe getting all worked up over a cat is silly. An APBA cat at that. But when you deal with loss like I have, you cling to what you can and it takes on more of an importance. A 5.6-pound importance.

UPDATE: Jan. 25, 2015.
I lost May yesterday. Her seizures increased and, after trying different medications to avail, she had to be put to sleep. It was heartbreaking having to do that. The veterinarian clinic was very supportive, but it's hard. I miss my friend.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

1950 Update: Halfway Point, July 6, 1950

I've reached the halfway point of my 1950 APBA baseball replay, slowly rolling 616 games so far. I know it's the exact point because I follow my APBA mantra: There's no rainouts in APBA. Each of the 16 teams will play 154 games, hence the full 1232 slate of games.

The season has been a good one, although I am missing tossing the dice for the Minnesota Twins, my favorite team. I realize Washington's American League team is the precursor for the Twins, but it's not all the same. After playing the 1981 season, and compiling the horrible season for the Twins, I embarked upon 1942 and now 1950. It'll be a good long while since I've rolled a Twins game before I tackle 1991 next.

That said, 1950 has some drama and it keeps me returning to the boards, cards and dice.

Here's the standings at the split, which coincided with all games finished on July 5, 1950:

                      W    L    GB
New York      51 25  -
Boston           49 30  3.5
Detroit           45 31  6
Cleveland      46 33  6.5
Washington   31 46  20.5
Chicago         31 47  21
St. Louis        31 47  21
Philadelphia   26 51 25.5

New York is trying to pull away, but Boston hangs close. Earlier, the top four teams jockeyed for the lead, but the Yankees won seven of their last 10 games to edge into first. The pack is close, too. Chicago and St. Louis, while mired in the cellar, exchange places daily, it seems.

As for stats, well, I quit keeping them closely. I have less time and, sadly, I am lazy about that. I logged them in the computer, but there's something about doing them by hand that always appealed to me before. So, I keep the bare necessities of stats still: Home runs, pitching wins, loses and saves and occasional things like a player hitting three home runs in a game, or hitting for the cycle. I keep all the game box scores, so someday, someday, I may compile better stats.

However, I did run all the at bats for Joe DiMaggio just to see how he stood. He's batting .325 with 20 home runs and 70 RBIs. In the real season, the Yankee Clipper had 17 home runs by July 5, 1950.

Ted Williams leads the American League in batting with a .385 average (I did his season by hand, too). He's also got 20 home runs and 66 RBIs.

I'm also tracking George Kell's doubles. So far, he's hit 21 of them. In the real season, he has 22 at this point.

The National League is a dogfight. Here are the standings
                      W   L   GB
New York     45 34  -
St. Louis       43 33  .5
Brooklyn      43 34  1
Pittsburgh     41 34  2
Boston          41 35  2.5
Philadelphia  36 44 9.5
Chicago        33 41  9.5
Cincinnati     24 51  19

Stan Musial leads the Cardinals with his .383 batting average, along with 16 home runs and 66 RBIs.

New York doesn't seem to have any real statistical standouts. Bobby Thomson leads the Giants with 15 home runs and Sal Maglie is 10-3 on the mound. They just finds ways to win.

On the inverse, Philadelphia, which won the real 1950 National League pennant, can't seem to get it together. Delmer Ennis has 21 home runs and two Phillies' pitchers have won nine games each. But they've lost close contests by a run or two and their bullpen has blown some games. Their relievers are 5-12 so far.

Brooklyn really looks like the team to win this. Don Newcombe is 13-2 at the break and has tossed a no-hitter against Pittsburgh. Duke Snider has 19 home runs and Roy Campenella has belted 17 dingers. Ralph Branca, who served up that fateful home run to Bobby Thomson a year after this replay, has five home runs.

As I turn the corner of the replay and continue rolling on, the pace has picked up some. The games are interesting and the pennant race in the National League keeps me glued to the replay. Will it be an all-New York Series at the end? Will the Whiz Kids of Philadelphia finally put it together and play to their real potential? Will I survive more than two years without rolling a game for the Twins?

Monday, December 1, 2014

Black and Blues Friday the APBA Way

A day after Thanksgiving, I returned to my job as a newspaper reporter. There were stories of fatal fires, of murder and of civil unrest across the country. Sales figures for the day following the holiday were down, indicating the recession was still here.

A friend of mine had just been released from the hospital after tests for some ailment. Another friend's mother fell and spent the holiday in the same hospital.

It was a depressing time and I had to shake the onslaught of approaching blues. I did what millions of others did. I went shopping on Black Friday.

But, before those who actually know me are shocked, understand that I did it online. Friends realize I steer clear of any crowds when shopping. I used to go to Wal-Mart at 2 a.m. just to avoid the throngs of other shoppers. I prefer the tumbleweed-like emptiness of a vacant store aisle in the wee hours to the tumble of hustling patrons shoving shopping carts during the peak times.

So, during a break at work Friday, I called up the APBA company in Georgia and ordered another set of baseball game cards. I don't need them; I have plenty of seasons to replay that will last me well into the next decade if not longer. No, instead I took on the mentality that so many other shoppers use as a mantra. “It was on sale.”

The company offered a 25 percent discount on all game merchandise. I couldn't pass that up, and I didn't have to camp in a tent outside a store with strangers for eight hours to get that deal. I ordered the 1972 baseball season mainly because it was one of the years I really focused in on baseball. I was 11 that summer and worshipped the Minnesota Twins.

In fact, a childhood memory I have of one of the few fights my parents had came that summer over a Twins game. My mother wanted to go to our summer cabin near Turtle River, Minn. My dad and I wanted to stay home to see the Twins play Baltimore (I actually remember this more than 40 years later). I looked it up on and found the teams played on June 16, 17 and 18. It was probably then when this happened because I recall it was soon after I was out of grade school that year. Anyway, my mother was upset that we'd rather watch baseball than go to our lake cabin. I think we stayed and watched the first game and then went to the cabin the day after.

There's no rush to get these cards, but there is that childhood anticipation us APBA game players get waiting for them to arrive, no matter our age. There's very few things better as an adult than driving home and finding the box o' cards sitting on the door step.

Along with bringing back a memory, purchasing the 1972 season did another thing: It helped amp up the process of my current baseball replay. I'm almost exactly halfway done with my 1950 season replay and I've bogged down a bit. I began it in March and now, eight months later I've hit the midway point. I'm enjoying it, but there's always that thought of yet another season to embark on and that's what motivates us to play on. I hit the game with a renewed fervor this past weekend.

The concept of time is diffused with the game. I think nothing of devoting a year and a half or two years to a single season replay, and I play more games each day than some. I have a closet full of seasons that, if I play them all, will take me well into retirement. If I add the hockey and basketball seasons (and two football seasons), I'd be playing until my passing. If there's an afterlife, I hope they have dice there.

A year or more to play — that's a testament to the strength of this game. Think of any other game you'd roll dice for more than a year. My aunt used to give the game Monopoly her own name because it took forever to play. She bestowed it as “Monotony” and vowed to never play again after we once played a 30-minute marathon game.

So, on Black Friday, while others beat each other down to get their deals at Best Buy, camped out at Target and spent thousands to save a few bucks, I made a simple phone call. I got a new season, brought back memories, beat the blues of the post holiday season and ensured I'd be rolling dice for years to come.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

APBA Thanksgiving

For the past eight Thanksgivings since my wife passed away, I've celebrated the holiday in eight different places.

The first year was spent with my in-laws. A year later, I ate at a Burger King in West Memphis, Ark. I was adopted by a few friends in the ensuing years and I even cooked a turkey once for my cat and me. Once, mind you. I worked one holiday at the newspaper where I write and last year I walked 11 miles around a city park after eating lunch with a friend.

Being an orphan has its drawbacks come holiday time. I feel I burden other families who take me in, much as an adoptive family may take in a stray dog on a trial basis.

But, as the season suggests, I am thankful for all the generosity shown over the years and the fact that others want to share their lives with me during a time most families gather.

I am thankful that despite the differences each year I've gone through, it seems at the end of every Thanksgiving Day, while stuffed with food from wherever I managed to find a meal, I play the APBA game that I write about here all the time.

It's become the theme of Love, Life and APBA, but the game is the one constant in the changing life I have.

And for that I am thankful as well.

So, I thought I'd list my Thanksgiving thanks for things of the game we all play.

Obviously, I am thankful that Richard Seitz invented the APBA baseball board game in 1951 so that now, 63 years later, I toss a few games and escape into the 1950 replay I've been working on since March. He invented the game that uses player cards and dice when he was a youngster in Lancaster, Pa., and took it with him when he went to war in the 1940s. Thanks to the 1950 Philadelphia Phillies “Whiz Kids” run to the World Series, interest in baseball in the Lancaster area skyrocketed and Seitz decided to share his game. The APBA company has thrived since.

I am thankful that the game has the staying power to keep me playing since 1977 when I first rolled the football replay game and then turned to the basketball game. Most APBA fans hated the basketball game. I loved it. I know, I am weird. The game has to have some magical hold in order to maintain my interest over all these years. I have changed and my circumstances have changed in the past 38 years. The game has stayed the same.

I am thankful for the APBA community that has been created. There's a Facebook page for the baseball game where nearly 1,400 people have joined. It's a great place to share ideas, information about games and replays and other things. It's like a social gathering or bar where the like-minded hang out. I've only talked to two APBA players on the phone in my life and I've never met another player in person, but I know I am not alone in my obsession of the game when I visit the Facebook page.

I am thankful for the mathematical upbringing I had with my parents. While I don't do APBA game statistics like I should, I can figure averages and ERAs quickly because my mother was a math teacher and my dad was just really smart. Genetics, I hope, are passed on. It is from them, I believe, I can set up a replay quickly with schedules, team pages, pitching rotations and quicky stats for home runs and pitching records.

I am thankful for the “7” on some players' baseball cards when their team is tied in the eighth or ninth inning and they are facing an A relief pitcher. That “7” has driven in a few runs and avoided an extra inning game, and when you play 1,230 games to do a complete season, there are times when playing — say a meaningless Washington Senators vs. St. Louis Browns game late in the year — extra innings are more of a bane.

I am thankful for the childhood glee we all get when we buy a new set of cards and then we wait for them to arrive in the mail. Seeing the box by my garage door when I come home from a stressful day at the newspaper makes things better. I am an adult (some would differ) for the most part, but I become a kid when I open the box and delve into the cards.

Finally, I am thankful for the spirit of the game. It's more than just rolling dice and looking at numbers. The game lives and it keeps an innocence. Fans often replay seasons of ago that were their favorite ones, recalling memories, perhaps, of better times. It's also a diversion to real life when we really need one.

Tonight, while the country digests its turkey and stuffing and most are watching football or the onslaught of Christmas commercials that will plague television, I'll be back rolling a few APBA games. Despite all the different places I've been to during the day since my wife's passing, I know I'll return to familiar territory by day's end.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Cuckoo For Kokos

He had a lifetime batting average of .263 and his team never finished above sixth place during the five years he played, but Richard Kokos, an obscure outfielder for the 1950 St. Louis Browns, is making an impact on the APBA replay I'm currently engaged with.

That's one of the benefits of our game. We learn of players who may otherwise be hidden in the history of baseball. There have been more than 18,000 players who took the field in major league baseball games and Kokos didn't stand out in the real game. But I've noticed him in this 1950 season replay.

I've found with the APBA game, players sometimes play far above their potential; I've written about overachievers here before. And, the replayers have also seen players expected to do well fall short. Mickey Mantle played pretty poorly in my 1957 replay for example. That's part of the draw of the APBA game. It's based upon statistics. Each player receives a card that is based upon his real statistics of that particular season. We roll the dice, match up results with results on the card to determine the outcome of a play. Usually, players play rather closely to what is expected, but there are variations. And those variations are what lead us to play the game.

Kokos, in my 1950 replay, has suddenly become hot, drawing my attention to an otherwise lackadaisical, boring team in St. Louis. He's drove in runs in eight consecutive games before going 0 for 2 against Cleveland the other night.

In real life, he drove in 67 runs in 1950. After 71 games, he's driven in 57 runs in my replay and is well on his way for at least 100 RBIs. Kokos is also batting .293 in my game so far with eight home runs. In the real 1950 season, he batted .261 with 18 homers.

I decided to seek information on Kokos. Born as Richard Kokoszka, he was began his professional career with the Cleveland organization in 1945, although he never played for the Indians. He was traded to the St. Louis Browns on Nov. 20, 1947, and on July 8, 1948, he played in his first major league game in Detroit. He went one for four and recorded five putouts and an assist in a 12-2 loss to the Tigers that day.

Like other players of his time, he was called to war and was drafted in 1950.

Kokos returned to the field in 1953 for St. Louis and made the trip when the Browns moved to Baltimore and became the Orioles a year later. He only played in 11 games in 1954 before he was traded to the New York Yankees. His last game in the big leagues was on May 10, 1954, when he pinch hit for Don Larsen against the Philadelphia As.

Fittingly, to represent his less-than-stellar career, Kokos walked in that last at bat. Only 8,455 saw him play that day, according to a box score on He never played with the Yankees.

So, Kokos only played four seasons and part of a fifth; the war robbed him of a few years like so many other players of that era. He played in a total of 475 games.

Not a career worth noting, really, I guess. But, he did make it to the big leagues and that is an accomplishment most of us cannot say we've done. I made friends years ago with Bill Bethea, the former coach of the Arkansas State University baseball team and a former professional player. His wife and my wife were church buddies and that's where we met. While neither Bethea nor I were well versed in Biblical history, we did know the blessing of having a good shortstop to complete a double play, and we crafted our friendship on baseball.

He played with the Minnesota Twins in 1964, debuting in Boston on Sept. 13, 1964, and starting in 10 games that season. He was sent down at the end of the year and ended up with the Yankees organization a year later.

Bethea downplayed his professional career, but I took out the sixth edition of the Major League Baseball Encyclopedia, opened it and first showed him Henry Aaron's listing. Then, on page 703, between Frank Betcher, a St. Louis Cardinals player from 1910, and Larry Bettencourt, a Browns outfielder and third baseman, was Bethea's name.”You're in it,” I told Bethea. “Not many can say that.”

Kokos is also in the registry. He took the field in 1948 and now, 64 years later, I'm replaying his season with the 1950 replay. And I'm taking notice of him.

Kokos died in Chicago in 1986. He lives on, like all the other players we roll the dice for, in our replays and tournaments and APBA games we play.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Another Reason Why We Play

Reason number 9,201,496 why we play APBA sports replay games:

Some may think rolling dice, checking numbers on players' cards, writing down the results and recreating games from the past is silly, child's play and a waste of time.

But, aside from the fact that those of who play the game enjoy sports and love recreating games played by the heroes of our youth and of historical seasons of long ago, the game also provides some soothing, familiar ground in an otherwise whacked world. Maybe it's the control of a replay world that brings things together and provides the proverbial oasis in a sea of troubling life.

That became pretty evident the other day when, within an hour, I felt things spinning out of hand and needed the safety net the game provides.

I work as a newspaper reporter, meeting daily deadlines, so the day was already tight and by evening I had achieved my normal stress-headache when two telephone calls sent me over. First, I called the Internal Revenue Service about a $23 mistake I made on my taxes in 2008. The fine folks there didn't want to bother me with the small amount back then, so they waited until they could accrue interest. I received notice that they would charge $147 in interest for the six years they held onto the error.

So, I called them to discuss where I would sent the payment. “Oh,” the agent said. “I thought you were calling about 2009. That's a bigger issue.”

When an IRS representative agent says something like that, it's time to stockpile the food, barricade yourself in a bunker and work up some hope.

Seems like I made a mistake in 2009 as well. I failed to properly include mortgage interest on my returns. Hey, I'm a newspaper writer, not a math whiz. The frustration built when I tried to find my income statements for that year on the IRS' website. When the website failed, I called the number provided on that site for help. The first advice provided on the automated phone service? “Check the website.” Thanks, IRS.

Then, I called my doctor's office to refill a prescription for my pain medication. I have a deteriorated C-5 disc in my neck that wreaks havoc. I can only take one prescription; other medications either don't work, make me sick or make me groggy. I can't be medically altered, what with this job and having to figure out math and spar with an IRS agent.

The nurse told me my doctor would no longer prescribe me Vicodin, fearing addiction would occur, and instead said I had to go to a pain specialist. (I didn't help my cause when I made the inane statement to the nurse, “I've been on Vicodin for 15 years. I'm not addicted.” The nurse actually laughed.) We've had changes in our company's insurance and the deductible has risen greatly. I don't want to pay 100 percent of a $700 fee for a pain specialist to wiggle my head and suggest not turning my neck much. I just want the medication so I can continue on.

The nurse refused. It's policy, she said. I don't know how this will play out.

Within that hour, I felt the day slide down the pipe. I was frustrated, angry and hurting.

But when I got home, I sat at my APBA table and rolled a few games of the 1950 baseball season I'm playing. The issues of the day faded as New York Giants' pitcher Sal Maglie shut out Brooklyn for six innings before the Dodgers scored three runs in the seventh — one on Jackie Robinson's stealing of home that was pretty cool. But then in the ninth inning, Bobby Thomson hit a double and started a rally, leading the Giants to a 5-3 victory. Joe DiMaggio hit yet another home run to lead his Yankees over the Washington Senators, 14-2, and the hapless Philadelphia Phillies finally (phinally?) put a solid game together and beat the Boston Braves.

Chid's play? Maybe. But as I rolled these games, the IRS agent and the stubborn nurse were far away, and for a time the only concern I had was watching how these games turned out. The problems will exist; there will always be something out there to create angst and Fear. The game, though, takes a bit of the edge off of it.

I'll do the math for my 2009 taxes and I'll probably end up at a pain specialist and beg for Vicodin. But first, I need to roll a few more APBA games. On days like those, even pointless clashes like the St. Louis Browns hosting the Philadelphia As take on meaning.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Replay Update: June 21, 1950

It's been a while since I updated the 1950 APBA baseball replay I'm doing, but, despite being slower than normal, the games are still being rolled.

There have been several excuses for my plodding play of late. First, the baseball playoffs were pretty interesting this year and in a season where I really did not watch much of the games before the playoffs, I found myself caught up in the drama and stories unfolding in Kansas City and Baltimore, especially.

Also, I bought the APBA hockey card season for 2013-14 and have been tossin' games with that set for a bit as well.

And I don't understand the mechanics behind this, but I changed my work hours, coming in an hour earlier than before. That one-hour difference has kept me from playing a couple of games each morning now. Why I can't do them at night when I come home an hour earlier is beyond me.

But, that said, I've continued rolling the 1950 season and it continues being a good one.

Here's the update through June 21, 1950:

  1. New York Yankees (42-21, –) Joe DiMaggio leads AL with 18 home runs and pitching has been the mainstay for the Bronx Bombers. Ed Lopat is 10-1 on the mound and Allie Reynolds has a 9-3 record so far. The team already has 10 shutouts and scored 10 or more runs in a game 14 times.
  2. Boston Red Sox (43-23 .5GB) The Red Sox have remained close behind the Yankees in part for the same reasons that have given New York the AL lead so far. Both Ted Williams and Vern Stephens have 16 home runs and Joe Dobson and Mel Parnell each have eight wins. Don't count the Sox out. They've had winning streaks of eight, seven and six games already and have won eight of their last nine game and are set to play cellar dwellers St. Louis and Philadelphia in upcoming games before hosting the rival Yanks.
  3. Detroit Tigers (38-23 3 GB) Art Houtteman leads the league with 12 wins and Paul Calvert has seven saves in an era that doesn't really rely on relief pitching much. The Tigers are 2-4 against New York and 2-10 against Boston. They're going to have to do better against the leaders for any chance. My stat keeping has really fallen off, but I do know George Kell has 18 doubles as of June 21, 1950.
  4. Cleveland Indians (36-28 6.5GB) The Indians are an odd team to play. Al Rosen has 16 home runs and Luke Easter has 15. Early Wynn has a 10-1 record and Bob Feller has won eight games. But just as they begin rolling (they won nine games in a row in May), they lose to Chicago and Philadelphia.
  5. St. Louis Browns (27-37 15.5 GB) The Browns are about as bland as a team in this replay that I've seen. Don Lenhardt has 11 home runs and pitcher Ned Garver has six wins. That's it. They have the worst defense in the league; they lost 18-13 against Boston the other day. They are on a 5-11 run now and look to maintain that substandard pace.
  6. Washington Senators (25-38 17GB) The Senators have only played the Yankees six times so far this season and they've split those games, actually outscoring New York, 53-44 in those games. But they're 2-9 against Detroit and 3-5 against lowly Philadelphia. Sid Hudson has seven wins on the mound.
  7. Chicago White Sox (22-42 20.5 GB) Luis Aloma has eight saves. Gus Zernial has the same number of home runs. At least they aren't in eighth place.
  8. Philadelphia As (22-43 21 GB) This team began losing 10 of the As first 12 games and 17 of their first 20. But just when things looked really dismal, they won six in a row, including sweeping a three-game series against New York. Pitcher Lou Brissie is a workhorse, starting and coming in at relief. He's 5-10 with three saves. Shortstop Eddie Joost, who died in 2011 at the age of 100, leads the As with 10 home runs.
  1. Boston Braves (38- 25 –GB) The Braves are the biggest surprise in this replay. Starter Warren Spahn leads the team with 11 wins and catcher Walker Cooper actually hit for the cycle against Brooklyn on May 28. Bob Elliott leads the team with 13 home runs. They just won't lose.
  2. St. Louis Cardinals (36-27 2GB) Stan Musial's 15 home runs and clutch hits make the Cards over achievers. Max Lanier has nine wins as a starter and Cloyd Brazle has saved seven games so far.
  3. Brooklyn Dodgers (35-28 3 GB) The Dodgers began slowly, but picked up as of late. Jackie Robinson was batting around .200 early (remember, my stat keeping is way behind), but he's improved to over .300 now. Duke Snider has 15 home runs and Don Newcombe leads the team with 10 victories. Brooklyn has become one of the more fun teams to replay.
  4. New York Giants (34-30 4.5 GB) Led by Sal Maglie and Bobby Thomson, the Giants challenged for first place late in May by winning 13 of 14 games. Since then, they've cooled off, winning 10 of 20 games. They just lost two of three hosting the Cardinals and are 2-4 against their crosstown rivals in Brooklyn.
  5. Pittsburgh Pirates (33-20 5 GB) Ralph Kiner's team appeared to completely turn reality upside down and win the pennant. In the real 1950 season, the Pirates came in last place, 33.5 games out of first. Kiner has 17 home runs so far in the replay and Cliff Chambers has 8 wins. They won 10 of their first 12 games and were in first place as late as May 31. In June, they've gone 7-13 and have fallen to fifth place.
  6. Philadelphia Phillies (28-38 11.5 GB) This is the most frustrating team to play. The Whiz Kids of the real season – winning the pennant by two games over Brooklyn – are more like the Was Kids in the replay. Del Ennis leads the majors with 19 home runs for the Phillies, but the pitching is not holding up well. Curt Simmons is the ace with a record of 7-6. Robin Roberts has a 6-6 pitching record so far. Only Jim Konstanty, with 14 saves to lead the majors, is a star on the Philadelphia pitching mound and he can't start games. They've lost 13 one-run games as of June 21 and are one and three in extra inning games. Each replay has a team that really under performs, and it appears the Phillies are this replay's version.
  7. Chicago Cubs (25-35 11.5 GB) Hank Sauer leads the team with 18 homers and Bob Rush is a surprising 8-4 as the pitching ace. In real life, he went 13-20 for the Cubs. Paul Minner, on the other hand, is a bleak 2-9.
  8. Cincinnati Reds (23-39 14.5GB) If not for Ted Kluszewski's muscle-flexing and 17 home runs, the Reds would lose games by scores of 10-3 or 7-1. Instead, with Ted's clouts, they lose 10-5 and 7-4. Ewell Blackwell did toss a no-hitter on May 3 against the Giants, one of the few bright spots for the team.
So, there's the replay so far. Realistically, five National League teams have a chance and three in the American League could take the pennant. Hopefully, now that the World Series is over and I'm more motivated to continue play, I can step up the pace on this 1950 season and see how it turns out.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Leaving Lubbock 23 Years Ago

This is a story about lost romance 23 years ago and how baseball and the APBA game I love helped pull me through.

It's a story about how we may always be chasing something to make us feel happy and more complete, when, in fact, what we already have is probably enough.

Twenty-three years ago today on Oct. 21, 1991, I became a college dropout and fled the PhD program in English I was enrolled in at Texas Tech University. I had chased after a girl who was accepted in her own master's program at the Lubbock university. To stay with her, I bluffed my way into the English department. I wrote an impacting letter stating my case for admission and actually was awarded a teaching assistantship. I moved into a dorm on the college campus, lived with a 20-year-old energetic kid who always wanted to sponsor church dances, did laundry in the basement of the dorm building, endured West Texas sandstorms, took three classes that first semester in advanced literature and English teaching methods, taught two other English classes and dealt with homework, thesis writing and the general panic associated with college.

Ah, love.

At first I didn't intend to go to Texas. But the girl actually cried and said she couldn't make it without me there and I fell for it. I was a sappy romantic.

It was a bluff. As soon as she got to the campus and acclimated, I was no longer important. She began making excuses for not seeing me. She had meetings to attend, functions with other students to go to, study time of her own. I ended up hanging out with the 20-year-old roommate and listened constantly to his plans for hosting yet another dance. And wondering why I was so stupid to chase romance for 750 miles only to have it dump me. I mean, break up with me at home, for cryin' out loud, not in some tumble-weed land where, just a few weeks prior to me moving there, was the site of five tornadoes touching down at one time.

But I stayed there and I tried to mend the relationship as I also worked on my own coursework and taught other classes.

All the while, the Minnesota Twins were marching toward winning the American League West division that season. I caught a few games on the radio or the dorm lobby television. The games helped. I grew up in Minnesota and have loved the Twins for more than 48 years now. Four years earlier, when the Twins won the Series in 1987, it was a magical time. It helped me deal with the loss of my father, who died that spring after a lengthy illness. The 1991 season again gave me a focus, a diversion from what was going on in my own life.

I watched one game of the American League playoffs against Toronto at the Lubbock airport, feeding quarters into the coin-operated television set near the concourse while we waited for the girl's parents to fly in to visit her. I also watched some of the games at a golf course bar, drinking martinis with the denizens there who were mostly Toronto fans.

I could see the relationship with the girl was sliding down the pipe quickly, so I turned to my second comfort. The APBA game. I called home and asked my mother to order the 1990-91 basketball game and said I'd be home to get it soon. She understood. I had played the basketball game since I was 16 and, while most people didn't like the replay game because it was too plodding, I loved it.

So, I focused on the game and the idea of beginning a new season. While the girl was out with her new boyfriend, I sat in my dorm room, preparing a season's replay, writing out schedules and rosters in anticipation of getting the game. I was feeling the anticipation that all APBA players — regardless of age — feel when they know they are soon to receive a new set of game cards to replay games with.

And Minnesota won the American League pennant. I watched Game 7 of Atlanta and Pittsburgh on a small television set my roommate had gotten that week and knew the Braves would face the Twins in the Series.

I planned my departure of Lubbock around the Series' schedule. I actually dropped out of college to coincide with a travel day between Games 2 and 3 so not to miss any games, and at about 5 a.m. Oct. 21, 1991, I backed out of the dorm parking lot and headed north on I27 to Amarillo. Yes, as the song once said, “Lubbock was in my rear view mirror.”

I made it to my mother's house that evening and sitting on her kitchen table was the large box that contained the APBA basketball game. I was home.

The next day, I drove to the town where I would begin a new job, found an apartment to live and returned to my mother's house in time to watch Game 4. On Saturday, Oct. 26, 1991, when Kirby Puckett hit his home run off Charlie Leibrandt in the bottom of the 11th to win Game 6, I knew I would stay at my mom's home the following day, rather than move to my new home, to watch Game 7.

Of course the Twins won. I knew they would. They had to in order to help me maintain the new focus and deal with the loss of the girl in Lubbock.

I moved to my new job that Monday morning, bringing clothes and some furniture. And the APBA basketball game. I rolled the first game of the 1990-91 replay that first night I was there and I played many games during my stay there.

Some may think it's a silly game. The APBA gamers roll dice and match up results with numbers on player cards to determine outcomes. I've graduated from the basketball game now to baseball. I play the game nearly every day. The lure of it is not just the sports aspect. I think it brings some semblance of peace, a time when we were younger and things were simpler, back to us. I don't get that feeling with any other game, so APBA is my mainstay when things get tough.

On a postscript, the girl got married in Texas the following spring; she called to tell me about it. After a year or so of wedded bliss, the lovely couple divorced and went their separate ways.

I still have that 1990-91 basketball game.

Monday, October 13, 2014

I Don't Hate Randy Bush

I came across an old baseball card of former Minnesota Twins outfielder Randy Bush while sorting through a box the other day and for the first time in years I didn't want to stomp on it and set fire to it.

And I realized a lesson that my wife taught me shortly before she passed away had stuck with me. (I know, women reading this will be stunned: A guy actually listened and remembered something that his wife said!)

I let go my hate and it no longer consumed me.

Bush was part of that 1987 World Series Twins' team — a team that made being a loyal Minnesota fan since I could fit a baseball glove on my hand worthwhile. I began following the Twins in 1966, a year after their World Series appearance against Sandy Koufax and the L.A. Dodgers, when my family moved to Minnesota.

I learned baseball from Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva, Bob Allison, Leo Cardenas, Rod Carew and the others Twins of that era. While the rest of the kids in my neighborhood were sporting Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays gloves, I dropped fly balls with my Twins' pitcher Dave Boswell mitt.

The Twins ran deep in me.

Couple that with the fact my father passed away in March 1987 and one of the few eschewals I had from the sorrow of losing him came from that great season. I even went to Minneapolis late that summer and watched the Twins play Seattle in the Metrodome. Bush led off in that game, grounding out four times, but catching a fly in right field.

Later, that season, I saw Bush play again. He pinch hit in Game 5 of the World Series in St. Louis. He popped out, so for that 1987 season I saw Bush go 0 for 5. But it didn't matter. He was a Twins player; that's all that counted.

So, years later when I ran into him at an Arkansas State University baseball game, I was ready to regale him with my fandom. This was in 2000 or 2001 and he was the coach of the University of New Orleans baseball team. I was friends with Bill Bethea, the ASU baseball coach at the time and former assistant coach for those great University of Texas teams, and I often went to the ASU games in support of Bethea.

In between games of a doubleheader between ASU and New Orleans, I met Bush near the concession stand. I introduced myself to him and said 1987 was a special year. I opened up about the loss of my dad and how in some small way that Twins team helped me cope. I told him I grew up in Minnesota and I loved the area and …

… and I noticed a steely glean in his eye.

“Look, I'm working here,” he said, curtly. “I don't have time for this.”

And he strode off.

And I thought he was an ass. And I pledged to bring his baseball cards to the game when they returned two years later and burn them by the dugout. (Drama has always been an issue with me when my teams lose.)

I harbored that anger for a long time, seething whenever I heard of him. Bethea later told me he was surprised to hear of Bush's reaction, saying he was normally a very congenial person.

But for years, I held the opinion Randy Bush was a turd.

Then, maybe a year before her death, my wife told about letting hate go. It wasn't in the case of Bush, but for another person I once worked with who made it a point to make my job as miserable as he could. “Quit hating,” my wife said. “He doesn't even think of you at all, probably, and you're letting your feelings run you. Let it go.”

So I let it go. And it doesn't run me anymore.

And when I found that Bush card the other day, tucked in a long box of baseball cards I've had for a
while, I let the anger toward Bush go, too. Maybe he had a bad day that day. He had lost that first game of a doubleheader and maybe he was mad at himself for not managing well enough. You really can't form a full opinion of someone on a moment's notice (despite what Malcolm Gladwell writes in “Blink.”)

I have the Randy Bush card on my desk at home now. It's a Topps 1989. No. 577. He's swinging a fungo bat and smiling.

And now, I realize my wife was right. I see the card and I think of that 1987 team and I'm not blinded by the anger and hate I had. Instead, I think of the good things of that team.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

I Never Rolled For Honus Wagner

The nostalgia I have for the APBA baseball game replays is still here, perhaps brought on by the geese of last week (See:  Love, Life APBA - The Geese Overhead, Sept. 22, 2014), but perpetuated by Derek Jeter's recent retirement from the Yankees.

I am a Yankees fan somewhat, but the hoopla surrounding his pending quitting was akin to the Royal wedding, any presidential election, the end of the world. It was unavoidable if you turned on ESPN. Or any network channel. Or probably even Lifetime Network or C-SPAN for cryin' out loud! Those tear-jerky Gatorade commercials drove home the point as well.

So, as Jeter stepped away from the field, hanging his cleats and drifting off into immortality similar to that of Joe DiMaggio, Babe Ruth, et al, I thought of how I only played one replay season that included him. It was 1998, the first year I got into the APBA baseball replay game and Jeter's fourth year in the league.

For those not initiated into the game, APBA is a brilliant game that uses dice and player cards that replicate a professional sports season. Gamers roll the dice, match the result to numbers printed on the players' cards and read the outcome on printed boards to determine the action. The game company makes the cards each season and players can replay whatever season they have, game-by-game if they chose.

I've been doing the baseball game for 16 years now, and have replayed nine full season. Yes, I am aware. I don't have much of a social life. But I love the game that I began with when I first played the football game in 1977 and as I've said so many times before, it is the only consistent thing I've had in my life. 

I've covered a lot of baseball history. But I've only rolled the dice for Jeter's 1998 season.

It made me think. Who have I yet to roll for? Who are the big names, the draws of baseball, that I have yet to recreate a season?

The obvious player, for me, is Ty Cobb. I played part of 1925 before I burned out years ago and quit that season, rolling instead the hockey game for a while. I never resumed 1925 and the Ty Cobb card remains in the envelope it came in, not knowing if it would bat .378 like he did that year in real life.

I never rolled a game for Honus Wagner, the Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop. Nor have I tossed the dice for pitchers Cy Young and Christy Mathewson. Nap Lajoie has never batted in a game for me, either.

Although I'm currently replaying 1950, I tend to like the 1970s era of baseball. It's probably because that's when I grew up watching the game. I'm sure other APBA players do the same thing — recreate the years that mean something to them to capture those childhood memories again.

I don't have any season past 2000, so I've never had Albert Pujols swing a bat in a game. I did have Mark McGwire in 1987 and 1998. His steroid-induced card in the latter year provided 70 home runs in my replay.

On the inverse, I've played four seasons each with Joe Morgan and Pete Rose (64, 74, 77 and 81) and Gary Carter, Reggie Jackson and Mike Schmidt (74, 77, 81, 87).

I generally take on a season to learn of that particular era and for certain players. I'm doing 1950 now because I had never rolled a game for Pittsburgh outfield Ralph Kiner before. I've done three seasons with my favorite players, Henry Aaron and Harmon Killebrew (both 57, 64 and 74). When I complete 1950, I'll also have three seasons for Stan Musial. I've also done games with him in 1942 and 1957.

I intend to do 1991 next. It takes a year or so to do a season and, with 1942 the last season I completed and now about 35 percent through 1950, I can't go too long without playing games for the Minnesota Twins, who didn't come into existence until 1961 (They were the Washington Senators prior).

But those earlier seasons also beckon. I have 1919 with Ty Cobb and I should do 1925 to get that Babe Ruth experience (although that was the year he was limited to 90-some games because of, depending upon which tale you prefer: A. Appendicitis, B. Food poisoning, C. Alcohol addiction, D. Gonorrhea. And, just writing this makes me want to buy 1927, his signature year with the Yankees, from APBA soon.

So, the nostalgia returns. Geese and Jeter, what a combination to bring that on.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Geese Overhead

I saw the first geese of the year this weekend flying over head. I realize it's early for that; down here in the south, the formations don't usually begin appearing until late October or even early November. But, still, here they were, flying low, about 10 of them flapping in a broken 'V' shape.

I watch for them each year. Their presence brings back memories of when I first saw flocks of snow geese when I was a child in northern Minnesota. It's also a reminder of the passing of time and the fact that, yes, I survived yet another blazingly hot Arkansas summer. When they arrive, I know the unbearable heat has passed.

Of course I also associate the sight of them with sports. When the geese show up, it means baseball is over, football is in full swing and the basketball and hockey seasons are soon upcoming. And I carry that observation even further to the replay games we all do.

Should I put away the APBA baseball replay I'm playing now and begin the hockey season I just bought? Should I pull out the old basketball set and roll games? What about football? I have three NFL seasons to replay.

Because it takes longer to do an APBA replay season than a real baseball season takes, we can never fully coincide our game-playing with the real seasons. We're always doing some replay in the off season. It takes 20-30 minutes to replay a single baseball game rolling the APBA dice. In the 1950 season I'm currently doing, there are often eight games to play each scheduled day, meaning I would have to spend up to four hours a day playing to stay on track with a real season. That can't happen.

So I fall behind and now, as the real baseball season winds down, as the hockey and basketball seasons loom ahead and as the geese begin flying over head, I'm still rolling games for the middle of June in my 1950 replay.

The weather seasons mark the passage of time, obviously, and the APBA games also give us a sense of mortality. How many times have replayers uttered the “there's never enough time to do all the games” phrase? And the twist in all this is that the game we play that keeps us young reminds us that we are getting old. Most of the people playing APBA began as youngsters. I did. I began rolling the football and basketball games when I was 16. I've stayed with it since and have maintained a sense of my youth with this game.

But, I also fret that I have so many replays left to do. And as I knock down one season, each sport in the real world has knocked down its own seasons — or two, depending on the length it takes me to finish one season. It's never ending. I hate thinking that I have many more APBA game cards waiting to be played that may never be used. Mortality, as seen by a youngster's game.

I've oft been accused of over analyzing things, and here I go again. Geese over head translates to me wishing for more time to enjoy all the replays I have yet to embark upon. But at least the games that I think about missing because I'm getting older are what keeps me young at heart.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

1950 Replay Covers

Maybe it's because I have a news background but as I do my 1950 APBA baseball replay, I think of what the stories would be if I published a weekly magazine chronicling that replay. It's a way to help keep the interest up in the seemingly endless string of rolling game by game and it's a method of tracking trends to see if they are consistent or only brief flashes.

So, since I began this 1950 season, I've been jotting down notes for the fictional replay magazine. Here are my cover stories so far:

APRIL 14– Preview magazine. Headline: “Gotham Guys.” The New York Yankees and Brooklyn Dodgers, the two teams predicted to win their leagues, are on the cover. I'd have Joe DiMaggio and Duke Snider standing at home plate in Yankee Stadium with bats on their shoulders. Like Sports Illustrated though, my prediction will probably turn out wrong when the season concludes.

APRIL 21 – Headline: “A-MIZE-ing.” Johnny Mize is the cover boy this week, leading the Yankees with a three-home run game against Boston on April 20. After losing its first game by one run, the Yankees outscored the Red Sox 24-2 in the next three games and take an early American League lead.

APRIL 28 - Headline: “Ding Dong.” Gus Bell and the Pittsburgh Pirates are the early season surprise. They are 8-1, winning five games against St. Louis in the first two weeks and Bell hits four home runs. Ralph Kiner, who actually led the National League in home runs in 1950, is off to a slow start.

MAY 5 – Headline: “What's Wrong With the Phillies?” Despite having Robin Roberts and Curt Simmons as starters and Jim Konstanty in the bullpen, the Philadelphia Phillies start the season 8-11. Roberts is 0-3 on the mound and Del Ennis leads the team with a .304 average. The City of Brotherly Love is becoming the City of Lose.

MAY12 – Headline: “Boston Strong.” The Red Sox open 21-8 and take second place in the American League. The team has winning streaks of eight and five games and the only hitch so far is losing three of four when it hosted New York to begin the season. Dom DiMaggio is batting .413 and Vern Stephens leads the team with seven home runs. Pitchers Mel Parnell and Joe Dobson have a combined won-lost record of 8-1.

MAY 19 – Headline: “Walking Dead.” In real life, the 1950 season did feature a seemingly high amount of walks. I've noticed that in my own replay. Maybe I'm just prone to rolling those 14s and walking batters, but there's been a ton of free passes. I've not updated my stats to this date, but in the five games he's pitched up to where my stats end, Billy Pierce has 27 walks. In real life, his 137 walks for the 1950 season tied him for the fourth most passes ever given by an AL left-hander.

MAY 26 – Headline: “Deadlock in the NL.” The National League is tied by two over achievers. The Boston Braves and Pittsburgh Pirates each compile a 21-17 record. St. Louis is a game and a half behind with a 19-16 record. Ralph Kiner finally played up to his real potential, hitting 12 home runs so far and Cliff Chambers has a 6-1 record for the Pirates. In Boston, Warren Spahn has not lost a game in six starts and he has a home run to add. Two days after this week's magazine went to press, Braves' catcher Walker Cooper hit for the cycle against Brooklyn. In the real season, Pittsburgh finished last and Boston ended up in fourth place.

JUNE 2 – Headline: “What the As?” Philadelphia’s American League team, after opening with one of the worst starts I've ever seen in my years of replays, win six in a row. Before the run, the As were 7-27. Their streak includes three games over the Yankees, including a double-header sweep.

JUNE 9 – Headline: “Cardinal Rule.” St. Louis goes 10-1 to take over first place momentarily. They are currently tied with Boston, but I keep waiting for the Braves to realize who they are and have a mid-season collapse. Stan Musial has hit 14 home runs so far, Max Lanier has a 7-3 record on the mound and Gerry Staley is 6-3 so far. Another surprise for the Redbirds is Red Schoendienst who has clubbed six home runs. In the real 1950 season, he hit seven homers.

That's as far as I've progressed in the 1950 season so far. It's a way to notice the personality of the replay; the stories that come out while rolling these games are intriguing to follow. Will the Boston Braves continue to play well? Will the Yankees dominate, or will the Red Sox and, now, the Detroit Tigers challenge them?

We'll have to wait to see what the next covers bring.

Monday, September 8, 2014

More Baseball Books to Read

Reading books on baseball and conducting APBA replays seem to go together. Both embrace history and both are learning experiences. I'm sure a majority of the people who do the baseball replays with the APBA game are also avid readers. I know I am.

When I think of the baseball books I've read over the years, a majority of them are biographies of players or teams. Those are the easiest to find. Go your library's biography section and look in the Ms. Chances are there'll be a handful of books on Mickey Mantle. If you check the 796.357 section in the library's shelves, there'll be loads more of players or eras.

And that's all good. There are great biographies out there. I've written here before about some of them.

But there's also some good baseball books that aren't about the players.

Here's a short list of a few books that I've read and enjoyed that, while they cover baseball, they don't focus on players only.

One of the better books on the history of labor in baseball is John Helyar's Lords of the Realm. Helyar, a Wall Street Journal sports reporter, investigates the owner-player relationship from the turn of the century, to greedy owners to the emergence of $100,000 contracts, to labor disputes and, eventually, the 1994 strike that cancelled the World Series. This is a must read for any baseball historian.

A Whole Different Ball Game: The Sport and Business of Baseball, by Marvin Miller. Miller, an economist with the steelunion in the 1960s, helped form the Major League Baseball Players Union. I found Miller to be blunt and, at times, self-deprecative in his thoughts on his role in history. Writer Red Barber called Miller the “second most influential person in baseball” behind Babe Ruth.

Connie Mack and the Early Years of Baseball by Norman Macht sort of violates my criteria of books not being about baseball players. Mack did play baseball some. However, a majority of this 700-page book is about his managing and owning of the Philadelphia As. There's an interesting section about the old Federal League of 1914-15 and the battle between the leagues to keep players. I've not read the second half of Macht's collection, Connie Mack: The Turbulent and Triumphant Years, but I am sure it is just as good as the first.

Reporters need love, too, and Mike Shropshire's Seasons in Hell deserves as much love as the reader can muster. Shropshire chronicles his time covering the Texas Rangers during the seasons immediately after the team left Washington in 1972 and writes of Whitey Herzog, Billy Martin, phenom pitcher David Clyde and the heat of July day games at Arlington Stadium. I found this book at a Memphis used book store for $3. Best three bucks I spent. Think Hunter S. Thompson meets Ball Four.

While we're dishing out love, save some for umpires. Durwood Merrill wrote about his experiences as a major league umpires in You're Out and You're Ugly, Too! The first time I read this maybe 15 years ago, I wasn't impressed. But I picked it up again earlier this year and enjoyed it. Maybe my APBA playing gave me more historical perspective and a better appreciate for Merrill's stories from behind the plate.

Juicing the Game, by Howard Bryant, is a look at the steroid era of baseball. While, technically it is about players, the book also looks at how Major League Baseball failed to address the scandal, fearing it would reduce record revenues brought from the 1998 home run race of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, who later both
admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs. The book came out in 2006 and is ahead of its time. Bryant also wrote about race issues in Boston and his biography of Henry Aaron, The Last Hero, which is one of the better sports biographies I've ever read.

Marty Appel writes about being the public relations director for the New York Yankees in Now Pitching for the Yankees. Again, the book does include lots of players, but it's more of Appel's dealings with them and the day-to-day crises he faced while spinning the PR for the Yankees for seven years. He writes of the mayhem that followed the marriage switch between pitchers Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich in 1973, getting Catfish Hunter on the team and working with George Steinbrenner. Appel has written 18 books, mostly on the history of the team. (Read Pinstripe Empire for the best historical look at any team, ever.)

These are a few books I've read that, for the most part, don't focus only on players. If you're looking for a change in baseball reading, consider some of these. And, as I've said in my other posts here about books, any comments are welcomed and appreciated. I am always looking for new books to delve into.