Tuesday, February 25, 2014

1942 Season Concludes

I wrapped up my replay of the 1942 baseball season and, like always after I complete a full season's replay, there's almost a sense of sadness that goes with it. I began rolling the dice for the season on April 18 and ended the regular season Friday after two nights of gonzoed games. After 1,232 games, it's over. The players' cards are back in their envelopes and the 10 months I've spent on it are past.

I fell behind on my planned schedule of 4 to 5 games a night and almost hit The Wall that all replayers do with only about 15 games remaining to play. But I forged on and in two nights I knocked out the last two dozen.

It's the eighth season I've replayed and the first one in the 1940s. I liked this era because pitchers lasted longer in games and there wasn't that barrage of home runs we see now in the steroid-addled games. Also, of all the decades of baseball, I was the least knowledgable of this time. Playing the APBA game taught me quite a bit.

Here's how the season ended:

American League W L GB
New York          100  54  -
St. Louis              97  57  3
Boston                 88 66 12
Cleveland            80 74 20
Detroit                 72 82 28
Chicago               61 93 39
Philadelphia        59 95 41
Washington         59 95 41

National League W L GB
St. Louis             106 48  -
Brooklyn             103 51 3
New York             80 74 26
Chicago                75 79 31
Cincinnati             75 79 31
Pittsburgh             73 81 33
Boston                  62 92 44
Philadelphia         42 112 64

Looking at the standings, it appeared the Yankees had a close battle with the Browns for the American League crown. It wasn't that way. New York clinched the pennant on Sept. 19, eight days before the season ended. They ended the regular season 2-4. St. Louis won their last eight games and 10 of 11 to make it look a bit closer.

Denny Galehouse led the American League with 22 wins and Ernest “Tiny” Bonham won 21 for the Yankees. To show how accurate APBA is, Bonham actually did win 21 games in the real 1942 season.

Ted Williams clouted 46 home runs and Dolph Camilli of the Dodgers was a distant second with 33 round trippers. Mort Cooper would not lose for the Cardinals, winning 26 games for them.

On the inverse, the woeful Philadelphia Phillies were the worst team I've ever replayed. Two pitchers, Rube Melton and Tommy Hughes, lost 21 and 20 games respectively. Si Johnson and Johnny Podgajny each lost 15 games and Lefty Hoerst lost 13 games. The only hurler with a winning record for the team was Earl Naylor, who went 2-1.

And, for only the second time in eight replays and 15 years that I've been playing APBA baseball, my replay World Series mirrors the actual World Series for the year. The Yankees and Cardinals will face off. The Cards won the real Series; we'll see what happens in this one.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

1942 Replay World Series Set

Frank “Creepy” Crespi doubled in two runs in the bottom of the seventh, leading his St. Louis Cardinals to a 5-3 victory over the Cincinnati Reds and to the 1942 National League pennant in my APBA baseball replay.

The New York Yankees clinched the American League crown on Sept. 19 when they beat Boston.

The way things were heading, it appeared the Brooklyn Dodgers would pass the Cardinals in the last few days of the season and create a different World Series match up than what actually happened. I've played eight replays since rolling the games in 1998 and I've only had one other replay World Series that featured the same two teams as were in the real Series.

But Crespi made sure that didn't happen.

For those uninitiated in the game I enjoy, APBA is a statistically-based game that uses player cards and dice. Gamers roll two dice, match the numbers to the player's card and then match a corresponding number to a board for play results. I've played 1,216 of 1,230 games for the 1942 season, beginning on April 14 and and wrapping it up probably by the end of this week.

As I always say when I near the end of a season: This was a good season. The Yankees took off in the summer, coasting to their easy pennant. Although, during a stretch, they lost four of five games and the Red Sox shut them out in three consecutive games. Their double-digit game lead dwindled to four and a half games over St. Louis with two days remaining in the season.

But the draw to this season was the Cardinals-Dodgers chase. The two teams played neck and neck through most of the season and, in fact, the Bums led the National League on June 30, with a 48-20 record. Then Brooklyn went 16-15 and the Cardinals responded by winning 25 of their next 31 games. Still, it came down to the last week, and that's where Crespi came in.

On Sept. 24, 1942, Cincinnati came to Sportsman's Park in St. Louis. The two aces faced — Johnny Vander Meer for the Reds, Mort Cooper for the Cardinals. By the top of the third, it looked like the Reds were going to run away with it. Bert Haas, the 5-11 third baseman, hit a double and a home run and drove in all the runs to give Cincinnati a 3-0 lead. But Enos Slaughter the doubled in three runs of his own, clearing the bases in the bottom of the third, and the two teams were knotted.

It was a pitchers' duel, too. Both went the distance. Vander Meer notched 14 strike outs, Cooper had 12. Cooper gave up only three hits. Vander Meer gave up four. The last one, Crespi's double, was the game decider.

This is why we play the APBA game. There are historical moments in the real game of baseball that become legend. Bobby Thomson's home run in 1951 to give the Giants the pennant, Bill Mazeroski's clout to end the 1961 World Series, giving Pittsburgh the upset over New York. Bucky Dent's home run in 1978 to help the Yankees edge Boston in the American League tie-breaker game. Those are real. In APBA, we create moments like that as well. Crespi, who played second base instead of regular Jimmy Brown that day, created his own APBA moment.

I have 14 games to play before the season is finished and then the World Series begins.

It should be a good contest.  

Friday, February 14, 2014

Bad Vision and the Quiet Phone

Each year when catchers and pitchers report to spring training, I often ponder why my telephone doesn't ring. I wonder why one team or another wouldn't be seeking an older player to provide leadership with his wisdom, his experience and his batting prowess.

Then I remember, and I know why the telephone remains silent.

I may be the worst athlete in the history of sports.

And it's not just now that that applies. Sure, I'm a fat, middle-aged guy with gimpy knees, an old rotator cuff injury and bad eyes. But when I was a youngster in the prime of my sporting life I was also pretty much a detriment to any team. Each school had one in gym class and, yes, I was that one — the kid picked last.

I should have seen it coming when I tried out for Little League baseball. I guess my parents thought that, despite me being a dorky kid, I should do things that other normal kids did. They signed me up one spring and on the day of the first practice, I apprehensively walked the few blocks from my home to where the tryouts were held.

I was supposed to wear glasses then, but I didn't. My eyesight was horrendous. I don't know how I made it through my northern Minnesota childhood without vision. I don't know how I avoided being hit by an unseen bus or eaten by a bear that I mistook for Hubert Humphrey or a family member because of my bad vision.

I remember clearly now, nearly half a century later, when I took batting practice. I stood at the plate and then swung the bat mightily. “Uh, son,” the coach said. “You might want to wait until the pitcher throws the ball.”

The other children who watched made fun, commenting on how I swung at all the bad pitches and let the good ones go by.

Yes, I should have seen it coming (well, sensed it coming since I didn't see well). But a coach took pity and put me on his team. Maybe he was hoping for some Hallmark Moment where the geeky kid drove in a run and won the game, receiving the adulation of his teammates and realizing the world was a loving place. Instead, he was only disappointed.

My first game coincided with my birthday. We played the Orioles at the fields on 17th St. NE and Bemidji Avenue in Bemidji, Minn., and I was the leadoff hitter. I guess the coach wanted to get the bad out of the way.

The Oriole's pitcher was pretty wild and, after the coach saw his warmups, advised me not to take the bat off my shoulder. I walked on four pitches and then advanced to second on a wild pitch. I scored a moment later on an error and we led, 1-0. It was a brief lead. We ended up losing, 29-1. During the contest, I lost a fly ball while playing somewhere in the outfield. I heard the ball plop behind me and by the time I felt around for it, the runner had scored.

The coach was so angry, maybe because he saw that Hallmark Moment dashed, he berated me in front of the team and the spectators and took me out of the contest. When the game was over I, dejected and hurt, walked home and never returned to the field.

Maybe that's why I gravitated to the APBA games. I only needed enough vision to see the cards and to read the dice rolls. Give me a 32-ounce bat and I had no idea where the ball would go if I even hit it. But roll a “32” in APBA's baseball game and I know chances are it's a fly ball to centerfield.

It was the only way I could become close to sports. It wasn't real playing of sports with the APBA game with dice and cards, but it felt as real as what I could feel for sports because of my limitations. I was good at APBA at least.

But let the record show my lifetime batting stats are such: One game, zero official at bats because of the walk, one run scored. My career is much like that of Moonlight Graham, whose only pro appearance was when he played outfield for the New York Giants in the ninth inning of a game on June 29, 1905. He was immortalized in the tear-jerking movie “Field of Dreams.” And to take this a bit further, let the record further show that my birthday is June 29. And, Graham died in Minnesota about 60 miles from my home in August 1965, only a few years before my one appearance in a game.

Despite the parallels I have with a real professional baseball player, decades later, my phone still sits quietly each spring. The teams don't call. And that's fine. I've learned after all these years that there are very few Hallmark Moments and they sure don't happen to geeky kids who won't wear their glasses.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Memories and Eyestrain: APBA Basketball Revisited

Maybe I was looking for something new in something old. Maybe I was trying to recapture my youth in a way. Maybe I was seeking understanding of a game that fascinated me as a youngster and might have kept me from the pratfalls some at that early age stumble into.

Whatever the reason, I pulled out my 1978-79 APBA basketball game late last night and, after more than 30 years of dormancy, the cards came to life while the rest of the world slept. I only played one quarter of a game. I didn't have all night. Those who are familiar with the sports replay game know that had I opted to play a full basketball contest, it would have taken more than a night to complete.

Alas, the game is plodding and part of the wonderment I experienced while playing it again yesterday was trying to figure how I rolled so many games without losing my mind.

The APBA games, for the uninitiated, are sports replays that use dice and player cards. Gamers roll the dice and correspond the results with numbers on the players' cards. Those numbers are then compared with game boards to determine action. I have replay sets in the four major sports, and I love them all.

But the basketball game is a bit of a struggle to play. There's two versions. The first includes passing and dribbling and it takes hours to play a single contest. The game I favor is a quicker one. It's a solitaire type and it eliminates some of the “action,” instead resorting merely to players shooting from different areas of the court. They either make it or miss it. If a shot fails, the gamer rolls the dice to determine who rebounds it and that person then shoots. It's repetitive. There's much math involved. And there's charts galore to follow.

Here's an example of the way I play. I roll the dice for the opening tipoff to determine possession. Then I roll to find where the first shot is taken. Then I roll the dice to see who shoots the ball. I cross reference that dice roll with numbers on a Column Index to give me the player shooting. Then I roll the dice and check that player's card to see how the shot turned out. If he makes it, I roll the dice and match the result with the Column Index to see who got the assist. If he misses, another roll and another check on the Index for the rebound.

Tired yet? That was one possession. See what I mean? And there's a lot of eyestrain involved when lining up the index numbers and matching them with the players' numbers. Eyestrain? I'd never say that when I was a younger. Now, at my age, I'm worrying about getting headaches because of vision. Sheesh.

But back when I was a kid, I played that game fervently. It was my friend, a consistency in a life of teenaged angst. Trouble with my girlfriend at the time? I'd roll a game and escape from the insanity of hormones and stupid high school drama. Fearing college looming ahead? The APBA game was the security blanket to which I clung.

I chose Boston and Philadelphia for the contest last night. It took a moment to familiarize myself with the game's rules. (I had played other basketball seasons up until 1993 when I became obsessed with the hockey game and then in 1998 when I primarily played the APBA baseball). But soon I was rolling the game. And oddly, I began remembering what certain numbers meant, especially on possession rolls and fouls, without having to pore over the game boards.

Thirty-four years later from the last time I played this game, Julius Erving was hitting a shot from the “D” section of the field, and Bob McAdoo was fouling. Darryl Dawkins had two rebounds in the first quarter for the 76ers and Dave Cowens was invisible for the Celtics. After the first quarter, Philadelphia led, 25-22. Erving led everyone with 10 points. Nate “Tiny” Archibald had seven points for Boston.

Just saying that, just mentioning those names from that era, brings back those days.

Today, I am 50 games from finishing my 1942 baseball replay. I'm undecided upon which next season replay I'll embark upon. I'm leaning toward 1950, 1919 or 1991 in baseball. But the 1979-80 basketball season beckons as well. That's the rookie years for Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. I've never gone this far into a replay without knowing what my next project will be.

More than likely, it'll be a baseball season. Although there are more than 1,200 games in any baseball replay (2,430 in a current replay), those games go much quicker than a basketball game. There are 902 games to play in the 1979-80 NBA season and each one takes forever.

The dice will keep rolling in my home. It always does. And it'll probably be for the baseball games. But whenever I want to recapture that youthful feeling I had, that time when things were a bit more easy and I wasn't old enough to be tainted by the Fear that we learn to deal with through life's experiences, I'll pull out that basketball game.

But I can't play it too long. Eyestrain, you know.