Saturday, March 8, 2014

1950: Kiner's First Game

Top of the seventh, Pittsburgh and St. Louis are tied 2-2 and the Pirates' Ralph Kiner is at bat with two guys on.

I began replaying APBA's 1950 baseball season Friday night and this was the first game of 1,232 for the year. Despite playing eight other full-season replays and half of another, I had never played a year that included Kiner. Sports fans remember that Kiner, who led the National League in home runs for seven consecutive seasons, died Feb. 6. It was the reason I ditched 1991 as my next replay project and instead tackled 1950.

And here, just over halfway through the first game I played, Kiner came to the plate with two outs.

I rolled the two dice for Kiner's at bat. He had already gone hitless in three previous attempts and I was a bit disappointed. APBA players roll dice and match the results with numbers on baseball player's cards. They then take those numbers and compare them with corresponding numbers on boards to determine what happens.

Earlier in the game, Kiner's roll translated to an “8,” which would have been a hit in some cases. However, the creator of APBA made allowances to give the game more realistic outcomes based upon individual players' tendencies. In Kiner's case, Cardinals' pitcher Howie Pollet was rated as a “B” pitcher, and because of that, the “8” became a flyout with no one on base.

But now with two on and two out in the seventh, Kiner's roll was pretty evident. The red and white dice tumbled on the mat, each bearing a “6.” Kiner rolled the APBA player's mecca: the “66.” I knew the result, of course, but I looked at the number on his card. It was a “1,” which translated into a home run. I imagined the ball leaving Sportsman's Park in St. Louis and rolling down Grand Avenue. Some kid wearing a beanie with a slingshot hanging from his back pocket probably picked up the ball and the cigarette-puffing sports writers clacked the tale on their old Underwood typewriters in order to make deadline at the St. Louis Globe.

The Pirates, who actually finished last in the real 1950 season, hung on for the win.

It was a great way to begin the season and it reaffirmed something I had already known. I am addicted to this game. It's a kid's game; I began playing the basketball version 37 years ago and now, having spent nearly 70 percent of my life with some form of APBA, I'm still as entertained by the game as an aged, cynical, life-beaten adult as I was when I was young and alive.

After finishing my replay of the 1942 season two weeks ago, I had planned to take a break. I dabbled in a basketball replay of 1985-86 put out by another game company. The game really is ingenious, but as I played the games, I found myself thinking of the APBA baseball game instead. I thought of the scenarios the game creates, the pennant races, the knowledge I gain by playing different seasons.

So, I shelved the basketball game, took out the 1950 season, got my schedules set and began rolling.

And I wasn't disappointed. Kiner's homer was great. But there was more.

Immediately after that game, I played the April 18, 1950, clash between the Yankees and Red Sox. And check this out — We play APBA so we can say this: In my replay game, Yogi Berra and Phil Rizzuto hit home runs to cut Boston's lead to 4-2. Then, in the top of the eighth, Joe DiMaggio his his own two-run home run and New York had tied it. But, there's more. In the bottom of the inning, Ted Williams clouted one out and the Red Sox won, 5-4.

Two games, two cool finishes.

Oh, but there's yet more.

The third game I rolled that night pitted Brooklyn at Philadelphia. There were no home runs, but Gil Hodges hit a single and drove in Jackie Robinson in the second and then Duke Snider doubled in Pee Wee Reese in the eighth, and the Dodgers won, 2-0. Again, just being able to say stuff like that is an attraction of this game.

I played more games into the night. Willie Robinson hit two home runs for the White Sox and they beat the St. Louis Browns, 5-1. Warren Spahn hit his own homer and two-hit the New York Giants in his 5-1 win.

And George Kell hit a double and the Detroit Tigers beat Cleveland, 6-3. I met Kell years ago and showed him the APBA card. He asked what the many “6s” on his game card meant. I told him they were doubles and it represented the 56 doubles he led the American League with in 1950. He smiled and said he liked it and signed my card. He died in Swifton, Ark., in March, 2009, about 20 miles from where I live. Last night, he came to life and, with the autographed card, he hit a double.

Lots of stories already, and that was just the first day of replays. I stayed up until 2:30 a.m and played the eight games that made up the real games set for April 18, 1950. Today, I'm on April 19, which includes a double header between the Yankees and Red Sox and more Kiner.

The game runs deep with results like these. It's why I've stuck with it since 1977. It's why we play it.

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