Wednesday, April 30, 2014


For the first time in years, I've tallied statistics during an APBA baseball replay.

I know. It's blasphemous not to do so, but I've really had decent excuses for not compiling game results in the past. Each time I've done it, whether with the baseball replays, football or basketball games, my computers have crashed. And, even if I had kept the records on disc drives or on websites, I always lost the computer and ended up with totally different operating systems later.

When I first began in the world of APBA with the basketball game, I would keep the stats by hand. This was a time when, unbelievably, we didn't have computers at hand. Back then a large Texas Instruments calculator was pretty high-tech. I had ample time back then to write the statistics, figuring them out with the calculator and writing them on paper.

But this time I have a dependable computer and, even though I am really computer stupid, I was able to develop a spreadsheet that does averages for me. It's still primitive when compared to some of the replayers' stat-keeping abilities, but it's the best I can muster.

I still have about 20 games to enter into the spreadsheet to catch up with where I'm at (May 8, 1950). I don't update the stats after each game, but rather when I have an hour or so extra.

So, now, as I roll my 1950 baseball replay, I can actually say assuredly that two reasons why the Boston Braves are playing well above expectations is because catcher Walker Cooper is batting .385 with 5 home runs and 24 RBIs and Warren Spahn has a 4-0 record with 22 strikeouts and an insane ERA of 0.75.

I also know that Roy Hartsfield of the Braves leads the National League with a .441 batting average, and Stan Musial of the St. Louis Cardinals is second with an average of .411. Stan “The Man” also has 6 home runs and 20 RBIs.

Jackie Robinson has been a bit of a disappointment in my replay, batting .257, and Duke Snider is a surprise with his batting average of .389, 7 home runs and 22 RBIs. If not for Snider and pitcher Don Newcombe with his 4-0 record and a 1.48 ERA, the Dodgers would be further behind in the standings then they already are.

It sounds cool just saying that.

In the American League, the Detroit Tigers' Vic Wertz leads all batters with a blazing .517 average. He has 30 hits out of 58 at bats so far. The White Sox' Eddie Robinson is one of the sole good things in Chicago with his batting average of .466.

Doing the stats does provide a different look at the replays. When a player comes to bat, I have a better idea of what he can do. Of course, this is early and, like in real life, players tend to get hot or cool off. I'm sure the averages will change as the season progresses.

But, still, it's interesting to do this and it does add that new element. Other replayers have done this for years so most of those who read this are probably slapping their foreheads and saying, 'Well, no duh.”

But for a computer illiterate with little time as it is, keeping the stats has shown its worth.

Now, if I can just keep this computer running.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Baseball Books 2014

Baseball season is well underway now and, if you can't get enough of it on television and by rolling APBA games, there are a lot of books on the sport that have been published this year. It seems 2014 is a banner year for good baseball books, too.

There are books focusing on various decades and on teams. The racial inequalities of baseball in the 1950s are represented and the Pete Rose issue is looked at yet again. A stadium and a dream road trip are featured in books this year and another Babe Ruth book is out there.

It is a good year for any baseball fan. If APBA players need a break from rolling the dice, they can pick up any of the following books and continue to feed their obsessions. I know I did.

Here are some of the books published this year:

The Hall: A Celebration of Baseball's Greats. National Baseball Hall of Fame – At 624 pages, this is the complete registry of its inductees with photos, biographies and stories. Each section contains an essay written by a player or coach, including Henry Aaron, George Brett, Tommy Lasorda, Carlton Fisk, Nolan Ryan and more. The book won't come out until July 15, but it looks like it's going to be worth the wait.

A Nice Little Place on the North Side, George Will – The columnist who never met a word he could expand, writes about his love of the Chicago Cubs and Wrigley Field. I've read Will's “Men at Work,” the baseball book that featured Tony LaRussa and Tony Gwynn and, while it is interesting, it's very slow. His style of writing would calm a meth addict on a 36-hour binge.

Babe Ruth's Called Shot: The Myth and Mystery of Baseball's Greatest Home Run King, Ed Sherman – A look at the legendary 1932 World Series home run by Babe Ruth. Did he point to the stands in Game 3 when the Yankees played the Chicago Cubs and promise a home run off of Charlie Root? Sherman tries to answer that question.

Pete Rose: An American Dilemma, Kostya Kennedy – Despite having more hits than any other player in baseball, Rose isn't in the Hall of Fame due to his gambling. Should he be? Kennedy, who also wrote “56: Joe DiMaggio and the Last Magic Number,” about DiMaggio's consecutive game hit streak, researches Rose's career. I've read a portion of this in Sports Illustrated and it looks pretty insightful.

Jackie and Campy, William Kashatus – A great look at the strained relationship between Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella on the early 1950s Brooklyn Dodgers teams. Kashatus does a great job of putting into context the issue of race in sports at the time and how each player dealt with it, and how their reactions helped to sever their own friendship. I recommend this one greatly.

1954: The Year Willie Mays and the First Black Superstars Changed Major League Baseball Forever, Bill Madden – This comes out in May. Madden looks at the two black superstars – Willie Mays and Lary Doby – who led their teams to the World Series in 1954.

The Fight of Their Lives, John Rosengren – The author of last year's book on Hank Greenberg, looks at the 10 seconds that changed the lives of John Roseboro and Juan Marichal in 1965. The Giants and Dodgers were in a pennant race when on Aug. 22, Marichal bludgeoned Roseboro with a bat sparking one of the more violent fights in baseball. Rosengren writes of the season leading up to the fight and the subsequent ways the two players dealt with the aftermath for years. Another great read.

Stars and Strike: Baseball and America in the Bicentennial Summer of '76 Dan Epstein – It was the season of Mark Fidrych, the Yankees, the Big Red Machine, Mike Schmidt and his Phillies and the celebration around the country's 200th birthday. This book comes out next week. It looks like a great motivation for anyone doing a late 1970s APBA replay.

Brooks, Doug Wilson – A biography of Oriole's third baseman Brooks Robison. About time. By the author of Bird, the bio on Mark Fidrych.

I Don't Care if We Never Get Back: 30 Games in 30 Days, Ben Blatt and Eric Brewster – The ultimate road trip sends two fans to baseball games across the country. The book is released on May 6 and early reviews look good. I've got it reserved at my library because I'm cheap.

Down to the Last Pitch: How the Minnesota Twins and the Atlanta Braves Gave Us the Best World Series of All Time, Tim Wendell – I'm biased, but the 1991 Series was my second favorite to watch only behind the 1987 Series, which the Twins also won.

Up, Up and Away, Jonah Keri – Perhaps the most interesting book on this list. It's a look at the Montreal Expos history. Regardless if you're a fan of the Canadian team, this book presents a slice of baseball history that can't be ignored.

Seasons in Hell, Mark Shropshire – This book is the re-release of Shropshire's book on the birth of the Texas Rangers, which was first published in 1996. It's not really new, but the book is certainly worth reading. I bought it used at a Memphis bookstore years ago and, along with Ball Four and Nice Guys Finish Last, it's a book I enjoy reading over and over. Shropshire writes about covering the Rangers in those early years for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. It reads as if Hunter Thompson had the baseball insight of Jim Bouton.

These are just a few of the baseball books available this spring and summer.

Enjoy reading.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

They Applauded Them Walking

They stood at the hotel entrance and cheered as players for the Miami Heat made the 50-foot walk from the doors to the team bus. A simple stroll, about the equivalent of the distance between my front door and the mailbox on the curb, brought adulation.

A couple Heat walked from the Westin Memphis hotel to the bus, drawing applause. A few moments later, another player sauntered out and was greeted with more raucous clapping.

The athletes, wearing expensive suits, headphones and sullen expressions, ignored the fans as they cheered them.

I was in Memphis to watch the NBA game between the Grizzlies and the Heat last week and caught that scene as I walked from a parking lot to the FedEx Forum where the game would be played. A friend and I stopped when we saw the crowd gathered around the Westin's doors on Lt. George Lee Ave. Most were wearing costly Heat jerseys and looks of hope. Maybe one of the players would look up and wave at a fan. None did during the time we watched.

My friend made an observation, and while she's not a huge sports fan, it was telling.

“Why are they taking a bus when the stadium is across the street?” she asked.

And it was. The front steps to the FedEx Forum were across South Third Street, maybe 200 feet away. Obviously, the players couldn't walk from the hotel, through the Forum's front door and the crowds of ticket-holding fans and work their way to the floor. But surely, there was a side door somewhere that allowed the access to the inner sanctum of stadiums that only they are provided. Players all do it at their home games, I assume.

But instead, they boarded the bus and waited and continued ignoring those who worshipped them.

About 15 blocks to the north was the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital where a small boy, according to a Memphis television station, was a patient. He underwent a bone marrow transplant for a rare disease and stayed in the hospital for 70 days. His wish was to meet LeBron James and his Heat teammates that day.

James declined. I guess it was too far to go.

We idolize players more than ever. Maybe because their exploits are shown to us on ESPN and other sports broadcasts daily and repeatedly. They are ingrained in our minds by the endless loops on SportsCenter. If you're older, you remember the days when we'd only catch glimpses of the NBA on the 5-minute sports segments of the local news, or on a Game of the Week televised on a weekend.

So maybe it's the exposure that creates this more intense fan worship. I know the love has always been there; I'm sure fans enjoyed seeing stars of ago. In 1985, I drove seven hours to Kansas City to watch the Kings play the Boston Celtics so I could see Larry Bird.

But it's different today. I read once that Billy Martin, Whitey Ford and others used to take the subway to Yankee Stadium on game days in the 1950s and 1960s, riding with the regular folks who were also going to the game. Now, players take buses across the street.

Bob Greene, the former Chicago Tribune columnist who is my writing hero, wrote an amazing book about the idolization of Michael Jordan called Hang Time. Read it.

Of course, there's always the double standard that I do. While I questioned the fan support of the Heat, I was walking to the floor of the FedEx Forum. My friend's employer was able to get a court side visit before the game for those who attended. About 20 of us walked down the stairs to the floor and watched as Chris Bosh and Rashard Lewis and Mike Conley and Marc Gasol practiced.

The game was televised nationally by ESPN and I stood behind the seats where the announcers would call the game. As we were getting ready to leave, the color announcer, Hubie Brown, walked to the table.

“Hubie Brown! Hello, sir,” I said, stunned.

Hubie said hello, reached out and shook my hand. “Have a good game,” I managed and he thanked me.

Maybe it's generational. Hubie Brown is 79 years old. I'm 53. I've seen him on television a lot and I remember when he coached the Grizzlies, turning them from a laughing stock to a playoff contending team.

I was really stoked I was able to see Brown. I shot photographs of him and smiled like a child. Why, I almost broke into applause when he walked up.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Why We Play

All of us who play the APBA sports replay games are at some point asked why we play it. Why do we roll dice and flip through cards and recreate seasons and play endless numbers of games?

For the uninitiated, the game may seem silly, especially considering that the bulk of those who play the game are well into their adulthood. Why do we spend so much time recreating a season or some tournament for baseball, basketball, football or hockey? It's a simple game — easy enough for a youngster to play. But it stays with us. It may be the only game that made the long trip with us from adolescence to what we are today.

I end up rolling the dice at least an hour a day and I don't miss many days of doing so since I began playing the baseball replay games in 1998. I've put it aside for a while when life steps in — like college, new jobs, marriage — as I'm sure all ABPA players have done. But I always came back. We begin as children, rolling the games, keeping standings, playing make-believe seasons with our favorite players. 

Most begin with baseball. I did it backwards, starting my APBA journey with basketball and not getting into the signature sport of this company until 16 years ago.

Why does this game maintain its consistency? Why do we play it?

Here are some of my ideas for the lasting love of APBA:

It provides an escape to better times. It's a distraction. I've played the games while my wife was in the hospital with kidney failure to help ease the fear. It gave me something comforting to cling to while my life changed around me. It's soothing because the world we create with the replays is something we are familiar with, so while we may be going through uncharted waters of life, we can still have the life preserver of an APBA season that offers a familiar world.

We can recreate favorite seasons. I've replayed 1987, which is my favorite year in baseball. When the Twins won the World Series, I actually cried with joy. My father died that year in March. He missed the magic that was the season. I replayed 1987 to feel that again. Unfortunately, the Twins didn't win in my replay, but I was able to spend over a year with the replay, playing games with the players who made that year the most magical in my life.

We can learn. After reading Al Stump's biography on Ty Cobb and Eliot Asinof's “Eight Men Out” about the 1919 Chicago Black Sox gambling scandal, I ordered the 1919 baseball season. I wanted to learn more about that year and what better way than playing the season with the players who actually were there?

We can answer 'what-ifs.' I answered my own question of “what if the 1981 strike never happened” and replayed the full season. Other APBA players may wonder what if the 1927 New York Yankees played the 1998 New York Yankees in a seven-game series or what if the Cubs didn't trade Lou Brock to the Cardinals in 1964. APBA lets us do that.

Where else can you actually say, for example,“Stan Musial hit a walk-off home run off of Branca and the Cardinals beat the Dodgers” and actually see it happen with the cards?

We can think about upcoming games like they are real. I've found myself at work daydreaming about a good game I've got scheduled in my replay. When I played the 1942 season, the Cardinals and Dodgers were in a dogfight for the National League pennant throughout the season. It gave me something to think about during times I was away from the game.

It's cost effective. For the price of a bleacher seat at any major league baseball game, we can buy an APBA baseball season. The ticket will give us about three hours of baseball fun. A single season replay lasts months for me and for some players with lives, years.

We can start a blog about APBA and, two years and 120-plus posts later, we can still come up with ideas for things to write about.

We can hang onto our youth. One of my upcoming replays will be the 1969 season, which was the first one I really paid attention to all year. Of course, the Twins were a good team then and living in Minnesota helped fuel my interest in that season. Others can hold onto years of their own. In APBA, for instance, replayers can keep playing seasons with the Dodgers and Giants before they left New York and moved west. We can play before there was the designated hitter, before the steroid era, before artificial grass, before night games if we so chose.

We know we're not alone. There are internet message boards and a Facebook page devoted to APBA baseball where like-minded people converge. Before, I somewhat kept my hobby to myself. I'd try to describe the game to someone and he or she would look at me like I was a geek discussing my knighting ceremony in some Dungeons and Dragons fantasy game. The websites let us talk to our brethren and bypass the initial “Here's how it's played” talks.

I've come up with a few ideas. There are many more and readers can feel free to list their own reasons here. I'd like to spend more time thinking of reasons why we play, but I've got the Cubs and Phillies squaring off in my 1950 replay calling me.