Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Seasons' Personalities

Each baseball season has a distinctively different personality and replayers of the APBA game know this. It's one of the reasons and the draw of why we spend so much time recreating an entire season.

Obviously, each season is unlike the past. Certain players stand out, some have career seasons, others fall short. Some teams over achieve and others, which are expected to perform well, don't meet those expectations instead.

When selecting a season to replay. Game players take this in consideration. I think when we debate about choosing the next one, we include our own personal reasons — to an extent. Personally, my coming-of-age in baseball year was 1969. It's the first season, when I was 8, that I learned about the divisions, the playoffs and the entirety of a season. I also like 1977 because of my father's influence upon me about the Yankees, 1987 and 1991 because those were the Twins' World Series years and 2006 because the St. Louis Cardinals won the Series then and, in the small way sports can, it somehow took a tiny bit of the sting out of my wife's passing away earlier that year.

Those are seasons we remember; ones we've lived through. But replays also include earlier seasons. I wasn't alive in 1906, but I have that year to do a replay with. I chose 1957 because of Henry Aaron. I'll play 1919 sometime to recreate the Chicago Black Sox scandal year. I did 1942 to replay a season with Stan Musial.

Different seasons, different personalities.

There is a bit of dedication required to complete a season. It takes several months to do one if, like me, you have no other life. It could take normal people years to finish a full 162-game season for each team. Replayers hit the wall during a season; there comes a point when the games begin running into each other and take little importance. Those August clashes between Cleveland and Chicago (for almost any season) have no meaning. That's when the personality of the season needs to come through.

I've hit the wall early in the 1950 replay I'm underway with. But the season's personality is helping carry me through. In the real 1950 season, Brooklyn and Philadelphia were neck-and-neck in the race for the National League. In my replay, both teams are vastly under achieving. The Boston Braves are leading the National League as of May 16, 1950. It is odd.

And in the American League, the personality of my replay is already taking shape. New York, Boston and Detroit are stand-outs and the three teams have traded division leads so far. If they are knotted throughout the year, that's a personality of the replay that will come through. If one teams takes off, leaving the others behind, well, that's another aspect of a replay.

All of us APBA guys have closets full of the game cards. Some collect each year when they come out, but others, like me, are selective when picking card sets. Personality of the seasons is one factor we rely on.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Real Time, Replay Time

I reached the point APBA baseball replayers hit once each year, but it came earlier this time than I had anticipated.

Each year, at some point, the date of a replay day coincides with the actual date. They are two separate clocks, the replay time and the real time, and eventually, they meet for a brief time. When we replay games, we seldom play an entire slate of games for that day in one real day. In my 1950 replay, there are 16 teams and on a busy day that means there are eight games to play. Add in the Sunday doubleheaders that were popular back then and I'm looking at 12 to 13 games to play for that particular day.

I can't play that many games in a day. Lately, I'm lucky to reach that amount in a week. My job may be partially to blame: I am a bureau reporter at a large newspaper. Last month, a tornado struck central Arkansas and killed 16 people. I was part of the team that covered that constantly. Long hours, tiring hours. When I came home, rather than hit the game for relief and peace, I hit the bed for sleep.

Then, two weeks ago, a person fatally shot three people before killing himself in the town I live. We wrote three stories about that for the paper.

It was a busy few weeks and it put me behind on the schedule of games. And that's too bad because I've found that over the years the APBA replay has kept me sane during the stressful times. The games are a way to shut out the bad that I see and report on and it's a controlled world that takes me away.

I began the 1950 replay on March 7 this year. The replay date for the first games that season was on April 18, 1950. So, I was about five weeks ahead of schedule when I started this.

During my last replay of 1942, I began the season on April 18, 2013, which was the actual start date for that year's replay. I fell behind quickly, so that coinciding day was only April 18 and 19.

I'll continue to play on, of course. Today is May 17, 2014. After another game tonight I'll reach May 14, 1950.There are 11 games scheduled for that day; it'll take me a few actual days to knock out those games. Then, I'll pick up some time because May 15, 1950, has only one game scheduled.

We play these games, rolling contests each day, slowly heading to the replay's end. And there's more seasons to play next. I have a very limited life outside of work so that allows me to play maybe two, three or four games each day if I'm not worn out from the day's work. Maybe I can pick up the pace and knock out a few days quickly.

I know I won't catch up the actual date with the replay date during this replay. But each year, at least once in a replay, both days are the same and it gives me a perspective of how long these things can really be.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Baseball Movies

A few weeks ago, Love, Life and APBA offered some suggestions for baseball books. This week, I'm looking at a few movies that feature the sport we love. But these movies may be a little more obscure than the mainstream fare. Also, keep in mind I am not a movie-goer and I really don't devote an hour and a half or two hours to staring at a television set to watch drama.

Sure, there's Field of Dreams, The Natural and Bull Durham, the holy trinity of baseball movies, as far as I'm concerned. Throw in Pride of the Yankees, Major League and League of Their Own as other semi-classics.

Instead, these suggestions are just snapshots of eras of baseball. Some are good, some aren't. The Babe Ruth Story, for example, is listed here, but it's also listed by 17 states as a means of cruel and unusual punishment for those who watch it.

Read on and feel free to comment on movies you like.

1935 Alibi Ike —Based on a Ring Lardner short story about a Chicago Cubs player who gets kidnapped by gangsters who want him to throw the World Series. Joe E. Brown plays Frank X. Ferrell. It is a stretch that the Cubs are in the Series, but remember that this was made in 1935. Brown actually turned down a chance to sign with the New York Yankees to continue his career as a comedian and actor. The film is silly and it features his slapstick humor and wide, goofy smile.

1948 The Babe Ruth Story – Apparently acting was not a necessity when Allied Artists Pictures held a casting call. All they needed was a lummox, and William Bendix, a former Yankees batboy, fit the part. A cheesy, sappy, over-emotional film that Newsday called the “worst sports bio of all time.” Still, it has that feel of old baseball and makes for a fun viewing.

1949 The Stratton Story – Another film with that “feel.” Jimmy Stewart plays Monty Stratton who, after playing in the late 1930s as a pitcher with the White Sox, accidentally shoots his leg. He tries to return to the field and in a weird, Festus-stumbling-in-Gunsmoke manner, Stratton fields bunts. I watched this the other night and stayed with it through the end.

1949 It Happens Every Spring — Prof. Vernon Simpson is experimenting with some wood-resistant chemical when a baseball smashes through the lab window and lands in a tub of the stuff. Simpson, played by Ray Milland — who later was in the 1972 movie “Frogs” — uses the mixture and becomes an unhittable pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals. I read somewhere that Major League Baseball wouldn't support the movie because it glorified cheating and real baseball players were forbidden to have cameo appearances in the film, like they did in many other baseball flicks. A bit o' trivia. Alan Hale Jr. plays a catcher at Simpson's college. Hale later played the Skipper in Gilligan's Island.

1976 The Bad News Bears — Curmudgeon Walter Matthew leads a team of misfits on the diamond. Tatum O'Neal stars as a pitcher for the Little League team. The movie had a lot of rough toilet humor, kids swearing, cheating. Stuff we, as adults, still like. Roger Ebert reviewed the movie when it came out and called it an "unblinking look at competition." 

1992 Mr. Baseball — Fading baseball player Tom Sellick is traded from New York to a Japanese baseball team. The film focuses on the cultural difficulties and Sellick's issue toward teamwork. Like most baseball movies, the ending is a feel-good action sequence that is pretty cool.

1993 Little Big League — This one has been slammed by critics all over, but, hey, it's a dream of, like me, any Minnesotan to run the Minnesota Twins. This time, it's a kid who takes over the team when his grandfather, the owner, dies. He's like, 12, and manages. But a friend sums it up. “It's the American League. They have the DH. How hard can it be?” The thing that stood out for me was the photography and the action shots. Of course, the Minnesota bias plays heavily for me in this movie.

1999 For Love of the Game — Another Kevin Costner movie. This one brings tears for all. It's a campy love story and half of the movie is about the past relationship with Costner and girlfriend Kelly Preston. The other half is Costner taking the mound for the Detroit Tigers' last game of the season. Women weep at the sentimentality of it all. Guys cry because Costner is headed for a perfect game.

2005 Fever Pitch — Forget Friday the 13th, the Exorcist, those Freddy Krueger movies and the rest. This is the scariest horror movie I've ever seen. It features both Jimmy Fallon and the Red Sox winning the World Series. “The Hills Have Eyes”? Nah. Fallon has speaking lines? The horror, the horror. The ending is trite; they filmed it in St. Louis in 2004 when the Red Sox beat the Cardinals in the actual Series. Frightening.

Monday, May 5, 2014

The 1957 Topps Art Houtteman Card

We were poring through hundreds of baseball cards that my friend's son obtained when I learned the real treasure of card collecting as we came across a 1957 Topps card of Cleveland Indians pitcher Art Houtteman.

A Beckman baseball card magazine valued the card, if in mint condition, at $10. This card was old and the corners were frayed. Even if my friend's son could find a card dealer, he'd probably only get a few dollars for the card. But to me, the card was worth far more than $10, or any price really. And I felt the same about the other cards in the collection.

My friend's son recently helped an elderly man clean out his house in preparation for sale. Apparently, the man was a hoarder because the son said he hauled away more than a dozen truck loads of junk. The elderly man said the son could keep whatever he found, but for the most part he found only trash and waste.

But he did come across several old U.S. and foreign coins, books of stamps, old photographs and hundreds of baseball cards.

He took the baseball cards home and then asked me this past weekend to help him evaluate their worth. I am the worst one to do that. I'll get hung up on worthless cards, remembering who the players were, stories behind them, the teams they played for and the players who were involved in trades with them. Each card, regardless of their booked worth, had a story I loved.

It took a few hours to go through a box that day. He had an old Joe Pepitone card and I told him the story in Jim Bouton's Ball Four about how Yankees players filled Pepitone's hair dryer with talcum powder during a game. Pepitone was particular about his hair and used the dryer to style it after each game. The Yankees were far ahead in the game when a player slipped into the locker room to doctor Pepitone's dryer. Unfortunately, the Yanks blew the lead and lost the game and the mood was somber when they returned to the clubhouse. Pepitone turned on the dryer and, in Bouton's word, “Whoosh,” he was covered with the white powder.

One card, a great story.

The cards were organized by era in some cases. He had a lot of cards from the 1980s and 1990s. There were several Cal Ripken cards, along with Barry Bonds. The friend's son found an earlier card featuring Bobby Bonds and, because he is not much of a baseball fan, asked if they were related.

Another card, another story.

He did find some gems. A 1967 Mickey Mantle card booked at about $30. He had a 1974 Nolan Ryan that was worth $50. A 1960 Sal Maglie in a St. Louis Cardinals uniform would only bring $5, but it was still neat. I never realized Sal “The Barber” Maglie played for St. Louis.

APBA players know baseball. We replay seasons, using actual players and we know their tendencies at the plate. But the cards the game company puts out, while reproducing accurate game results, are only numbers on a white card. We know batters' potential for power by glancing at the APBA cards. We know if the pitcher is good by reading his grade on the card. But we really don't know the player.

I realized this when we came across the Houtteman card. I'm replaying the 1950 baseball season using the APBA cards. Houtteman has pitched during replay games of the Tigers in my replay. In this 1957 card, though, Houtteman is wearing a Cleveland Indians uniform.

For the first time, I saw a picture of his face and the personality of who he was came through. Here was a reproduction of Art Houtteman, a guy who pitches every four or five days for the Tigers in my replay.  I only knew him as the white APBA card with red numbers. I read up on him and learned he only pitched during three games for the Indians that year before being sold to Baltimore.

Apparently, ol' Art, who is one of the aces in my 1950 replay, was a trouble-maker and often in the team doghouse. Although he was depicted on his card in a Cleveland uniform, he ended up in Baltimore that year. He made four relief appearances for the Orioles before he was sent down to the Vancouver Mounties of the Pacific Coast League. He returned to pitch for Baltimore for one more game at the end of the season — his last in the majors.

And here was his baseball card. Worth maybe $10 at the very most, but worth so much more to me with that story.

Each card has a story like that. Each player who made it to the big leagues and who had a card depicting his likeness has a story like that. Sure, there are the Mickey Mantles and the Nolan Ryans that the collectors covet. But there are tons of the Art Houttemans and the other marginal players who fans like us APBA players love to learn more of.

I spent nearly three hours digging through the box of cards, telling the son stories about some of the players. I don't know if he enjoyed those tales or just humored me, thinking I was a babbling old timer.

We'll find out sometime. He has several more boxes of cards that need going through.