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.