Thursday, October 30, 2014

Replay Update: June 21, 1950

It's been a while since I updated the 1950 APBA baseball replay I'm doing, but, despite being slower than normal, the games are still being rolled.

There have been several excuses for my plodding play of late. First, the baseball playoffs were pretty interesting this year and in a season where I really did not watch much of the games before the playoffs, I found myself caught up in the drama and stories unfolding in Kansas City and Baltimore, especially.

Also, I bought the APBA hockey card season for 2013-14 and have been tossin' games with that set for a bit as well.

And I don't understand the mechanics behind this, but I changed my work hours, coming in an hour earlier than before. That one-hour difference has kept me from playing a couple of games each morning now. Why I can't do them at night when I come home an hour earlier is beyond me.

But, that said, I've continued rolling the 1950 season and it continues being a good one.

Here's the update through June 21, 1950:

  1. New York Yankees (42-21, –) Joe DiMaggio leads AL with 18 home runs and pitching has been the mainstay for the Bronx Bombers. Ed Lopat is 10-1 on the mound and Allie Reynolds has a 9-3 record so far. The team already has 10 shutouts and scored 10 or more runs in a game 14 times.
  2. Boston Red Sox (43-23 .5GB) The Red Sox have remained close behind the Yankees in part for the same reasons that have given New York the AL lead so far. Both Ted Williams and Vern Stephens have 16 home runs and Joe Dobson and Mel Parnell each have eight wins. Don't count the Sox out. They've had winning streaks of eight, seven and six games already and have won eight of their last nine game and are set to play cellar dwellers St. Louis and Philadelphia in upcoming games before hosting the rival Yanks.
  3. Detroit Tigers (38-23 3 GB) Art Houtteman leads the league with 12 wins and Paul Calvert has seven saves in an era that doesn't really rely on relief pitching much. The Tigers are 2-4 against New York and 2-10 against Boston. They're going to have to do better against the leaders for any chance. My stat keeping has really fallen off, but I do know George Kell has 18 doubles as of June 21, 1950.
  4. Cleveland Indians (36-28 6.5GB) The Indians are an odd team to play. Al Rosen has 16 home runs and Luke Easter has 15. Early Wynn has a 10-1 record and Bob Feller has won eight games. But just as they begin rolling (they won nine games in a row in May), they lose to Chicago and Philadelphia.
  5. St. Louis Browns (27-37 15.5 GB) The Browns are about as bland as a team in this replay that I've seen. Don Lenhardt has 11 home runs and pitcher Ned Garver has six wins. That's it. They have the worst defense in the league; they lost 18-13 against Boston the other day. They are on a 5-11 run now and look to maintain that substandard pace.
  6. Washington Senators (25-38 17GB) The Senators have only played the Yankees six times so far this season and they've split those games, actually outscoring New York, 53-44 in those games. But they're 2-9 against Detroit and 3-5 against lowly Philadelphia. Sid Hudson has seven wins on the mound.
  7. Chicago White Sox (22-42 20.5 GB) Luis Aloma has eight saves. Gus Zernial has the same number of home runs. At least they aren't in eighth place.
  8. Philadelphia As (22-43 21 GB) This team began losing 10 of the As first 12 games and 17 of their first 20. But just when things looked really dismal, they won six in a row, including sweeping a three-game series against New York. Pitcher Lou Brissie is a workhorse, starting and coming in at relief. He's 5-10 with three saves. Shortstop Eddie Joost, who died in 2011 at the age of 100, leads the As with 10 home runs.
  1. Boston Braves (38- 25 –GB) The Braves are the biggest surprise in this replay. Starter Warren Spahn leads the team with 11 wins and catcher Walker Cooper actually hit for the cycle against Brooklyn on May 28. Bob Elliott leads the team with 13 home runs. They just won't lose.
  2. St. Louis Cardinals (36-27 2GB) Stan Musial's 15 home runs and clutch hits make the Cards over achievers. Max Lanier has nine wins as a starter and Cloyd Brazle has saved seven games so far.
  3. Brooklyn Dodgers (35-28 3 GB) The Dodgers began slowly, but picked up as of late. Jackie Robinson was batting around .200 early (remember, my stat keeping is way behind), but he's improved to over .300 now. Duke Snider has 15 home runs and Don Newcombe leads the team with 10 victories. Brooklyn has become one of the more fun teams to replay.
  4. New York Giants (34-30 4.5 GB) Led by Sal Maglie and Bobby Thomson, the Giants challenged for first place late in May by winning 13 of 14 games. Since then, they've cooled off, winning 10 of 20 games. They just lost two of three hosting the Cardinals and are 2-4 against their crosstown rivals in Brooklyn.
  5. Pittsburgh Pirates (33-20 5 GB) Ralph Kiner's team appeared to completely turn reality upside down and win the pennant. In the real 1950 season, the Pirates came in last place, 33.5 games out of first. Kiner has 17 home runs so far in the replay and Cliff Chambers has 8 wins. They won 10 of their first 12 games and were in first place as late as May 31. In June, they've gone 7-13 and have fallen to fifth place.
  6. Philadelphia Phillies (28-38 11.5 GB) This is the most frustrating team to play. The Whiz Kids of the real season – winning the pennant by two games over Brooklyn – are more like the Was Kids in the replay. Del Ennis leads the majors with 19 home runs for the Phillies, but the pitching is not holding up well. Curt Simmons is the ace with a record of 7-6. Robin Roberts has a 6-6 pitching record so far. Only Jim Konstanty, with 14 saves to lead the majors, is a star on the Philadelphia pitching mound and he can't start games. They've lost 13 one-run games as of June 21 and are one and three in extra inning games. Each replay has a team that really under performs, and it appears the Phillies are this replay's version.
  7. Chicago Cubs (25-35 11.5 GB) Hank Sauer leads the team with 18 homers and Bob Rush is a surprising 8-4 as the pitching ace. In real life, he went 13-20 for the Cubs. Paul Minner, on the other hand, is a bleak 2-9.
  8. Cincinnati Reds (23-39 14.5GB) If not for Ted Kluszewski's muscle-flexing and 17 home runs, the Reds would lose games by scores of 10-3 or 7-1. Instead, with Ted's clouts, they lose 10-5 and 7-4. Ewell Blackwell did toss a no-hitter on May 3 against the Giants, one of the few bright spots for the team.
So, there's the replay so far. Realistically, five National League teams have a chance and three in the American League could take the pennant. Hopefully, now that the World Series is over and I'm more motivated to continue play, I can step up the pace on this 1950 season and see how it turns out.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Leaving Lubbock 23 Years Ago

This is a story about lost romance 23 years ago and how baseball and the APBA game I love helped pull me through.

It's a story about how we may always be chasing something to make us feel happy and more complete, when, in fact, what we already have is probably enough.

Twenty-three years ago today on Oct. 21, 1991, I became a college dropout and fled the PhD program in English I was enrolled in at Texas Tech University. I had chased after a girl who was accepted in her own master's program at the Lubbock university. To stay with her, I bluffed my way into the English department. I wrote an impacting letter stating my case for admission and actually was awarded a teaching assistantship. I moved into a dorm on the college campus, lived with a 20-year-old energetic kid who always wanted to sponsor church dances, did laundry in the basement of the dorm building, endured West Texas sandstorms, took three classes that first semester in advanced literature and English teaching methods, taught two other English classes and dealt with homework, thesis writing and the general panic associated with college.

Ah, love.

At first I didn't intend to go to Texas. But the girl actually cried and said she couldn't make it without me there and I fell for it. I was a sappy romantic.

It was a bluff. As soon as she got to the campus and acclimated, I was no longer important. She began making excuses for not seeing me. She had meetings to attend, functions with other students to go to, study time of her own. I ended up hanging out with the 20-year-old roommate and listened constantly to his plans for hosting yet another dance. And wondering why I was so stupid to chase romance for 750 miles only to have it dump me. I mean, break up with me at home, for cryin' out loud, not in some tumble-weed land where, just a few weeks prior to me moving there, was the site of five tornadoes touching down at one time.

But I stayed there and I tried to mend the relationship as I also worked on my own coursework and taught other classes.

All the while, the Minnesota Twins were marching toward winning the American League West division that season. I caught a few games on the radio or the dorm lobby television. The games helped. I grew up in Minnesota and have loved the Twins for more than 48 years now. Four years earlier, when the Twins won the Series in 1987, it was a magical time. It helped me deal with the loss of my father, who died that spring after a lengthy illness. The 1991 season again gave me a focus, a diversion from what was going on in my own life.

I watched one game of the American League playoffs against Toronto at the Lubbock airport, feeding quarters into the coin-operated television set near the concourse while we waited for the girl's parents to fly in to visit her. I also watched some of the games at a golf course bar, drinking martinis with the denizens there who were mostly Toronto fans.

I could see the relationship with the girl was sliding down the pipe quickly, so I turned to my second comfort. The APBA game. I called home and asked my mother to order the 1990-91 basketball game and said I'd be home to get it soon. She understood. I had played the basketball game since I was 16 and, while most people didn't like the replay game because it was too plodding, I loved it.

So, I focused on the game and the idea of beginning a new season. While the girl was out with her new boyfriend, I sat in my dorm room, preparing a season's replay, writing out schedules and rosters in anticipation of getting the game. I was feeling the anticipation that all APBA players — regardless of age — feel when they know they are soon to receive a new set of game cards to replay games with.

And Minnesota won the American League pennant. I watched Game 7 of Atlanta and Pittsburgh on a small television set my roommate had gotten that week and knew the Braves would face the Twins in the Series.

I planned my departure of Lubbock around the Series' schedule. I actually dropped out of college to coincide with a travel day between Games 2 and 3 so not to miss any games, and at about 5 a.m. Oct. 21, 1991, I backed out of the dorm parking lot and headed north on I27 to Amarillo. Yes, as the song once said, “Lubbock was in my rear view mirror.”

I made it to my mother's house that evening and sitting on her kitchen table was the large box that contained the APBA basketball game. I was home.

The next day, I drove to the town where I would begin a new job, found an apartment to live and returned to my mother's house in time to watch Game 4. On Saturday, Oct. 26, 1991, when Kirby Puckett hit his home run off Charlie Leibrandt in the bottom of the 11th to win Game 6, I knew I would stay at my mom's home the following day, rather than move to my new home, to watch Game 7.

Of course the Twins won. I knew they would. They had to in order to help me maintain the new focus and deal with the loss of the girl in Lubbock.

I moved to my new job that Monday morning, bringing clothes and some furniture. And the APBA basketball game. I rolled the first game of the 1990-91 replay that first night I was there and I played many games during my stay there.

Some may think it's a silly game. The APBA gamers roll dice and match up results with numbers on player cards to determine outcomes. I've graduated from the basketball game now to baseball. I play the game nearly every day. The lure of it is not just the sports aspect. I think it brings some semblance of peace, a time when we were younger and things were simpler, back to us. I don't get that feeling with any other game, so APBA is my mainstay when things get tough.

On a postscript, the girl got married in Texas the following spring; she called to tell me about it. After a year or so of wedded bliss, the lovely couple divorced and went their separate ways.

I still have that 1990-91 basketball game.

Monday, October 13, 2014

I Don't Hate Randy Bush

I came across an old baseball card of former Minnesota Twins outfielder Randy Bush while sorting through a box the other day and for the first time in years I didn't want to stomp on it and set fire to it.

And I realized a lesson that my wife taught me shortly before she passed away had stuck with me. (I know, women reading this will be stunned: A guy actually listened and remembered something that his wife said!)

I let go my hate and it no longer consumed me.

Bush was part of that 1987 World Series Twins' team — a team that made being a loyal Minnesota fan since I could fit a baseball glove on my hand worthwhile. I began following the Twins in 1966, a year after their World Series appearance against Sandy Koufax and the L.A. Dodgers, when my family moved to Minnesota.

I learned baseball from Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva, Bob Allison, Leo Cardenas, Rod Carew and the others Twins of that era. While the rest of the kids in my neighborhood were sporting Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays gloves, I dropped fly balls with my Twins' pitcher Dave Boswell mitt.

The Twins ran deep in me.

Couple that with the fact my father passed away in March 1987 and one of the few eschewals I had from the sorrow of losing him came from that great season. I even went to Minneapolis late that summer and watched the Twins play Seattle in the Metrodome. Bush led off in that game, grounding out four times, but catching a fly in right field.

Later, that season, I saw Bush play again. He pinch hit in Game 5 of the World Series in St. Louis. He popped out, so for that 1987 season I saw Bush go 0 for 5. But it didn't matter. He was a Twins player; that's all that counted.

So, years later when I ran into him at an Arkansas State University baseball game, I was ready to regale him with my fandom. This was in 2000 or 2001 and he was the coach of the University of New Orleans baseball team. I was friends with Bill Bethea, the ASU baseball coach at the time and former assistant coach for those great University of Texas teams, and I often went to the ASU games in support of Bethea.

In between games of a doubleheader between ASU and New Orleans, I met Bush near the concession stand. I introduced myself to him and said 1987 was a special year. I opened up about the loss of my dad and how in some small way that Twins team helped me cope. I told him I grew up in Minnesota and I loved the area and …

… and I noticed a steely glean in his eye.

“Look, I'm working here,” he said, curtly. “I don't have time for this.”

And he strode off.

And I thought he was an ass. And I pledged to bring his baseball cards to the game when they returned two years later and burn them by the dugout. (Drama has always been an issue with me when my teams lose.)

I harbored that anger for a long time, seething whenever I heard of him. Bethea later told me he was surprised to hear of Bush's reaction, saying he was normally a very congenial person.

But for years, I held the opinion Randy Bush was a turd.

Then, maybe a year before her death, my wife told about letting hate go. It wasn't in the case of Bush, but for another person I once worked with who made it a point to make my job as miserable as he could. “Quit hating,” my wife said. “He doesn't even think of you at all, probably, and you're letting your feelings run you. Let it go.”

So I let it go. And it doesn't run me anymore.

And when I found that Bush card the other day, tucked in a long box of baseball cards I've had for a
while, I let the anger toward Bush go, too. Maybe he had a bad day that day. He had lost that first game of a doubleheader and maybe he was mad at himself for not managing well enough. You really can't form a full opinion of someone on a moment's notice (despite what Malcolm Gladwell writes in “Blink.”)

I have the Randy Bush card on my desk at home now. It's a Topps 1989. No. 577. He's swinging a fungo bat and smiling.

And now, I realize my wife was right. I see the card and I think of that 1987 team and I'm not blinded by the anger and hate I had. Instead, I think of the good things of that team.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

I Never Rolled For Honus Wagner

The nostalgia I have for the APBA baseball game replays is still here, perhaps brought on by the geese of last week (See:  Love, Life APBA - The Geese Overhead, Sept. 22, 2014), but perpetuated by Derek Jeter's recent retirement from the Yankees.

I am a Yankees fan somewhat, but the hoopla surrounding his pending quitting was akin to the Royal wedding, any presidential election, the end of the world. It was unavoidable if you turned on ESPN. Or any network channel. Or probably even Lifetime Network or C-SPAN for cryin' out loud! Those tear-jerky Gatorade commercials drove home the point as well.

So, as Jeter stepped away from the field, hanging his cleats and drifting off into immortality similar to that of Joe DiMaggio, Babe Ruth, et al, I thought of how I only played one replay season that included him. It was 1998, the first year I got into the APBA baseball replay game and Jeter's fourth year in the league.

For those not initiated into the game, APBA is a brilliant game that uses dice and player cards that replicate a professional sports season. Gamers roll the dice, match the result to numbers printed on the players' cards and read the outcome on printed boards to determine the action. The game company makes the cards each season and players can replay whatever season they have, game-by-game if they chose.

I've been doing the baseball game for 16 years now, and have replayed nine full season. Yes, I am aware. I don't have much of a social life. But I love the game that I began with when I first played the football game in 1977 and as I've said so many times before, it is the only consistent thing I've had in my life. 

I've covered a lot of baseball history. But I've only rolled the dice for Jeter's 1998 season.

It made me think. Who have I yet to roll for? Who are the big names, the draws of baseball, that I have yet to recreate a season?

The obvious player, for me, is Ty Cobb. I played part of 1925 before I burned out years ago and quit that season, rolling instead the hockey game for a while. I never resumed 1925 and the Ty Cobb card remains in the envelope it came in, not knowing if it would bat .378 like he did that year in real life.

I never rolled a game for Honus Wagner, the Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop. Nor have I tossed the dice for pitchers Cy Young and Christy Mathewson. Nap Lajoie has never batted in a game for me, either.

Although I'm currently replaying 1950, I tend to like the 1970s era of baseball. It's probably because that's when I grew up watching the game. I'm sure other APBA players do the same thing — recreate the years that mean something to them to capture those childhood memories again.

I don't have any season past 2000, so I've never had Albert Pujols swing a bat in a game. I did have Mark McGwire in 1987 and 1998. His steroid-induced card in the latter year provided 70 home runs in my replay.

On the inverse, I've played four seasons each with Joe Morgan and Pete Rose (64, 74, 77 and 81) and Gary Carter, Reggie Jackson and Mike Schmidt (74, 77, 81, 87).

I generally take on a season to learn of that particular era and for certain players. I'm doing 1950 now because I had never rolled a game for Pittsburgh outfield Ralph Kiner before. I've done three seasons with my favorite players, Henry Aaron and Harmon Killebrew (both 57, 64 and 74). When I complete 1950, I'll also have three seasons for Stan Musial. I've also done games with him in 1942 and 1957.

I intend to do 1991 next. It takes a year or so to do a season and, with 1942 the last season I completed and now about 35 percent through 1950, I can't go too long without playing games for the Minnesota Twins, who didn't come into existence until 1961 (They were the Washington Senators prior).

But those earlier seasons also beckon. I have 1919 with Ty Cobb and I should do 1925 to get that Babe Ruth experience (although that was the year he was limited to 90-some games because of, depending upon which tale you prefer: A. Appendicitis, B. Food poisoning, C. Alcohol addiction, D. Gonorrhea. And, just writing this makes me want to buy 1927, his signature year with the Yankees, from APBA soon.

So, the nostalgia returns. Geese and Jeter, what a combination to bring that on.