Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Cuckoo For Kokos

He had a lifetime batting average of .263 and his team never finished above sixth place during the five years he played, but Richard Kokos, an obscure outfielder for the 1950 St. Louis Browns, is making an impact on the APBA replay I'm currently engaged with.

That's one of the benefits of our game. We learn of players who may otherwise be hidden in the history of baseball. There have been more than 18,000 players who took the field in major league baseball games and Kokos didn't stand out in the real game. But I've noticed him in this 1950 season replay.

I've found with the APBA game, players sometimes play far above their potential; I've written about overachievers here before. And, the replayers have also seen players expected to do well fall short. Mickey Mantle played pretty poorly in my 1957 replay for example. That's part of the draw of the APBA game. It's based upon statistics. Each player receives a card that is based upon his real statistics of that particular season. We roll the dice, match up results with results on the card to determine the outcome of a play. Usually, players play rather closely to what is expected, but there are variations. And those variations are what lead us to play the game.

Kokos, in my 1950 replay, has suddenly become hot, drawing my attention to an otherwise lackadaisical, boring team in St. Louis. He's drove in runs in eight consecutive games before going 0 for 2 against Cleveland the other night.

In real life, he drove in 67 runs in 1950. After 71 games, he's driven in 57 runs in my replay and is well on his way for at least 100 RBIs. Kokos is also batting .293 in my game so far with eight home runs. In the real 1950 season, he batted .261 with 18 homers.

I decided to seek information on Kokos. Born as Richard Kokoszka, he was began his professional career with the Cleveland organization in 1945, although he never played for the Indians. He was traded to the St. Louis Browns on Nov. 20, 1947, and on July 8, 1948, he played in his first major league game in Detroit. He went one for four and recorded five putouts and an assist in a 12-2 loss to the Tigers that day.

Like other players of his time, he was called to war and was drafted in 1950.

Kokos returned to the field in 1953 for St. Louis and made the trip when the Browns moved to Baltimore and became the Orioles a year later. He only played in 11 games in 1954 before he was traded to the New York Yankees. His last game in the big leagues was on May 10, 1954, when he pinch hit for Don Larsen against the Philadelphia As.

Fittingly, to represent his less-than-stellar career, Kokos walked in that last at bat. Only 8,455 saw him play that day, according to a box score on retrosheet.org. He never played with the Yankees.

So, Kokos only played four seasons and part of a fifth; the war robbed him of a few years like so many other players of that era. He played in a total of 475 games.

Not a career worth noting, really, I guess. But, he did make it to the big leagues and that is an accomplishment most of us cannot say we've done. I made friends years ago with Bill Bethea, the former coach of the Arkansas State University baseball team and a former professional player. His wife and my wife were church buddies and that's where we met. While neither Bethea nor I were well versed in Biblical history, we did know the blessing of having a good shortstop to complete a double play, and we crafted our friendship on baseball.

He played with the Minnesota Twins in 1964, debuting in Boston on Sept. 13, 1964, and starting in 10 games that season. He was sent down at the end of the year and ended up with the Yankees organization a year later.

Bethea downplayed his professional career, but I took out the sixth edition of the Major League Baseball Encyclopedia, opened it and first showed him Henry Aaron's listing. Then, on page 703, between Frank Betcher, a St. Louis Cardinals player from 1910, and Larry Bettencourt, a Browns outfielder and third baseman, was Bethea's name.”You're in it,” I told Bethea. “Not many can say that.”

Kokos is also in the registry. He took the field in 1948 and now, 64 years later, I'm replaying his season with the 1950 replay. And I'm taking notice of him.

Kokos died in Chicago in 1986. He lives on, like all the other players we roll the dice for, in our replays and tournaments and APBA games we play.

1 comment:

  1. I loved how certain players would overachieve. Andy messersmith was a decent player but twice won me a game seven.