Tuesday, March 24, 2015


I crested a hill and saw the long straightaway on a highway in north central Arkansas this past weekend when I realized the last time I was on the road, nearly 40 years ago, I was going 105 mph.

I turned around, drove back up the hill, turned around again and revved the engine.

I topped the triple digits on the speedometer in 1976 when I had a junker Oldsmobile Omega with a V-8 and a four-barrel carburetor. The car fell apart and was literally held together by wire and clothespins. On one of my first vehicle dates with that car, the fan shelter fell and I had to stop to clip it back on before picking up my date. It was raining that day and I had to lay under the car to secure the fan. I showed up looking a bit askew.

But the car went fast.

And I hit the 105 while driving with a friend on that stretch in the summer of 1976. The straight section was only about two miles long, ending at another curve. The challenge was to decide when to slow down. Go too fast and you plow into a house at the curve. Chicken out too soon and you may not reach 100.

It was stupid, childish folly. Had I had a blow out, or a deer — which frequented that area — crossed in front of me, the paramedics would be picking us up with a sponge.

I didn't think about that then. Speed. That's all that mattered then.

So, I wanted to return to that feeling last weekend when I made the U-turn on the lonely highway, aimed at the bottom of the hill and took off.

But as I picked up speed, I wasn't thinking like a 16-year-old kid. I was an adult now and adult things flooded my thoughts. What if I crashed? Would my car insurance costs go up? Would the shabby health insurance I have cover any medical care? Would the engine blow up? I was in a Honda Pilot, not a speedy car.

I reached 80 mph and slowed down. The curve was still far enough ahead that I could have tried for 100 mph, but I didn't. Maturity, for once in my life, overruled impulse. Sense over instinct, and all that.

So, you say, what does this have to do with APBA baseball replays?

Well, speeding down that roadway is like doing a season replay. It's a way to stop time briefly, in a sense. I was hurtling down the same road I was on 39 years ago and it was a point of reference in life. Yet I had aged.

When we do replays, we return to a time that's long gone. In my case now, I'm doing the 1950 season; I wasn't born then, but I know my father probably followed his Yankees on the radio that year and he may have even gone to games that season. Here, 65 years later, I was going back a point of reference of time for him.

I did do the 1977 season a few years ago and when that season actually happened, I was a lovestruck kid who had just topped 105 mph the summer before. When I replayed the season — the same season I watched on television and followed closely — everything was different. I lost that innocence of being a kid and the hopes that youth brings and instead viewed that same time with a different attitude.

Back when the season was real, I probably worried about if my girlfriend still liked me, if I had enough money to go to a movie and if I could pass the latest English test at high school. When I replayed the season, I worried about my mortgage, health, work issues and my mortality.

So, all that rambling to try to explain that we do these replays, in part, to hang on to something that we've long lost. I'm never going to go 105 mph again, but a brief moment last weekend as my car picked up speed, I felt that time again. I'll never go back to 1976 or 1977 or any time before, but I can have a sense of that time, albeit with a different perspective, by replaying the baseball season with APBA.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Some Baseball Books, 2015

Baseball season is upon us — although, in APBA baseball season can be every day — and with that come the yearly onslaught of new books about the sport. This year there are books on players, coaches and eras. The 1927 Yankees earned a book as did the passing of the New York torch from Joe DiMaggio to Mickey Mantle. There's also one on the strike of 1981 and how baseball handled the weird playoff system that year.

This year's offerings seem really interesting.

So, when you're tired of rolling games and want to sit back a spell, grab one of these books when they come out for some reading time:

Tony Oliva: The Life and Times of a Minnesota Legend, Thom Henninger and Patrick Reusse, April 1.
As a lifelong Minnesota Twins fan, I had to lead with this book. Henninger and Reusse, who has co-authored other books about Minnesota sports, suggest that the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 may have led to Oliva being on the Twins. When he was 22, Oliva, from Cuba, didn't impress Twins scouts in a tryout. But because relations between his country and the US were damaged, Oliva couldn't easily go home. He was given a second chance, and that, readers, was the making of his legend. Three years later he won the American League Rookie of the Year

Billy Martin: Baseball's Flawed Genius, Bill Pennington, April 7.
This 544-page book by a New York Times sports reporter, looks at the careers of Billy Martin — both as a player and manager. He was a managerial genius, leading the Yankees to a World Series win in 1977, but he was also troubled by alcohol and other demons, as highlighted in Pennington's book.

Little General: Gene Mauch, a Baseball Life, Mel Proctor, April 1.
This one offers a look at Mauch, who is best known for his coaching stints with the California Angel. He also managed the Twins, Expos and Phillies and, although not as flamboyant as Billy Martin, Mauch was fiery and taunting of umpires and was ejected 43 times in his career.

Split Season: 1981: Fernandomania, the Bronx Zoo and the Strike That Saved Baseball, Jeff Katz, May 19.
The 1981 season began with Dodgers rookie pitcher Fernando Valenzuela wowing the crowds and Pete Rose chasing the National League hit record. But a strike midway through halted play for 712 games and forced then-commissioner Bowie Kuhn to create a playoff system based upon winners of each section. The book looks at the strike, free agency disputes, the system that angered fans and the rebirth of the popularity of the game once play resumed.

The Pine Tar Game: Baseball's Most Absurd and Entertaining Controversy, Filip Bondy, July 21.
A late-season release, this book details the July 24, 1983, contest between Kansas City and New York. We've all seen the video of George Brett going ballistic when umpires called him out after he hit a home run with a bat that Billy Martin said had too much pine tar on it. The call cost the Royals the game, but then was later overturned and the two teams resumed the game in the following month. According to a pre-release description, Bondy, who also wrote books on the 1984 NBA draft and the worst players, cheats and anecdotes in baseball, interviews several of the players involved to get fresh, time-added perspectives of that game.

Strangers in the Bronx: DiMaggio, Mantle, Andrew O'Toole, June 1.
O'Toole focuses on the 1951 New York Yankees season, the last for Joe DiMaggio and the first for Mickey Mantle. It was the passing of the hero title from Joltin' Joe to Mantle as the Yanks won the 1951 pennant. Fans also remember that Mantle was injured in the World Series that year, getting his cleat caught in an underground sprinkler while chasing a Willie Mays-hit fly ball that some say DiMaggio should have caught.

Five O'Clock Lightning: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and the Greatest Baseball Team in History, Harvey Frommer, April 1.
Whether you believe the 1927 New York Yankees are the best team in baseball history or not, this book should be a fun read of that season with Babe, Lou, Urban Shocker, Tony Lazzeri, Bob Meusel and Waite Hoyt. It was the season Ruth set the home run record of 60, which was more than any other American League team hit that year. They went on to sweep the Pirates in the World Series. I think any APBA baseball fan has wanted to do a replay of that season at some point.

Gil Hodges: A Hall of Fame Life, Mort Zachter.
This book was released on March 1; I received an advance copy in a drawing, so I was able to read it earlier. Zachter makes a case for placing Hodges in the Baseball Hall of Fame for both his playing career with the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers and his managing with Washington and the New York Mets. The book is full of anecdotes. Zachter writes that in 1950, rookie broadcaster Vin Scully wore Hodge's baseball uniform during spring training one day and was approached by two youngsters who thought he was Hodges. Scully, thinking he didn't want to ruin their image of Hodges, signed Hodge's autographs for them. The book also really notes well, I thought, the change in Hodges after he went from playing to managing. This was one of the better baseball biographies I've read in a while.

There are plenty of baseball books coming this year. These are only a few, but when you put the dice down and are looking for a book to continue the sports obsession, give any of these some consideration. Happy reading.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

One Year Into 1950 Replay

A year ago today, on March 7, 2014, I began the 1950 APBA baseball replay, rolling a game between Pittsburgh and St. Louis. The Pirates won, 5-3, and I embarked on the long journey that these replays take us on.

This one, however, is taking a bit longer. A year later, today, I finished another Cardinals' game. They beat Cincinnati, 3-2, in 10 innings when rookie outfielder Johnny Lindell (Correction: see comments below) slapped a single and drove in Stan Musial for the win. It was the 885th game so far of the replay.

In the past, I could knock out a season like this in nine or 10 months. There were only 16 teams in the league back then and each played 154 games. There were 1,232 games played in a full season replay and I used to play at a good clip.

But this time, I've averaged playing 2.4 games a day for the year. If I keep the same pace, I won't finish the 1950 season until mid July. The pace must be picked up a tad since there are many more seasons left for me to delve into.

I look back over this past year of replay and realize a lot had happened while I rolled the dice. My APBA cat of 8 years got sick and had to be put to sleep in January, which broke my heart. I completed five years of bankruptcy hell, emerging scarred but intact, I covered a year's worth of news for the newspaper where I work and I got baptized. It was a busy year and life sometimes interferes with the games.

And it's funny how we note the passage of time by playing a game with players from the past and a season that already has happened.

This 1950 replay has been a good one. It's not a burnout that's kept my pace slower than before. I've reached Aug. 13 in the season and the Yankees are beginning to pull away. Still, the American League is fun to watch. Joe DiMaggio is having a great season, there's Ted Williams for the Red Sox and the Detroit Tigers are doing their best to make it a pennant race, albeit a little later.

In the National League, the New York Giants have suddenly become the front runners. The team lurked in the middle for much of the season, behind the surprising Boston Braves and the equally shocking Pittsburgh Pirates. But they are fading and the Giants, behind Sal Maglie on the mound and the bats of Alvin Dark, Bobby Thomson and Hank Thompson, have taken the lead by three game now. I'll post a full update here soon.

So, I will continue on.

But the rate of play must quicken. I looked through my still unplayed seasons remaining to be replayed and caught a hard reality of mortality. If I maintain the pace I am on of 2.4 games a day, with 14 baseball seasons I left to replay, it will take me 27.88 years to play them all. That means I will have to live until 82 to finish every season I own. And that doesn't even take in consideration the basketball, football and hockey games I have as well.

The game has been with me since I was 17, and looks like it's here for a long time still.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Home Towns

One of the interesting things ABPA does on the cards it makes for its sports games is to include the birth towns of each of the players.

It's a small detail, like the birthdate, the height and weight and if the player throws and bats right or left-handed. But it adds to the enjoyment of the game and it helps us get to know the players we spend time with in our replays a bit better.

So, as I roll the 1950 baseball replay that I've been doing for almost a year now, I've also been paying attention to the hometowns of these players and, because I've got ample time apparently, I've looked up more information on some of these places.

For starters, I went through all the cards to see who hails from my state of Arkansas. I knew George Kell, the Detroit Tigers' third baseman came from Swifton, Ark., a small farming community about 30 miles from where I live. I got to meet Kell years ago at a high school basketball tournament in his town. But I didn't know one of his teammates, pitcher Marlin Stuart, came from Paragould, Ark., some 20 miles north of here. I wondered if the two grew up playing American Legion baseball together, which is popular here.

That led to finding other Arkansans in the 1950 replay. I discovered six other Arkansas towns were represented by the players, including Hank Wyse's community of Lunsford, Ark., which is only about 10 miles from where I live. Wyse was a pitcher for the hapless Philadelphia As in my replay.

Johnny Sain, the ace of the 1950 Boston Braves team, was born in Havana, Ark., which is not to be confused with Havana, Cuba, where White Sox relief pitcher Luis Aloma was born. If either pitcher needed a catcher from the homeland, Mike Guerra of the As would step in, although Sain may have trouble communicating since Guerra was from Havana, Cuba, and Sain spoke Arkansan.

And speaking other countries, Bobby Thomson leads the all-star foreign team. A year after the replay which I'm doing, Thomson, on Oct. 3, 1951, hit the “shot heard round the world” when he went yard against the Giants and led the Dodgers to win the pennant, win the pennant. Thomson was from only about a quarter 'round the world, coming from Glasgow, Scotland.

The Phillies' outfielder Elmer Valo was born in Rybnik, Czechoslovakia, and Cleveland spot starter Mario Pieretti, of course, came from Lucca, Italy.

Others stood out as well simply because of their towns.

Ray Mueller, a catcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates, was born in Pittsburg, Kansas. He was just short of an 'h' of spelling his team's town correctly. Maybe he should have gone to school with Eldred Byerly, a Cincinnati Reds pitcher who grew up in Webster Groves, Mo., which was immortalized in that old NBC show about a teacher in the town, Lucas Tanner.

All but Cleveland, Washington and the Boston Red Sox had players born in the towns where they played. Philadelphia had seven players — four for the American League As and three for the Phillies. New York had six players claiming the Big Apple as their home; four played for the Yankees and one each took the field for Brooklyn and the Giants.

Dave Philley and William Eddie Robinson were born within seven months of each other in 1920 in Paris, Texas. The town became the title of a 1984 movie staring Harry Dean Stanton who wanders out of a desert after four years of being lost. Philley and Robinson found found themselves 30 years later in Chicago where they were teammates for the White Sox. Later, Philley was traded several times and ended up with the National League Philadelphia team. Yes, Philley was a Phillies.

And finally, I found that two Cardinals teammates, Del Rice and Rocky Nelson, were both born in Portsmouth, Ohio. The town was home of the Spartans in 1930, an NFL team that played the first night game against the football Brooklyn Dodgers that year. The Spartans soon after moved to Detroit to become the Lions.

Portsmouth, Ohio, obviously bred baseball players. Along with Nelson and Rice, the berg perched on the Ohio and Scioto rivers, was home to Larry Hisle, Josh Newman, Al Oliver, Gene Tenace and Branch Rickey.

It was also, according to the Cleveland Plains Dealer in an April 4, 2012, story, a town with one of the highest prescription drug addiction rates in the country. An Ohio law allowed physicians to prescribe oodles of pain medication provided their patients were documented as being in “intractable pain.” The six pain clinics in Portsmouth dispensed nearly 35 million pain medication pills a year, the story said.

So, those who couldn't hit a fast ball in Portsmouth, apparently hit the speedball of a Vicodin and Oxycontin mix.

So, replayers, while you're looking at the players' ratings or, in later issues, their stats, that are printed on the APBA cards, check out their home towns. You can learn something.