Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Books and Replays

I was about 75 percent through reading “The Colonel and Hug,” the Steve Steinberg and Lyle Spatz book about Jacob Ruppert, Miller Huggins and the birth of the Yankee dynasties, when I did what I usually do when reading a baseball book.

As I learned about the sale of Babe Ruth to the Yankees in December 1919, the Yanks' first World Series teams and players like Lou Gehrig, Joe Dugan, Bob Shawkey and Waite Hoyt, I caught myself thinking about doing an APBA baseball replay from the late 1920s. I went to the game company's website, looked at the rosters for the 1927 season and checked, a great baseball website, for more information about that year. I scanned the standings and league leaders and I inspected the box scores for various teams.

It's a common occurrence. Whatever era I am reading about at the time generally sparks an interest in doing that season's replay. That's one of the draws of the game we play. Immersing oneself into a replay season enhances the reading. It's almost a three-dimensional approach. We read about Babe Ruth, say, in Robert Creamer's biography of the Babe, but we can also replicate his career at the plate by rolling the dice and playing the game.

It happens a lot.

I want to roll the 1969 season whenever I read Jim Bouton's classic “Ball Four.” I itch to replay something in the 1930s when I delve into Creamer's bio on Joe DiMaggio and the 1980s become the interest when I read Keith Hernandez's “If At First.”

I bought the 1919 APBA baseball season immediately after reading Al Stump's questionable biography of Ty Cobb. On the inverse, I bought Tom Kelley's book 'Season of Dreams,” about the 1991 Minnesota Twins' drive to the World Series after I got the 1991 APBA baseball season to play. And I found a battered paperback of Vida Blue's biography in a used bookstore specifically to read while I did a replay of the 1972 season.

I've done a few book reviews here before and offered various suggested readings for various era replays. I think it goes hand-in-hand. Those of us who spend months, years, doing replays, also read a lot. Sports history and biographies are probably some of the replayers' staple material.

While I finished “The Colonel and Hug,” which was a well-researched book (the details of the death of Huggins was rather short, though: “Huggins got sick. He died. New chapter.”), I thought about getting that 1927 season. I have another baseball book on deck to read next, though. “Big Data Baseball,” by Travis Sawchik, a “Moneyball” look at the 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates' first winning season in 20 years, may motivate me to grab that season's replay from APBA.

First, though, I need to finish the 1950 replay. Then it's on to 1991 and Tom Kelley's book.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Two Doubleheaders: Sept. 4, 1950

When you reach Labor Day in an APBA baseball replay, you know the season is drawing to a close and each game takes on more importance. Teams only have about 20 to 25 games left to play and the pennant races are taking final shape.

If you make it this far in a replay, it's a landmark, a milestone and a motivation to continue on to see how the season turns out.

In my 1950 replay, the New York Yankees have all but captured the American League pennant. As of Sept. 4, 1950, the team is 9 games in front of Boston with a 93-40 record. Unless I see the biggest collapse in any replay I've ever done, the Yanks should soon be selling World Series tickets.

But the National League is a different story, and two doubleheaders on the 1950 Labor Day took on the big-game feel.

Brooklyn traveled to Boston for two while Philadelphia hosted the league-leading Giants.

When Sept. 4 began, here were how the four teams fared in the standings:

NY Giants 75-55
Boston 72-57
Brooklyn 71-58
Philadelphia 63-70

It's been a close race during the season. Boston led for much of the way, but the Giants, with Sal Maglie on the mound and Monte Irvin at bat, surged ahead in mid-August. The games had the pennant-race feel to them.

Brooklyn at Boston
Game 1 – Don Newcombe pitched the entire game for the Dodgers and Johnny Sain lasted eight innings for Boston before he gave up four runs. The teams were scoreless through five innings. Sain was perfect through the first three innings and only gave up a double to Duke Snider through five innings.

But in the sixth, Brooklyn scored two and then added four more runs on singles and sacrifice flies. It wasn't an impressive slugfest for the Bums, but they took the victory, 6-0. Newcome earned his 20th victory of the season.

Game 2 – Gil Hodges slammed a home run in the second, giving the Dodgers a 2-0 lead that held through eight and two-third innings. Preacher Roe gave up only four hits, but Warren Spahn hurled a masterpiece of his own, giving up five hits while on the mound.

The Dodgers were hoping for a second shutout, but with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Earl Torgeson slapped a single and Bob Elliott, the Braves' third baseman who had gone 0 for 7 in the two games up to that point, launched his own homer into the Braves Field bleachers. The game headed into extra innings knotted at 2 apiece.

In the tenth inning, Tommy Brown hit a Bobby Hogue pitch into the stands and the Bums led, 4-2. Dan Bankhead picked up his 10th save and the Dodgers swept Boston. Now they had to see how the Giants would do.

New York Giants at Philadelphia
Game 1 – As the first NASCAR race began in Darlington, S.C., on Sept. 4, 1950, the Phillies were taking the field in Shibe Park some 550 miles to the north. New York took a quick 2-0 lead after the Giant's half of the first, but Philadelphia battled back, scoring lone runs in the second and fourth innings, both on sacrifice flies by Mike Golait. But Monte Irvin drove in two runs in the fifth inning for the Giants and New York held on to win, 6-4.

Game 2 – The Phillies, which won the National League pennant in real life that year, have been a frustrating team to replay. The frustration mounted again after they built a 10-3 lead in the seventh and then watched in horror as the Giants began chipping away.

Philadelphia starter Ken Johnson opened the eighth by walking Eddie Stanky and then giving up a single to Don Mueller. Irvin then hit a double and drove them both in and forcing Phillies manager Eddie Sawyer to go to the bullpen. But Blix Donnelly was shelled as well, loading the bases before catcher Wes Westrum stroked a double and cleared the bases. He struck out Stanky, though, ending the inning and Philadelphia still led, 10-9.

After a scoreless bottom of the eighth, Sawyer called Jim Konstanty in to end the game. Konstanty is one of the few bright spots on this replay team and he came through yet again, getting a pop out and two fly outs to end the game and earn his 23rd save.

So, after the two doubleheaders, the standings changed to reflect this:

New York 76-56
Brooklyn 73-58
Boston 72-59
Philadelphia 64-71

When the day was over, Brooklyn picked up one game on the Giants and are two and a half games behind. The Dodgers travel to Philadelphia next for a two-game series and then on to the Polo Grounds for two against the Giants. The Braves head to New York for their own two-game series. They will also play the Giants on Sept 23 and 24 in Boston and then end the season with two more games in New York.

It looks like this could go down to the wire, and the games in the National League bear watching closely as the season continues.

Friday, May 1, 2015

That Smell

Ooooh that smell
Can't you smell that smell
Ooooh that smell.
The smell of death surrounds you.
That Smell, Lynyrd Skynyrd

I've always been either blessed or cursed with a good sense of smell. It probably compensates for the poor vision I've had; it's somewhat like the bear — he can't see 10 feet in front of him, but he can smell dinner walking around two miles away if the wind is right.

My heightened olfaction is a blessing when I smell things like chocolate cake baking or the lilacs bushes in the backyard of my ol' Minnesota home or a woman's good perfume. (To all of my ex-girlfriends who may stumble across this blog, you know what I'm talkin' 'bout.)

But it's the bane of bad as well. As a newspaper reporter, I've followed my nose, as they say, to find stories. Unfortunately, some of those stories have stunk. I had to shoot photographs of a guy police found dead in his shuttered up house after a week of 85-degree temperatures. And I caught a small plane crash one Christmas Eve in which the pilot burned up. It was so cold at the crash site that we actually huddled around the smoldering wreckage, warming our hands by the fire, when we detected the scent.

And once I did a story about some bacterial thing that killed thousands of fish in a small lake at a West Memphis, Ark., trailer park. (For news trivia fans, it was the same trailer park where Damien Echols of the West Memphis Three fame grew up). For some reason, I didn't consider the fact that thousands of dead fish in the summer weren't the most aromatic thing around.

My nose knows.

So, earlier this week when I entered my APBA room and caught a faint whiff of something not quite right, I became concerned. It smelled like a bad night at the burrito buffet, or the start of a skunk's artistry (fartistry?) At first, I thought maybe I had stepped in something and tracked it in. There's a pesky dog next door who thinks it's sport to deposit his treasures in tall tufts of grass and then laughs when I hit them unwittingly with the lawn mower.

As the day continued, the smell worsened. I looked outside to see if maybe some bovine had died behind the hedges by my house. Elsie's smellsie may have been wafting in through a closed window. Nope.

I did that self-checking thing in desperation. Did I do something and not realize it? Have I reached that age? But the stench remained in the room and when I left, the rest of the house smelled fine.

By evening, I couldn't play games in my 1950 APBA baseball replay. It was the first time I had a game cancelled on account of smell. I just couldn't bear to play the New York Stankees against the St. Louis Brown Stuffs. I could envision the baseball grounds crew coming in with cans of Glade air freshener and incense. Maybe I could hang a scented pine tree car freshener in the outfield.

The next day I lit a True Living Heavenly Home candle. It was cinnamon and cherry scented. I'm not that domesticated, but I had gotten one earlier for Christmas cheer. I lit it and waited, the scents of holiday glee mingled with the offensive reek.. It smelled like Martha Stewart farted.

I searched the room for any evidence, like if Jimmy Hoffa was buried under the desk.

And then, lo, I spotted it.

A long worm had died along the baseboard and stiffened, looking like a piece of licorice. A few weeks ago, we had heavy rains and worms were doing conga lines on my back patio. A few had actually slithered in through a gap in lose weather stripping. This one, apparently, slinkied itself all the way to the back room where I play the games and gave up the ghost.

And, apparently, when worms go on to the dirt clod in the sky, they leave behind an awful mess. The worm gave up the ghost, but I almost gave up lunch.

Fortunately, he had the presence to die with a bit of a hook-shaped twist on one end. I used a pen to haul it in, like using a Pick-up Sticks to grab a fish hook. No way was I going to actually touch that. I took it outside and put it in the trash can. I first considered driving to a town 40 miles away and tossing it in some truck stop restroom just to keep the stink away.

By nightfall the smell had pretty much cleared.

But even now, two days later, when I come into the room I think I can detect some hint of worm. It may be paranoia, it may be the heightened sense of smell I have kicking in again.

I'm keeping that Heavenly Home candle and a book of matches nearby just in case that stinky Slinky was traveling with his friends.