Sunday, August 30, 2015

1991 Replay Begins; Leaving Lubbock Memories

Like every good story, this one involves a girl. And a dust storm, a failed attempt at earning a PhD, a sports bar, a trailer hitch, heartbreak, Texas-style flatulence and a return trip home.

But, there was also sports and, as any sports obsessed fan will say, there is always sports. In the unsteady horizontal projection of life, sports is on the stable conveyor belt that accompanies our path and weaves into our own lives.

So, as I begin replaying the 1991 APBA baseball season, I think back on that year now. It's what we do. When APBA baseball game replayers chose seasons to replay, we often give weight to those we grew up with or that we had some important connection with. Sure, the game company offers every season ever played, and the lure of rolling games with the 1927 New York Yankees or the 1906 Chicago Cubs — two seasons that, despite my shock o' grey hair, that I was not alive for — are intriguing.

For the past two years and four months, I replayed the 1942 and 1950 baseball seasons and while they were they were fun and historically educational, there wasn't that personal context. Now there is.

In 1991, I was teaching English at a university in my town and entertained the idea of advancing that vocation by earning a PhD. A girl I was seeing at the time had just been accepted to a masters program at Texas Tech University in Lubbock. Because I am a romantic idiot, I applied there and was promptly denied because, well, anyone who has read my stuff here for a while can get the idea. An English PhD involves Shakespeare, critical analysis of classics and couth. I write about sports, stinky worms and farts.

When I was rejected, the girl seemed saddened. I thought maybe, just maybe, it could be the fact she thought of missing me. Later, I learned she feared missing the Draw-Tite receiver trailer hitch with full lighting package that I installed on the back of my vehicle to haul her stuff westward.

I wrote a pleading letter to the folks at the university and actually bluffed my way into the PhD program. They gave me tuition, room and board in a dorm and a teaching position. I was soon to be a Texan.

When I arrived in Lubbock, I was promptly greeted with a sand storm of epic proportions. It was one of those events where three days later you were still emptying sand from your shoes and spittin' grit. I sought refuge in a mall bathroom during the crux of the storm and a cowboy father-son combo suddenly jingle-jangled in, taking two stalls. One — I'm not sure which — made a noise akin to a Browning 686 over and under shotgun on the west Texas prairie. The other responded with the sound of a brahma bull's last words before castration.

Of course, I laughed. (Admit it, you would, too). Tex, or maybe it was Tex Jr., asked from behind the stall what was the source of my amusement. “Dang,” I said. “They're right. Everything is big in Texas!”

Despite my intro to Texas culture, I began teaching English I and II while taking courses of my own there. I'm not making this up, but I worked on a research project that involved the beginning of internet messaging and the use of grammar. (You can thank me the next time you chat a friend and ask “Wht r u doin, dawg.") I lived in a dorm with a roommate 10 years younger. I graded students' essays, panicked on my own assignments and tried to become accustomed to the routine.

Meanwhile, the girl had developed her own new routine involving another student. She basically told me to take a hike; she was infatuated with the guy. The guy, who was in her class, was the son of a rich cattle farmer. I couldn't compete with that. He also wore shorts, sandals and black socks a lot. I thought I had him beat there, but such is the folly of love.

So, in that lost, heartbreak way, I started heading off campus a lot to drown my sorrows. I found a golf course bar where I ended up, watching sports on the television, and downing heavy-vermouthed martinis with Hispanics.

But as all of this hit the fan, baseball kept going on. And the Minnesota Twins, my favorite team, were winning a lot. They were in first place that fall and, despite the troubles I endured, I was aware of it. I would catch games on television at times or read about it in the local paper. When the girl's parents came to the airport, I went to pick them up and I fed quarters in the coin-operated televisions there to watch games while waiting for their plane to arrive.

And I saw most of the American League playoffs at that sports bar as the Twins dispatched Toronto in five games.

Finally, I had enough and quit school in October and, on a travel day between Games 2 and 3 in the World Series, I hit the road and fled back to my mother's home in Arkansas to regroup.

The Twins won the Series and it eased the transition a lot. Sports came through yet again. I watched Kirby Puckett hit the Game 6 homer in the 11th inning that is the Twins' greatest moment in team history. And I stayed at my mom's for Game 7 to see Jack Morris go 10 innings to beat Atlanta. I left the next morning for my new journalism job.

A few months later, the girl got married to the guy, but it didn't last. I mean, who couldn't see that coming? The guy was wearing shorts, sandals and black socks. That's grounds for annulment in 16 states.

At the time, it was hurtful, but baseball and the Twins were there ... as sports teams always are for their fans. Now, looking back and beginning this 1991 season, I see that Texas adventure more as annoyance and silliness. It gives me more sources for writing about stuff. So I will enjoy replaying this and really seeing how the Twins' season developed more closely.

And hopefully, I won't be interrupted by any dust storms or Texas-sized farts.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

1950 Replay World Series Recap

Just as they did in the real 1950 World Series, the New York Yankees won my APBA replay Series with hitting in key moments and pitching. In the replay, the Yankees defeated the Brooklyn Dodgers, four games to two. In the actual Series, the Yanks shut out Philadelphia in four straight games.

It was a long replay for me to do, despite fewer games to play than a more modern season. And a lot happened during the replay in my own life. My cat of seven years got sick and in January I lost her. She was a part of the replays, often sitting in the same room, watching me roll and hoping for an errant dice to fall off the table to chase. A huge wind storm, or duracho, hit my home last June, tearing off shingles, causing leaks and gaining me a new roof. I continued writing stories at my newspaper and life went on, just as the games did.

There's always that odd, bittersweet feeling after completing a season, too. The players, the cards, become commonplace. I know the St. Louis Browns' 1950 starting line up. I don't even know the 2015 St. Louis Cardinals' lineup. We live these replays. Finishing the season and placing the cards back into their envelopes and then storing them in their boxes is sad. But then there's always another season to delve into, which I will soon,

Anyway, here's the game-by-game recap of the 1950 APBA World Series. The home team is in capital letters:

Game 1
New York 11 BROOKLYN 9
The Yankees took a 5-1 lead after three, but the Dodgers came back, bolstered by Gil Hodges' two home runs. His second, in the sixth inning, gave the Bums a 9-8 lead. But, foreshadowing Ralph Branca's trouble in the real 1951 playoff series between his Dodgers and the New York Giants, he got in trouble in my game. He loaded the bases in the top of the ninth before Gene Woodling hit a sacrifice fly to tie the game. Phil Rizzuto and Yogi Berra then hit singles, scoring two and giving New York the win.

Game 2
New York 4 BROOKLYN 3
Joe DiMaggio hit his first of four home runs in the Series in the first inning, giving his Yanks the early lead again. But Brooklyn responded with three of their own runs in the bottom of the frame. The score stood until the sixth inning when Billy Johnson doubled in one run and Jerry Coleman plated Johnson with an ensuing single. Vic Raschi went the distance, giving up five hits and striking out six for the win.

Game 3
NEW YORK 2 Brooklyn 1
This was the game that gave DiMaggio the MVP of the Series. The Dodgers, with Preacher Roe on the mound, held a 1-0 lead and had two outs in the ninth when Joltin' Joe came to bat. Phil Rizzuto, who ended up batting .417 for the six-game Series, stood on second. Roe struck out Yogi Berra for the second out and now faced DiMaggio. DiMaggio's dice roll came up as a “5,” which translated into a home run with a runner on second. Game over. The ending echoed Roe's season. Despite his “B” rating on his card, Roe seemed to lose a lot of games in last-play ways. I met Roe once in a West Plains, Mo., restaurant, interrupting his Mexican meal to talk about the Bobby Thomson home run of 1951 that he saw while in the dugout. I felt bad for his season in my replay.

Game 4
Brooklyn 13 NEW YORK 1
The Dodgers' bats came alive and saved a sweep. Whitey Ford was chased after two innings, giving up seven runs and Duke Snider, Roy Campanella and Billy Cox (that's one of the joys of playing ABPA... actually being able to say that phrase).

Game 5
Brooklyn 14 NEW YORK 1
Again, the Dodgers dominated New York and, after seeing the outburst of hits, I wondered if this could go to seven games. Snider drove in four runs, Hodges hit a three-run homer and Jackie Robinson had two RBIs of his own. Only DiMaggio's home run in the seventh kept the Yankees from being shut out.

Game 6
New York 5 BROOKLYN 0
Realizing who they were, the Yankees took control of the game early and shut down the Dodgers quickly. DiMaggio hit a two-run shot in the third off Carl Erskine and New York never looked back. Raschi had his second complete game of the series, giving up only one hit and striking out six.

In fact, an argument could be made that Raschi deserved the Series MVP. But, in my opinion, DiMaggio earned it with his .304 average, four home runs, seven RBIs and six runs scored.

Snider led the Dodgers with a .333 batting average, two home runs and five RBIs.

So, the 1950 season is completed. The cards are stored and the 1991 season is about to begin. I've done my obsessive-compulsive routine of handwriting each team's full schedule on paper and creating stat pages for home runs and pitching wins, losses and saves.

It'll be a change. For the first time in a few years, I'll roll games for the Minnesota Twins. There'll be DH players; Cal Ripken for the Orioles; Nolan Ryan pitching; Kirby Puckett, Kent Hrbek and Dan Gladden batting in my games. There are so many more games in a more modern season to roll, and this will take a long time to play. As I've said before, beginning a replay is embarking on a journey. This will be a long one, but with the dynamics of this season and the change I'll make from baseball more than half a century ago, it'l be an enjoyable one.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Replay Season's End; The 1950 World Series Are Set

The regular season of my 1950 APBA baseball replay ended today when Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Granny Hamner grounded out to Brooklyn Dodgers' second baseman Jackie Robinson.

Robinson scooped the dribbler up, tossed it over to Gil Hodges and the Dodgers grabbed the pennant, taking it by one game over the New York Giants. Dodgers catcher Roy Campanella drove in three runs, including one on a second-inning home run, and Brooklyn won, 4-2.

That, coupled with a New York Giants loss in the game before, punched Brooklyn's ticket to the World Series to face the New York Yankees.

It was the closest finish to a replay I've ever done. The Dodgers and Giants were tied going into Oct.1, 1950, the last day of the season. It was almost foreshadowing what really happened in 1951 when the two teams faced off in the memorable playoff and Bobby Thomson hit the home run and the Giants won the pennant, the Giants won the pennant.

But it wasn't to happen in my replay. In the first contest, the Giants took the lead over Boston, 1-0, and held it through five innings. But Walker Cooper hit a two-run homer off Giants starter Jim Hearn in the top of the sixth. Cooper added an RBI single in the eighth and Vern Bickford pitched a complete game for the Braves and won 3-2.

Philadelphia actually led the Dodgers twice in the season's final game, but couldn't contain Campanella.

So, the 1950 season ended in a great finale. The APBA game is simplistic in that it uses cards and dice and basic rules; a game can be completed in 15 minutes, but the results of these games are pretty complex. I spent the week doing the “What-ifs” and figuring out how four teams could end up winning the National League with only a few days remaining to play.

Here are the final standings:

New York      106  48   -
Boston             95  59 11
Cleveland        91  63 15
Detroit             90  64 16
Washington     64  90 42
St. Louis          62  92 44
Philadelphia     57 97 49
Chicago            51 103 55

Brooklyn         87  67    -
New York        86  68    1
Boston             85  69    2
St. Louis          85  69    2
Pittsburgh        79  75    8
Philadelphia    76  78   11
Chicago           64  90   23
Cincinnati        55  99   32

Remember, I didn't keep full stats. At times, lots of times really, I regret that. But I mostly play the games for the peace they bring at the time and the standings. I've always loved standings and watched them daily in the Minneapolis Tribune when I was a toddler. I still love them.

Here are the leaders of the limited stats I did keep:
American League
Home runs: 41- J. DiMaggio. NYY; 37- Stephens, Bos; 36- Mize, NYY; 34- Williams, Bos, and Rosen, Cle.
Wins: 23-3– Wynn, Cle; 23-4– Lopat, NYY; 22-6– Houtteman, Det.
Saves: 19– Calvert, Det; 18- Page, NYY; 15- Aloma, Chi; 9- Hooper, Phil.

National League
Home runs: 46- Kiner, Pit; 43- Sauer, Chi; 37- Snider, Bro; 35- Ennis, Phil; 34- Pafko, Chi.
Wins: 23-7- Newcombe, Bro; 21-10- Chambers, Pitt; 20-7- Maglie, NYG.
Saves: 27- Konstanty, Phil; 16- Brazle, StL; 15- Hogue, Bos; 14- Werle, Pit; 11- Leonard, Chi.

Before I began this replay, I looked over the cards, as we APBA guys always do, and, based on the numbers on the cards, I expected the Yankees and the Dodgers to be the front runners for their pennants. It ended up that way, but not without the drama that ensues during a good season.

Now, the World Series are next. It's late here and, although I'm cranking Fleetwood Mac and Pink Floyd on the stereo as I write, I ought to consider sleep; the cards are in their envelopes waiting for the contest to begin. Eighteen months and a day after I began this journey, the 1950 season draws near a close. But the new questions are ahead. Will DiMaggio have a Series to remember? Will Roy Campanella continue his pace? Will pitching — stellar on both teams during the regular season— be the main story?

Friday, August 7, 2015

The Last Day: All Tied Up

On the next to the last day of the 1950 APBA baseball season I'm replaying, home runs were the lead story. And when the baseballs all cleared the fences, two National League teams were left tied for first place with one day remaining.

I've played 1,224 games and have reached Oct. 1, 1950, in this replay that I began on March 7, 2014. It comes down to the last two games I've got scheduled for the day to determine who faces the Yankees in the World Series. Either the Brooklyn Dodgers or the New York Giants will represent the National League when these games are completed.

For those not initiated in the APBA game, a brief recap: The game uses cards that replicate baseball players' stats for a particular season. An APBA player rolls dice, matches the result to numbers on the player card and then checks those results to corresponding numbers in a play book. It may sound repetitive, but it's actually an ingenious game that has given me and scores of others a lot of enjoyment.

It gives us opportunities to recreate baseball seasons and to make our own history in the alternate world the game creates.

All that to say that going into Sept. 30, 1950, in my replay, Brooklyn led the Giants by one game and Boston by two games.

It all came down to home runs.

In Game 1,220, the Boston Braves took a 2-0 lead over New York in the fifth inning as Warren Spahn held the Giants to three hits. But in the bottom of the fifth, Spahn walked Carroll Lockman with two outs and gave up a single to Ray Mueller, moving Lockman to third. Giants' first baseman Monte Irvin then launched one out of the Polo Grounds, giving his team a 3-2 lead. Sal Maglie held that lead, giving up only two hits in the ensuing four innings and won his 20th game of the season.

Later, in Game 1,224, Brooklyn took a 4-0 lead after two innings against hapless Philadelphia.The Phillies won the National League in the real baseball season, but in my APBA replay they have been very subpar and the best they can finish the season is with a 77-77 record.

In the top of the fourth inning, the home runs returned. Del Ennis opened the inning with his 35th homer of the season. Willie Jones followed immediately with his 23rd home run and the Phillies tied the game at three. After two outs, Mike Golait popped his 10th home run of the season to give his Phillies the lead for good.

Now, both the Dodgers and the Giants have records of 86-67. The Giants host the Braves again in Game 1,231 and Brooklyn is home for the season finale against Philadelphia in Game 1,232.

Home runs prevailed in the last games, will they again? Will there be a Bobby Thomson moment for the Giants? Will Gil Hodges or Duke Snider or Jackie Robinson come through for the Dodgers? And, if the two teams were to each win, or each lose, there'll be a playoff and more chances for heroics.

The possibilities are what makes me return to the dice each day and roll, waiting to see how it plays out.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Two Days Left: The 1950 Season Nears its End

With two days left in the 1950 baseball season in the APBA replay I'm doing, three teams still have a chance to win the National League pennant. There's no chance for a three-way tie; I've done the math and figured out all the possibilities. But, still, there are a lot of ways this plays out.

Regardless who wins, they will play the New York Yankees in the 1950 replay World Series. The Yankees wrapped the American League title up long ago and with two games remaining against Boston, they lead the Red Sox by 11 games.

So, the focus is on the National League and the two days remaining — Sept. 30 and Oct. 1.

Here are the upper tier standings for the N.L. as of Sept. 29:

Brooklyn    86 66   -
New York   85 67  1
Boston        84 68  2
St. Louis     83 69  3

The Cardinals would have been in the mix as well, but losing three of their last four games put them out of the race.

Here are the remaining games with the contenders: and a breakdown of them.

Sept. 30
Boston (Spahn 19-9) at New York Giants (Maglie 19-7)
Philadelphia (Miller 14-13) at Brooklyn (Roe 13-14)

Oct. 1
Boston (Bickford 16-12) at New York Giants (S. Jones 8-15 or Hearn 11-4)
Philadelphia (Church 8-10) at Brooklyn (Palica 12-12)

The first game between the Braves and Giants features two pitchers vying for their 20th wins. In a season where walks seem extremely high, Spahn has done well with the strikeouts. Maglie, nicknamed the “Barber” because of his penchant for throwing 'close shaves' at batters, has had his share of the Ks this season, too.

In the second game, I've not decided who to put on the mound for the Giants. I guess it depends on how the games go the day before. If Brooklyn wins and New York loses on Sept. 30. the Dodgers will win the pennant. If Brooklyn loses that first game, I'll probably use Hearn for the Giants since he's a better rated pitcher.

Philadelphia, which has had a very disappointing season at 75-77, could be the spoiler. In the real baseball season, the Phillies won the pennant and faced the Yankees in the Series. In the APBA replay, despite having Del Ennis and his 34 home runs and Jim Konstanty's 26 saves, the Phillies seemed destined to lose close games. They've lost 21 one-run games in the replay and 35 two-run or less games. And check this out. The Phillies have scored 771 runs in the replay. They gave up 773 runs. They are 11 games out of first place, but had they scored, say, two dozen more runs, they may have been challenging Brooklyn now.

Obviously, Brooklyn is the favorite. Duke Snider has 37 home runs this year, and after starting out slowly, Gil Hodges has stepped up with 24 home runs. The downside to them is a weak bullpen. Their relievers, which include John Banta, Ralph Branca, Dan Bankhead, Bud Podbielan and Carl Erskine, are all “D-rated” pitchers, which is the lowest rating APBA gives pitchers in the basic game.

If Brooklyn builds up a big lead, they don't seem to be in much trouble. But rely on that bullpen to hold a one- or two-run lead late in the game and it's a whole different ballgame, as they say.

All that to say this is one of many reasons we play APBA. I've been rolling the dice for this 1950 replay since March 7, 2014. Now, 17 months and 1,217 games later, it comes down to four games. And a neat thing about those of us who play APBA — We know the games are not real, but we revel in them as if they are. I keep one of my Facebook friends advised of the games' outcomes. Scott Schihl of near Toronto asks via the chat option on the social media how the teams are doing and offers his take on the proceedings. We act like the games are real, two guys just talkin' about sports. But, since he plays the game like I, he gets it and sees how these games are addictive and fun to ponder over.

Again, the recap: If Brooklyn wins on Sept. 30 and New York loses to Boston, it's over. We'll have a Subway Series. If Brooklyn loses both games against Philadelphia and New York beats Boston twice, the Giants are National League champs. If the Dodgers lose two and Boston sweeps the Giants, Brooklyn and the Braves will be tied for first at the end of the season.

It's time to roll the dice and see what happens.