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Posts Tagged ‘Roberto Clemente’

“People ask me what I do in the winter when there’s no baseball.  I’ll tell you what I do.  I stare out the window and wait for spring.” – Rogers Hornsby

I originally thought of commenting on the World Series, but then realized that every baseball writer in the United States would be doing that.  Instead, I ask the question to every passionate baseball fan that I ask myself after the final out of the World Series: now what?  I don’t enjoy any other sport a tenth as much as I enjoy baseball.  What am I supposed to occupy myself with until spring training?  George Will summed up my opinion of football pretty well when he said, “football combines the two worst aspects of American society: violence punctuated with committee meetings.”  I do enjoy a good live basketball game, but can’t stand to watch the first three quarters of any NBA game or even the first 30 minutes of a college matchup (It also doesn’t help that my two teams – the Timberwolves and Gophers – aren’t at the top of their games lately.

Another sport isn’t going to hold me off.  I’ve come to accept this and have figured out the best ways to enjoy baseball without a single (meaningful) box score to look at until opening day.

Literature
By the end of the World Series, I’m in no way tired of watching baseball, but I am tired of staring the television for three hours a night and watching endless ads for ED drugs, beer and politicians who seem to think if I vote for their opponent, the United States will quickly come under Nazi regime.  There might be a two or three-day vacation from the game until I need my fix.  This is usually when I pick up some sort of baseball biography from my bookshelf or the library.  There is an almost endless number of books on baseball and rarely do I not enjoy one.  I can remember reading nine baseball books one offseason.

I sometimes wonder if I appreciate baseball more in the offseason when I read these books and the game is played out within my imagination.  I can imagine aspects of the game I was never able to see like Roberto Clemente throwing out a runner trying to get from first to third on a single, Babe Ruth hitting home runs at will and then downing a dozen hot dogs and sodas after the game, Bob Uecker catching fly balls during batting practice with a tuba or Sandy Koufax’s curveball dropping like it fell off a table.

Check out my Flashlight Worthy list of great baseball books to get fans through the offseason: http://www.flashlightworthybooks.com/Great-Baseball-Books-Fans/633.

Simulations
Many baseball fans like to play video games on their game system of choice.  For me, I don’t like my team’s ability to win or play well based on how well I can use a controller or my ability to read a pitch from the cartoon on my TV screen.  I can’t stand it when I play video games and I strike out on three pitches out of the strike zone and Albert Pujols is batting.  I think, “Pujols wouldn’t do that!  I would, but if this game were realistic, it wouldn’t let Pujols swing like Bobby Bonds.”

For me, I need realism in my baseball simulations so I turn to the dice game Strat-o-Matic (https://tripleinthegap.wordpress.com/2010/09/09/dungeons-and-dragons-for-baseball-nerds-like-myself)  and sometimes the computer game Baseball Mogul.  Baseball Mogul doesn’t have any real graphics, but does a pretty good job of simulating baseball in the view of a manager and/or general manager/owner.  The player can go through a century with one team and make all the moves from how the game is played on the field to the price of ice cream.

Video library
If it weren’t for the invention of DVDs, my 1991 World Series videotape would probably have worn out by now.  Before I got it on DVD, there was a glitch in the tape just after Kirby Puckett’s catch at the wall in game six from my constant stopping and rewinding.  I have a number of DVDs in my library, but thanks to Netflix, I have many more at my disposal.  Through Netflix, I can rent just about every DVD released by Major League Baseball, including full games of the 1975, 1979 and many other World Series.  Many people ask me how I can watch an entire baseball game I already know the outcome of.  There’s much to learn from watching those old games from Joe Morgan’s routine before every pitch to how the commentators have evolved.  Every game is divided into chapters by half inning, so the viewer can skip to the run-scoring innings.  But that just omits the good defense and pitching.

I’ve also downloaded a number of complete games from iTunes and can watch them on my computer as I wish.  Any classic game is usually available to download within 24 hours after its completion.

There’s also the Ken Burns baseball documentary.  Despite its length of over 18 hours, I seem to watch every winter.

Offseason news
I keep an eye on certain website’s baseball news like Ted Williams watched every pitched ball of his career.  As I go online, I go straight to sites like Yahoo!, Sports Illustrated and the Star Tribune.  Of course, I have these sites bookmarked, so I skip over the main sports page and usually find out how the Packers and Vikings via eavesdropping.

The negative aspect of the around-the-clock news on the internet is that official news rarely comes as a surprise to fans anymore.  When Roy Halladay was traded from the Blue Jays to the Phillies, the rumors had been flying for some time before it was announced.  Even after the rumors comes the news that there is going to be a press conference the next day and so-and-so is expected to be announced as the newest member of their new organization.  Minor trades and free agent signings still happen quickly to the fan, but I’m pretty sure there will be weeks of speculation before Cliff Lee and Carl Crawford sign with anyone this offseason.

Anything else
Whatever else I can do in the offseason to hold me over, I do.  I’ve gone to Twins Fest, an annual get together at the Metrodome which features current and former players as well as way too many merchandisers.  On occasion, I’ll grab my wood bat and take a few swings at the local indoor batting cages.  This usually results in waking up the next morning wondering why my ribs are so sore.  Twice I’ve flown to Arizona to watch spring training games.  My only issue with this is I wish it were in January.  By March, I’m less than a month from opening day and the weather in Wisconsin is beginning to thaw.  It’s the days in January when the high temperature is 2 and the sports pages are filled with the football playoffs that I really need an escape.

A longer offseason than usual for me
On a personal note, I will be moving to Thailand as a Peace Corps volunteer in January.  As far as I know, there is no baseball in Thailand.  How will I cope?  I don’t know other than reading books and keeping a close eye on the news via the internet.  Aside from friends and family, I know baseball will be what I miss the most.

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Some people play Dungeons and Dragons.  Some play Magic cards.  Some read horrible romance novels.  Some watch reality television.  Some people show up to Star Wars and Harry Potter premieres in costume.  

Me, I play Strat-o-Matic baseball.  I’m not ashamed because everyone does something dorky like this.  

For years, since I can remember loving baseball, I’d been trying to find a simulation game that encompasses the actual game.  Most of the time I was trying out baseball video games in hopes to getting an accurate representation of the game I loved.  I never cared about graphics or how real it looked – I only cared about how accurate it was statistically.  I needed something that let me be the manager. 

I found brushes with what I was looking for.  My friend Nick had a statistics based game for his Apple IIE called MLBPA Baseball, based on the 1986 season.  There were no graphics except a diamond draw out in green and the fielders and players who were on the field at the time.  I remember playing a game in which Greg Gagne hit two home runs.    

I loved playing the original Hardball!, but there were only two teams with fictional players and it was horribly inaccurate to the real game (only certain players could steal or hit home runs).  

Then there was Tony LaRussa Baseball for the PC.  It featured only retired players and it was the most realistic video game I’d played.  Sadly, you had to buy separate disks to get the AL and NL stadiums (about $15 apiece).  The gameplay was accurate and there was a coaching feature where you didn’t have to actually move the fielders.  You just had to make the calls from the dugout.  It was a great game, but died once my family’s computer became obsolete.  

High Heat Baseball for the PC wasn’t bad, but still wasn’t quite what I was looking for and the same can be said for MVP Baseball for the Gamecube.  I don’t care how much the batter really looks like Jason Bay.  I just want Jason Bay to hit like he did in 2004 and I want it to matter whether he’s facing Johan Santana or Kris Benson.  I want it to matter whether the ball is hit to Omar Vizquel or Jose Vidro.  There’s a difference.  

Then my girlfriend and I stopped by a board games store in the mall the autumn of 2004.  I’d heard stories of baseball games played with dice based on hitters and pitchers statistics, but never seen one.  It was there I finally found the most accurate baseball simulation – Strat-o-Matic.  My girlfriend bought it for me that Christmas after watching me drool over it in the mall.  When I showed it to Nick that evening, he said, “So, this is the sort of thing you need a 12-step program to get out of?”  I’ve been playing for six years and Nick’s statement couldn’t have been more accurate.  

What is Strat-o-Matic?  I like to tell people it’s Dungeons and Dragons for baseball nerds.  From afar, it looks insanely difficult and far too in-depth for the casual fan.  I’ve never played Axis and Allies, but I’d imagine that’s equally in-depth.  

When you get your Strat-o-Matic set, you get a separate card for each individual player from that respected year (mine was the 2004 season) with two sides to each card.  One side contains the information and statistics for the basic game and the other side is for the advanced and super advanced. 

After a thorough reading of the basic instructions, I began to play and instantly fell in love with the game.  It wasn’t long before I learned the advanced and eventually the super advanced.  Even though the first two games are accurate in their play, now that I’ve mastered the super advanced play, I’ll never go back and can’t stand playing a “lesser” game when playing with someone else.  

I’ll do my best to sum up how the super advanced game is played.  A hitter’s card has two sides to it.  One side is for when he’s facing a right-handed pitcher and the other for lefties with the numbers one, two and three headlining the columns.  It’s the same for a pitcher’s card, only it matters what side of the plate the batter is on with four, five and six on top of the columns.  A single die is rolled.  If the number is one, two or three, the outcome of the at bat will be based on the hitter’s card.  If it’s four, five or six, the outcome will  be based on the pitcher’s card.  Then two more dice are thrown.  The sum of the numbers will direct you to the corresponding number in the column in which the first die was thrown.  

(Click on photo to enlarge) Roberto Clemente's 1966 card. The left side (blue) is dedicated to if he's facing a lefty and the right is for right handers. In the upper left-hand corner you'll notice "rf-1(-5)". This means Clemente's range in right field is rated as 1 (the best) and his arm is a minus-five (also the best).

 

Sometimes the outcome will be something simple like “Fly LF(B)”.  This means, with no one on base, the batter has flown out to the left fielder – one out.  Simple, right?  Or maybe it will say “Strikeout” or “GB 2B(A)”.  The latter would mean, with no one on base, the batter grounds out to the second baseman.  

Every outcome is aligned with the probability of the sum of two dice.  The most likely sum of two dice is seven.  The second most likely is five or eight.  The least likely is 12 or two.  Let’s say a batter hit only three home runs over 600 plate appearances.  If he’s to hit a home run, a two or 12 would likely have to be thrown.  However, if a batter hit 45 home runs, the home run sum would likely be three or four.  

Strat-o-Matic also considers the fielders.  If an outcome says “GB SS(X)”, the “x” means the play will unfold based on the shortstop’s fielding range and ability.  Each infielder is rated on two fielding scales: range and errors.  Range is ranked from one (best) to five.  The probability a fielder will make an error is based on the number of errors he made that year.  

Sandy Koufax's 1966 card. Notice there aren't many hits or walks and many strikeouts.

 

Without explaining each rule, I’ll just mention everything that’s considered in a game of Strat-o-Matic baseball: an outfielder’s arm, a catcher’s arm, a pitcher’s ability to hold runners, a hitter’s hit-and-run and bunting ability, a baserunner’s speed,  ability to get a good lead for a stolen base and stolen base chances, a pitcher’s likelihood to commit a balk or wild pitch as well as his endurance, a catcher’s throwing error rate as well as his passed ball ratio and a hitter’s clutch-hitting ability.  Strat-o-Matic also takes into consideration the size of a ballpark and the likelihood for home runs and singles.  

There’s also a 20-sided die involved for most plays, which makes it even more geeky.  Just about every aspect of baseball is considered in Strat-o-Matic.  You can purchase many season sets from the dead-ball era through the 2009 season.  I own the 2004, 1966 (Koufax’s final year) and 1911 sets (Ty Cobb and Joe Jackson bat over .400).  For the 2004 set I took the top five teams in the leagues and made them give up their two best players to the bottom five teams in the league for better parity.  After dividing the teams into five divisions, I played out a small season of about 10 games apiece and had a playoff to determine the champ (Florida Marlins).  

For the 1966 season I left the teams as they were and created an unbalanced schedule with two divisions.  I wondered if I’d end up with a Baltimore vs. Los Angeles finals, but it played out differently.  The Twins ended up defeating the Astros in the finals.  

The main page of the Excel spreadsheet of my 1966 season. I split the leagues into two divisions and created an unbalanced schedule: one game against other division teams and three against own division rivals.

 

I’m a little over halfway through my 1911 season.  The AL half is done with the Philadelphia Athletics easily taking the pennant (much like what really happened). 

When I’m in the mood to play (usually in the fall and winter months), I’ll take in four or five games a week.  Playing a game includes throwing at least three dice for every at bat and scoring the game.  The depth of scoring is up to the player.  I started simply keeping track of wins and losses for each team, but have progressed to keeping basic hitting and pitching stats.  I keep hitting statistics for the first four or five batters in a lineup and all pitchers.  

I work nights and don’t have kids, so I’m usually up until at least four a.m.  What else am I going to do with my time in the middle of a Wisconsin winter after I’ve exercised, socialized with friends, watched a movie and read a book?   I read somewhere that baseball broadcaster John Miller honed his play-by-play skills playing Strat as a kid.  

It’s dorky, I know.  But when I think of the time I’ve spent over the statistics and simulated play, I think of other people using that time to watch Two and Half Men or read James Patterson novels or watch the first three quarters of an NBA game.  Then I realize that everyone wastes time in their life.  If you’re going to waste time, it might as well be with something you’re passionate about and doesn’t involve dampening your eyesight or dropping your brain cell count. 

My 1911 season so far. The American League schedule is complete and I've just started the National League.

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