History-making music group for UMM - morris mn

History-making music group for UMM - morris mn
The UMM men's chorus opened the Minnesota Day program at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair (Century 21 Exposition).

Thursday, August 7, 2014

All hail APBA baseball, a pre-digital board game

APBA card for Harmon Killebew
APBA baseball is a museum piece showing how nerds developed complicated systems in pre-digital times. It was a simulation baseball game. I'll use the past tense here. I won't even bother researching whether the game still exists. If it exists it's a curiosity, or should be one.
Computers can put together simulation models that would do rings around APBA. APBA and its rival Strat-o-Matic were the best for their time. It was cute the way the two took pot shots at each other, a la Macy's vs. Gimbel's in "Miracle on 34th Street." Game aficionados considered both decent. I chose APBA.
We all knew each game had its strengths and weaknesses. Some fans were quite obsessive and would kick and scream about certain apparent weaknesses. Major league baseball cannot be replicated with perfection in a board game. Yes, a board game with the typical accoutrements. We rolled the dice and went by numbers on player cards.
No doubt, the best hitters in real life would be the best in APBA. Pitchers were graded to yield appropriate performances. The game could not take into account all variables. I chose not to quibble on this stuff. In fact, I just appreciated having the APBA cards even if I chose not to play games.
You could argue the cards were more useful than the Topps kind. Once you got well-versed in APBA, you could size up a player within seconds just by "reading" his card. A defensive position or positions were specified along with numbers denoting fielding skill. A shortstop rated "9" was stellar. Outfielders were only rated up to "3" because of being judged less valuable than shortstops. An "F" rating for speed meant "fast." Tony Oliva was an "F" at the start of his career but at the sad end, ol' Tony could get thrown out at first on a liner that fell in.
A pitcher with an "X" was good at strikeouts. A "Y" meant moderately good in this regard. Ah, there was cleverness everywhere in this game. The creator, who it turns out stole his APBA concept from a precursor game, kept tweaking until he finally vented some frustration. I mean, he wanted his game to be easily playable for the newcomer. Trying for perfection made the game cumbersome and perhaps frustrating.
Dick Seitz was this creative person, a man of Pennsylvania. He may have "stolen" the basic concept of the game but he advanced it so far, we're inclined to forgive him. The original game way back did not even have pitcher ratings.
APBA was a game that really bloomed when my boomer generation was in its teens. We pined for something like that. We would have devoured computers if only tech had accommodated us. It took time to refine all that hardware discovered in that crashed UFO in the New Mexico desert (LOL). We made do with Dick Seitz's APBA and that "villain" rival, Strat-o-Matic.
Judge Charlie Glasrud told me he was a Strat-o-Matic guy. The hours we must have exhausted doing all this. Dave Barry once said there was "a fine line between having a hobby and mental illness." Silly rabbit, hobbies can be enriching. They yield intangibles. They can encourage mental discipline. 
 
Fascinating but difficult
APBA really required too much mental focus. It was easy to commit an oversight during a game. Any time you substituted, even with a relief pitcher, a team's defensive rating might be changed. If a pitcher pitched a certain number of consecutive scoreless innings, his rating was supposed to be bumped up. It would go down if he got rocked. We felt mental strain trying to keep track of all this.
Fundamentally, APBA was an easier game to appreciate in theory than in practice.
Flipping through a team's cards for a given year really gave you a sense of the composition of that team. You'll notice players you might have forgotten about. At a glance you'll notice if a player had an "up" year or "down" year. What I'm trying to say here is that APBA had a wealth of historical data, data that was much more fun to peruse than by consulting the dry "Baseball Encyclopedia."
"Oh, Bill Pleis pitched for that Twins team. Hey, he was really effective that year. Now I remember - he was nicknamed "Shorty!"
Nicknames were specified on the cards. Zoilo Versalles was supposedly called "Zorro" but I don't recall this from the Twins broadcasts. Halsey Hall never told me this. I remember when Herb Carneal tried nicknaming Rod Carew "Choo Choo" based on some train-related story from Rodney's childhood. But. . . Rodney must have put the kibosh on that.
I was never among the nitpickers for APBA. I accepted the game in its basic form. I was an aspiring sportswriter. All I ever asked of APBA was that it yield game results that looked authentic. And it did. It always did.
I always saw a well-written baseball game summary and that boxscore as a thing of beauty. I'd assemble these results in such a way as to try to project reality: as if the game had been actually played!
Seitz marketed the game with literature that shared summaries of World Series games based on the most recent World Series. When I bought the game, his review was of the 1969 Mets vs. Orioles - the matchup for that memorable World Series. This review was a rock-solid "alternate history." The Mets did win.
There is a whole school of writing called "alternate histories," for example, imagining how the Battle of Gettysburg could have turned out different. A well-known piece did in fact speculate on that, but it didn't have the Confederates winning! Anyone doing serious research would have a hard time weaving together a scenario where ol' Robert E. Lee would win. His army was depleted, exhausted and lacking resources. An alternate history of Gettysburg would have the Union wiping out the Army of Northern Virginia, because that was a real possibility. But that's easy for us to say in hindsight. Try going on the offensive when you're trying to take care of thousands of wounded men.
 
Useful tool for a writer
Playing APBA gave me a chance to "stretch my legs" as a sportswriter. I'd type boxscores and those game reviews on a. . .manual typewriter! Yes, it seems akin to caveman paintings. The "electric typewriter" wasn't much better. You had to use "white-out." Is it true that Michael Nesmith's mom invented "white-out" or "liquid paper?" (Nesmith was with the musical group "Monkees.")
Today, a simulation would be performed by the computer with the "game player" largely an observer, I suspect. And, a game boxscore could probably be printed out for you. In the '60s and '70s, the only electronic asset might be a table lamp. APBA was the equivalent of "unplugged" music - those organic acoustic guitars.
There were guys who claimed to have replayed whole seasons with APBA. Congrats to them - they can enjoy their hobby any way they want. But I suspect they raced through games with nine-man lineups and pitchers going the whole way. And, maybe they had mental illness! I'm joking, but I always played APBA in the opposite way, pondering lots of strategic moves and not seeking to rush through anything. I'd consider double-switches! I tried making the appropriate platooning decisions. This was especially tough. When I noticed a lefthanded batter who had, say, 350 at-bats, I had to ask: Was he platooned or was his playing time limited for other reasons? Was he hurt? Was he called up at mid-season?
One thing Mr. Seitz did to really tick off his customers, was to not issue cards for players who got traded for the stretch drive. A player like Tommy Davis wasn't much use to the 1969 Seattle Pilots in September. Some APBA players tried creating their own cards for players like Davis, using what they knew about the APBA formula.
Some nerds really went to work analyzing the formula. Apparently the game was a gold mine for math geniuses. I remember one such APBA player named Ron Mura. I wonder how ol' Ron is applying his genius today.
I remember a humor columnist for the APBA hobbyist publication. This guy with the gimlet eye was Dave Ouellette. I re-discovered him years later teaching for a small college in the Midwest.
The hobbyist publication was independent of the company. However, there was some symbiosis because the publication couldn't exist without a little flyer that was included with the game. I remember some tension growing between Seitz and that publication. The publication was a mouthpiece for the nitpickers too much of the time. Seitz just wanted to sell lots of games. He marketed to casual fans in addition to those arcane-minded nerds.
APBA had four standard game boards which covered various on-base situations. If you rolled a "66" (boxcars) with the bases loaded, your eyes would pop wide-open. Most likely you'd get a grand slam.
Those four game boards couldn't cover everything, so there was a "sacrifice and hit-and-run booklet." Yes, it was oh so complicated.
The APBA players were trying to envision computers in an era where such things were fodder for reams of sci-fi. Photos of nerdy-looking guys appeared in the APBA Journal. These were clearly bookish types. Today they'd be right in the mainstream!
The APBA Journal got its start under a couple boys who lived in San Mateo CA: the "Gaydos boys!" Such is the stuff of memories for APBA "alumni." Ron and Len Gaydos made a passion of that publication which was a challenge, I'm sure, in that pre-desktop publishing age. Standard typewriters, scotch tape and wax were the media, I'm sure. They reported on results from certain well-known APBA leagues.
The TV network news of that era gave some attention to this novel hobby of "baseball simulation" with the dice. Reporters seemed amazed that people would go to such lengths.
Hobbyists carried their game stuff around in briefcases. A Journal writer joked about how you could explain your APBA passion if a friend came to your house and noticed all the game paraphernalia spread around: "Tell them you're working on your taxes!" We might be averse to admitting what we were really doing. Simulation major league baseball games with dice and game boards? Well, it whetted my appetite.
I enjoyed the "real" games at our Metropolitan Stadium, Bloomington MN. I guess I wanted a little more. Maybe I could re-play the 1965 World Series and the Twins would win, not lose in seven as destiny scripted for us. Sandy Koufax! Why couldn't we get to him? Why couldn't his arm have been a little tired for Game 7? Why couldn't the Twins have broken through in the bottom of the ninth? We can close our eyes and imagine a different outcome, an "alternate history." Or, we can play APBA and see if we can win that way!
Dick Seitz, RIP. I'm sure Strat-o-Matic was a quite fine game too. Today the computers reign. Let them hum. Let the game-players just relax.
  
A simulation: '65 Twins vs. the White Sox
I once played a number of games involving the 1965 American League teams. The idea was to complete a whole tournament with teams playing best-of-five series vs. each other. My plan was for double-elimination.
The whole project got to be a bit much so I aborted it, but in the meantime I gained that unique APBA perspective on the teams of that year. The Twins beat the Chisox in four games. They lost game 1 and then took charge.
  
Game #1, in Chicago: White Sox 8, Twins 6
There was a clear highlight in this contest: Tom McCraw's grand slam home run in the second inning. Bill Skowron, Gene Freese and Floyd Robinson were on base for McCraw's blast. The Comiskey Field fans became most enlivened.
Remember, Skowron wasn't just a Yankee! He walked to get on base in the second. Freese singled off Jim Kaat. Robinson also worked Kaat for a walk. Lefty batter McCraw got to lefty hurler Kaat. The big southpaw Kaat threw a gopher ball. Kaat was still out there in the third but he got no reprieve. Skowron reached on an error by the normally slick-fielding Jerry Kindall. Skowron later came home on Freese's single.
Kaat actually survived into the seventh. He allowed successive base hits by Al Weis, Don Buford and Danny Cater. Remember Danny Cater? His average was always "up there." Cater's single scored Weis. Kaat finally got the hook in favor of John Klippstein. Skowron hit a sacrifice fly to score Buford. Robinson socked a triple to bring Cater in.
The pitching win went to knuckleballer Ed Fisher who worked one efficient inning. Gary Peters came on to pitch two scoreless innings. The starting Chicago hurler was Joel Horlen.
  
Game #2: Twins 10, Chicago 0
The Minnesota Twins' substantial assets showed themselves in this game at Comiskey. Those assets were ample but they didn't really bloom until the ninth inning. The score was just 2-0 up to the ninth. Jim "Mudcat" Grant had the Chisox under control from the pitching mound.
A total of 13 Minnesota batters appeared in the top of the ninth. An eight-run rally pushed the score to 10-0 and made the outcome academic. John Klippstein was going to close out this game on the hill. The big new cushion adjusted manager Sam Mele's thinking. Sam went further down the depth chart to big Dick Stigman, native of Nimrod MN. Stigman, he of the six-finger glove, performed like an ace. He faced just the minimum three batters. The last was Bill Skowron who grounded into a double play.
Joe Nossek began the Twins' big rally with a single. Tony Oliva and Rich Rollins built the rally with hits, and Don Mincher coaxed a walk out of reliever Juan Pizarro. Jimmie Hall reached on an outfield error. Chicago's fortunes crumbled further as Zoilo Versalles singled. My oh my, Earl Battey singled too. A fly out by Nossek was followed by Frank Quilici at bat. The Chicago pitcher now is Gary Peters. There was a passed ball and then, finally, the third out of the inning as Oliva went down.
A Battey home run produced Minnesota's first run back in the second. Oliva singled in the fifth and scored on a Hall sacrifice fly.
A little history: Hall made himself scarce after retiring from baseball. Sid Hartman said the popular outfielder, lefty at the plate, was "bitter about baseball." Hall's career did go into a rather steady decline. Some experts felt that lefty pitchers had him figured out. It was noted that Hall grew up in a rural part of North Carolina where he probably saw few lefties. Rural North Carolina: near Mayberry?
  
Game #3, in Minnesota: Twins 4, Chicago 3
The series arrived at Metropolitan Stadium, Bloomington MN, with fans primed to see more Twins success. It wasn't so one-sided this time around. All the Twins cared about was the outcome, and it was a 4-3 win.
Imagining the old "Met" gets me remembering that curious combined odor of beer and cigarette smoke. Such vices were more outward then. Acting "drunk" wasn't condemned. We'd often laugh.
I can close my eyes and visualize the Registry Hotel off in the distance, the equivalent (in my mind) of the "Citgo" sign at Boston's Fenway.
Jim Perry, the good-hitting pitcher of the Twins, singled to begin the third. Tony Oliva, the very good hitting outfielder, followed with a single. The two got into scoring position for Jimmie Hall (one of my favorite old Twins) who singled them in.
Oliva singled to begin the fifth, and scored when big Don Mincher doubled. Joe Nossek walked in the seventh and advanced to second on Oliva's ground ball. Dave Boswell, a pitcher, singled as pinch-hitter for John Klippstein, driving in Nossek. Boswell was a young up-and-comer in '65. Remember, he's the Twin who ended up getting into a fist fight with manager Billy Martin in 1969.
Klippstein was the winning pitcher with his stint of one and two-thirds innings. Boswell stayed in the game to pitch and worked two innings, allowing no runs. "Bos" fanned three. He was a fine pitcher at his peak but he always seemed to have control problems.
When a pitcher got a hit in APBA they usually had to defy the odds, like with a "66" being rolled, but they did get hits just as pitchers in real life do. There was no DH back in '65 of course.
  
Game #4: Twins 10, Chicago 2
The Twins got back up to the ten-run plateau as they closed out this series. Met Stadium was rocking as the Twins wasted no time. Singles resonated off the bats of Joe Nossek, Tony Oliva, Rich Rollins and Earl Battey in the first inning. Jimmie Hall lofted a sacrifice fly. Minnesota led 3-1 after one inning.
The scoreboard had a string of zeroes up until the seventh. Don Mincher, Hall, Zoilo Versalles and (pinch-runner) Jim Perry scored runs in the seventh. Battey delivered a two-RBI single. Nossek hit a sacrifice fly. Good ol' Sandy Valdespino - remember him? - singled in Perry to close out the rally.
Three runs in the eighth were an exclamation point for Minny. Hall tripled in a run and scored himself. Nossek rapped a two-RBI single. Versalles scored a run after getting an intentional walk. Mincher walked and scored a run.
The big 10-2 win advances the Minny crew further. Chicago is staggered. It wasn't the dice. Minnesota was on a mission in that storied 1965 season.
  
Series MVP:
Jimmie Hall, native of Mt. Holly NC, asserted his bat in each of the Twins' wins. He warmed up in game 2 with an RBI in the 10-0 rout. He really made the difference in game 3, in which he was one-for-four with two RBIs in this hard-fought 4-3 win. Game 4 saw Jimmie go two-for-four with two runs scored and a pair of ribbies in the 10-2 triumph.
Minnesota had a .305 team batting average in the series.
Nostalgia? To a degree, yes, but remember, America was on the cusp of getting dragged tragically further into the Viet Nam nightmare. If only we could erase that.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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