August 23, 2017

Notes From the Shadows of Cooperstown: Winter Wonderland

December 9, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

No, the shadows of Cooperstown are not yet falling over deep piles and drifts of snow. (In fact, I’ve guaranteed that we will have a mild winter, by buying a new snow-thrower.) Instead, this title refers to the contents of this issue — pure Fantasyland. My Sweet Sixteen tournament concludes, with the Cubs and Tigers facing off — just like 1908. And then a sort of sneak preview of a coming series, the Deadball Era Stars versus the Sluggers.

During this Sweet 16 thing, which started back in September, with NOTES #459 — remember the all-time Senators upsetting that unsinkable Yankee team? — I’ve gotten scattered feedback. My guess is that readers have either gotten hooked, or tuned out two months ago. Personally, I got hooked, and am sorry to see the tournament end.

Baseball simulations are an exercise in imagination, and, I think, a challenge to make interesting for readers. I have a standing invitation to NOTES readers to give me feedback, but I’d really like to hear from you on this tournament thing, so I know not to repeat it, or to do it again from time to time. I think it could be an annual after-the-Series feature, carrying us through to spring training. What do you think?

SWEET SIXTEEN PLAYOFFS: THE FINAL SERIES

NATIONAL LEAGUE CHAMPION CUBS VERSUS THE AL CHAMPION TIGERS

This is the 13th and last in a series of reports on a simulated playoff of the sixteen “original franchise” teams. The series started in NOTES #459. If you have been following this all along, no explanation is needed, let’s just get to the action.

One quick note, both teams made two roster changes. The Cubs added Joe Tinker for some extra leather at SS; he replaced Ron Santo. Cap Anson joined the team as Sammy Sosa was dropped — the Cubs have plenty of power, but can always use a good OBA. The Tigers dropped Paul Molitor and Rudy York, who were not seeing much action; they added Cecil Fielder, more power off the bench, and Jimmy Crutchfield, mainly for his speed and defensive ability in the outfield.

GAME ONE, AT TIGER STADIUM

Denny McLain has had six quality starts in the tournament, the most by any starting pitcher. His 3-1 record tops the Tigers. Today he faces Three Finger Brown, the Cub ace, with 4 QS and a 4-1 record. The wind is gusting out, good news for the hitters.

The Cubs score first, as Ryne Sandberg, inserted at DH while Billy Herman patrols 2B, draws a walk. Ernie Banks is called on to hit-and-run, with none out, and he slashes the ball to deep right, and that wind helps it carry into the seats, 2-0 visitors. Billy Williams follows with a double and moves to third on Stan Hack’s bouncer to the right side. The Tiger infield pulls in, and Mark Grace’s one-hopper to Gehringer is turned into a 4-2-5 force play. McLain is almost out of the jam, but walks Cuyler and Herman to load the bases for Josh Gibson. McLain keeps the ball low, but Gibson rams it into center to score two more runs and make it 4-0 Cubs. Hack Wilson’s deep fly ends the inning.

Mordecai Brown gave up a leadoff double to Ty Cobb, then retired seven in a row before George Kell singles. But staked to that lead, he settles in. A long solo HR by Gibson in the 4th makes it 5-0 and chases McLain. With one out in the Cub 6th, Herman walks and Gibson connects again, off George Mullin, five RBIs for Josh and a 7-0 lead. The Tigers can’t get two men on in the same inning — Brown walks two, his defense allows two men to get on via errors, but the next and last Detroit hit comes with two out in the ninth, a double by Harry Heilmann. Brown fans six and completes the win, 7-0, and the Cubs are up one in the finale.

GAME TWO, AT TIGER STADIUM

Hippo Vaughn, 3-0 in the tournament, gets the call for the Cubs. Fat Mickey Lolich, who has tossed two quality wins in two starts so far, will try to even the series for the Tigers.

Charlie Gehringer puts the home team on the scoreboard early, reaching the seats in right in the first inning, 1-0. In the third, George Kell singles, Cobb singles Kell to third, and after Cobb swipes second, Gehringer makes it 2-0 with a sac fly. Norm Cash draws a walk, and the runners move up a base on Hank Greenberg’s grounder. Then Sam Crawford lines a single to right, scoring Cobb, but Cash is tossed out at home on a strong throw by Billy Williams. 3-0 Tigers.

Then more. In the 4th, Alan Trammell doubles with one out, and when Banks takes a bit too long to throw out Lou Santop, Trammell rounds third and scores, 4-0. The play unnerves Vaugn, who gives up a single to Kell and a double to Cobb, 5-0 Tigers. That’s it for Vaughn, Warneke fans Gehringer to end the inning.

Meanwhile, Lolich is toying with the Cubs. After retiring the first eight, he walks Frank Chance, who steals second, but is stranded. The only Cub hit over the front six innings is a harmless single by Billy Williams in the 5th. The Tigers add to their lead in the home sixth on hits by Kaline and Trammell and a double by Kell. Hack Wilson’s long poke out of the park in the 7th makes it 7-1. But the Tigers get it back, and more. A walk to Cash, Greenberg’s double, a walk to Kaline and Trammell’s third hit make it 9-0, and a single by Santop followed by Kell’s sac fly makes it 11-1. When Josh Gibson homers to lead off the Cub ninth — the final is 11-2 — you wonder if the pitch was grooved. The Tigers pile up 15 hits off four Cub hurlers, the Cubs get just three off Lolich in his seven innings, and the series is all even.

GAME THREE, AT WRIGLEY FIELD

Both Frank Tanana (2-1) and Clark Griffith (3-0) have pitched well in the tournament. The wind is blowing a gale to left today, and both pitchers know it. But the wind, it turned out, would not be a factor today.

I’ve observed here before that playing with these mega-teams, all stars, mostly Hall-of-Famers in their peak seasons, shutouts are rare, and holding a team to five hits or less is uncommon. Yet every once in a while, the dice roll cold for both sides, and a genuine pitching duel develops. And that’s what happened in Game Three.

Griffith retires the first seven Tigers before walking Bill Freehan. Cash gets aboard on a rare Stan Hack error in the 4th, but is erased on a DP. Harry Heilmann gets the first Tiger hit in the fifth, but is tossed out stealing. Kell doubles with one out in the sixth, Cobb walks, but Gehringer raps into a 6-4-3 inning-ender.

Frank Tanana is also pitching tough. After walking Cuyler to start the game, he retires ten in a row. The streak is stopped when he makes a bad pitch, to Josh Gibson, who deposits the ball in the bleachers, for a 1-0 lead after four. Gibson gets the Cubs’ second hit, too, a long two-out triple off the ivy, but Tanana fans Hack Wilson, 1-0 after six. Both teams go down 1-2-3 in the 7th.

In the top of the eighth, the Tigers threaten. Heilmann walks, and speedy Jimmy Crutchfield pinch runs. Trammell flies out to left, then Crutchfield steals second. Travis Fryman pinch hits, and is walked. Bobby Veach, hitting for Kell, raps a grounder to Herman, but what looked like a DP is bobbled and the sacks are full — for Ty Cobb. This sure feels like the turning point. Griffith gets Cobb to hit a one-hopper up the middle, Griffith snares it, tosses home, and Gibson’s throw to first nips Cobb for a 1-2-3 DP, and the score remains 1-0.

Now it’s the Cubs’ turn to get something going. Stan Hack opens the 8th with a single. Mark Grace is up to bunt, and on the first pitch, Hack steals second. Grace is still bunting, and lays down a beauty, the throw to third is not in time and Grace is aboard on the fielder’s choice, still none out. Frank Chance runs for Grace. Kiki Cuyler wangles a walk and the bases are full. Billy Herman’s foul pop is caught by Santop, no one advances. Enter John Hiller, to face Josh Gibson. Gibson swings and gets under it, a long fly to left, but Crutchfield not only runs it down, his throw to the plate makes Hack retreat to third. Now it’s up to Hack Wilson, and Hiller fans him on three pitches.

Bruce Sutter is tossing in the Cub bullpen, but this game is Clark Griffith’s. He fans Gehringer to start the ninth. Norm Cash singles, and Kirk Gibson is sent in to run. Hank Greenberg is next, lots of extra-base potential — but not today. Hank’s bouncer is gobbled up by Joe Tinker, to Herman, to Chance, and it’s almost a poetic finish to a terrific 1-0 duel.

Both teams managed to get just three hits — amazing. This is the kind of game you like to see in a Game Seven.

GAME FOUR, AT WRIGLEY FIELD

The Tigers send out Prince Hal Newhouser, just 1-2 in the tournament but he’s pitched better than that, and McLain was shaky in Game One. For the Cubs, Three Finger Brown is back on the hill, looking for a second win, one that will put the Cubs in the driver’s seat, and Brown in a position to pitch a Game Seven, if needed.

For the first three innings, it’s here we go again. The Tigers get two aboard on walks in the second, but don’t score. Kell leads of the third with a single, but only gets to second. Newhouser has given up just two walks in his first three innings, Gabby Hartnett is retired on a great play by Trammell. (Josh Gibson is DH today. As I said in the intro to this tourney, I think, almost all of the Negro Leaguers have high injury factors, so managers need to protect them as much as possible.)

In the top of the 4th, the Tigers come alive. Brown has held them scoreless for twelve innings, and it’s been 13 since their last run. Greenberg draws a walk, but is thrown out trying to steal. Then Harry Heilmann ends all those streaks with a long HR to center, 1-0. Sam Crawford singles and steals, and Trammell doubles him home, 2-0. Kell walks, and Cobb singles home Tram, 3-0. Then Gehringer singles on a ball SS Shawon Dunston can only knock down, it scores Kell but Cobb has to stop at third, 4-0. Cash flies out, but the 4-run lead looks huge.

The Cubs’ first hit is Hack Wilson’s bash to left in the 4th. The Tigers get that run right back, on Greenberg’s double and Heilmann’s single. In the Cub 6th, Wilson finds the seats with another solo HR, making it 5-2 Detroit.

Brown departed after four, and Phil Regan is holding the Tigers in check. Doubles by Cuyler and Gibson in the 7th make it 5-3. Newhouser fans Wilson, the potential tying run, to end the 7th, and John Hiller comes on to pitch the final two innings.

The Tigers give Hiller some room for error in their 8th. Cobb singles with one out, and Bruce Sutter is greeted by a Charlie Gehriner run-scoring double, 6-3. After Cash bounces out to first, Greenberg singles up the middle, and it’s 7-3.

The Cubs keep coming. Doubles in the eighth by Billy Williams and Dunston make it 7-4. Just before Dunston’s hit, Gehringer made a web-gem play to retire Stan Hack and probably save a run. Kiki Cuyler starts the ninth with a HR to right, and it’s 7-5. But Hiller retires Cap Anson and fans Josh Gibson. Hack Wilson, with two HRs on the day so far, singles to left, and that brings up Ernie Banks — again, the potential tying run. Did I mention the wind was blowing out to left today? But Hiller whiffs Banks, the Cubs run out of outs, and the Tigers win, 7-5.

Again the Series is all even. For the tournament to date, I have written about each series as it is completed, so I know the outcome of the whole series, whether a four-game sweep or a seven-game thriller, before I start describing Game One. Sometimes I wonder if the descriptions would not be even better if I did them one at a time — writing after each game. It’s a compromise — as any fan knows, any game can take pages, or a whole book, to describe. I’ve favored summaries, no box scores. But for this last series, I have written up the first four games, before playing Game Five. And I’ll do that for the last two or three games, too, to see if it makes a difference, for the readers.

I won’t make any predictions, though. Either one of these teams (like the other 14) can, on any given day, beat the brains out of any opponent. I would be surprised to see another 1-0 or 2-1 game, but you never know. Both teams are marvelously balanced, with the Cubs having an edge in power, the Tigers in hitting. Both are solid defensively, especially in the late innings, when I substitute for those who are less than top-rated. Enough of this aside — on to Game Five!

GAME FIVE, AT WRIGLEY FIELD

The thing has now boiled down to the final few games, and you go with your best — hottest — pitchers. I will try to remember to explain, when it’s over, the system I use for “upgrading” and “degrading” pitcher ratings. Suffice it to say here that the last starts of this series will go to Lolich, Tanana and Newhouser (if there’s a game seven) — McLain will be in the pen for long relief; and, on the Cubs’ side, to Fergie Jenkins, Brown, and (if — ) Clark Griffith; Hippo Vaughn will be in their pen for the duration.

So Mickey Lolich & Ferguson Jenkins square off in Game Five. They both start well. The first Cub hit comes with one out in the second, a line drive HR to right-center by Billy Williams. The Tigers claw back: in their third, Kell singles, and Cobb sends him to third with a liner to left. Then Cobb steals, just his second of this series. And it matters, when Charlie Gehringer mechanically drives one up the middle to put the Tigers up, 2-1.

In the Cub third, Josh Gibson triples with two out, but is stranded. But the home team ties it in the fourth. Stan Hack walks with one out, Dunston grounds out, then Frank Chance, the Peerless Leader of the first Cub dynasty, ties it with a hit. Chance steals second, and Cuyler walks, but Billy Herman pops out to end the inning. 2-2.

In the home fifth, Hack Wilson walks, and with two out, Billy Williams singles him to third. Billy then steals second, but it doesn’t matter, as Stan Hack finds the gap in left-center to put the Cubs up, 4-2. The inning ends on a nice play by Gehringer, robbing Dunston of a hit and RBI.

Jenkins has found a groove and the Tigers are going down quietly. The Cubs threaten in the sixth when Cuyler doubles with one down, but Herman fans, and after Gibson is intentionally walked, Hack Wilson grounds weakly to second. But in the home seventh, the Cubs pick up a tack-on (McCarver says) insurance run. Ernie Banks, DH today, singles and Joe Tinker pinch runs. Billy Williams grounds one thru the hole vacated when Tinker breaks for second, another well-executed hit and run. The infield pulls in for Stan Hack, and Stan has the Cub crowd smilin’ when he raps it thru short, putting the Cubs up 5-2. “No lead is safe in Wrigley.” Cap Anson swings for Dunston (Tinker will take over at short) — or rather, he bunts, and the runners move up. Frank Chance is up, and scorches one to Gehringer, but Charlie snaps it up, fires home, and Williams is out after a rundown, 4-2-5, with Hack taking third and Chance going on down to second. Now Cuyler is intentionally walked to load the bases.

It’s 5-2, a hit will break the game open, and no one is more due for a hit than Billy Herman. I’ve played Herman at 2B over Ryne Sandberg, not so much for his glove, but for his batwork, he can move Cuyler around when Kiki gets aboard. In this series, Herman singled his first time up then drew two walks in Game One, but since then, he is 0-for-20. Due. Bill Donovan took over for Lolich after Anson’s sacrifice, and now he gets Herman on a fly to left. No wind to help, the inning ends with the score 5-2.

In the Tiger 8th, Ty Cobb spanks a double down the line in right, then moves to third on a wild pitch. It matters, Charlie Gehringer gets his third RBI on a fly to deep center, Cuyler’s throw not even close as Cobb flies home. 5-3. But Jenkins bears down and gets the Tiger 3-4 hitters, Cash and Greenberg.

Donovan retires the Cubs in order in the eighth, and for the top of the ninth, Hartnett takes over the catching duties and Andre Dawson’s strong arm replaces Hack Wilson’s in left. The Cubs are three outs away from a Game Five win.

Harry Heilmann says no by drawing a walk, and Bobby Veach pinch runs. Then Jenkins gets Crawford and Trammell on ground-outs, and is one out away. Cecil Fielder makes his tournament debut, swinging for Bill Freehan, and comes through with a double, making it a one-run game. Travis Fryman runs for Fielder. Bruce Sutter takes over from Jenkins. George Kell is due up, and he’s played a terrific tournament, but the situation calls for a pinch-hitter, and it is Lou Santop. The Tigers have been jolted in this series by Josh Gibson, but Santop is their own secret weapon from the Negro Leagues draft. So it seemed fitting that Lou would find the gap off a Sutter split-finger job, his double tying the game 5-5. No way Ty Cobb will bat, he is walked on four wide ones. Now it’s up to Gehringer, who has driven in three runs already, and like clockwork, Gehringer rockets a ball up the middle to score Santop and send Cobb to third. Sutter is crushed, Lee Smith comes on and fans Cash, but the Tigers have scored three to go up 6-5.

And that is the way it ends. Wild Bill Donovan gets Billy Williams to fly to right, gets Stan Hack on a comebacker, and pinch-hitter Ryne Sandberg, trying to tie it with one swing, bounces to — Gehringer, an automatic 4-3 in the scorebook. The Tigers go up three games to two. And now they go home. This game is history.

GAME SIX, AT TIGER STADIUM

This is a rematch between Clark Griffith and Frank Tanana, the guys who tossed 3-hitters in the 1-0 Game Three duel, won by Griffith (4-0). Tanana (2-2) lost that one on a 4th-inning HR by Josh Gibson. Today, the wind is gusting to right.

Tanana comes out blazing, striking out the side in the first. In the home half, Gehringer walks, and with two out, Hank Greenberg drives one into the stands in left, 2-0 Detroit.

Tanana fans two more Cubs in a 1-2-3 second, but finally gives up a hit in the third, with two out, to Andre Dawson. Kiki Cuyler follows with a single to right, and Al Kaline cuts down Dawson by firing a strike to Kell at third. In the bottom of the inning, Ty Cobb singles and after Gehringer grounds out, Norm Cash swats a long homer to right — no wind needed, 4-0. An out later, Al Kaline connects, making it 5-0, and ending Griffith’s outing.

The Cubs get men on in every inning, but cannot score. Most of the runners get on with two out. Tanana ends the 8th inning by fanning Mark Grace, his 9th K.

The Cubs best arm out of the pen, Phil Regan, has kept the Tigers in check. Into the 8th, he’s allowed just two runners, both on walks, in his four innings of relief. Norm Cash opens the home 8th with a single, and Veach runs. Everyone expects Sutter or Lee Smith to take over, but Regan stays on the hill, and retires the next three batters. But it’s still 5-0, with the Cubs down to their last three outs.

Tanana faces Gibson, who beat him in Game Three. Today, Josh has fanned, singled, and hit into a DP. Now he draws a walk. Hack Wilson follows by golfing Tanana’s first pitch over the wall in left, and it’s 5-2. Ernie Banks is called back, the Cubs need runners, but Frank Chance’s liner to center is caught by Cobb. Ryne Sandberg follows with a single, and when no one holds him, he steals second. Then Billy Williams connects, a two-run homer to right, and suddenly it is a one-run game.

Tanana is done. The Tigers’ hottest arm belongs to Wild Bill Donovan, who closed the Cubs out in Game Five. Stan Hack greets Donovan with a single, and Gabby Hartnett is sent up to bat for Cap Anson. Now a long ball can win it for the Cubs, but Hartnett also hits into a lot of DPs, so Hack takes off, and slides safely into second. Now just a hit will tie the game. But Donovan fans Hartnett, and it’s up to Kiki Cuyler. Cuyler has fanned twice today, but also has two singles, and he’s been a terrific leadoff batter for Chicago all during the tournament. But with the capacity crowd on their feet, Donovan strikes out Cuyler to save the 5-4 win and end the series, with the Tigers on top.

The Cubs outhit the Tigers 10-5 in this final game, but until the ninth, those hits were well-scattered. Griffith, losing for the first time in the tourney, gave up just four hits, but three left the park. I was glad to see the game decided in the final at bat, but of course, I was hoping for a Game Seven. It was nevertheless a great series, capping a long tournament. I just might do this again.

FOR ALL THOSE INTERESTED: MY PITCHING SYSTEM

Because I have assembled these super-teams without any easy outs, I have modified the APBA Pitching Rules, to make it a little more realistic — or should I say, humane? In the normal play, APBA grades each pitcher, with D being the lowest, and A the highest. In the first seasons of APBA play, Grade A pitchers were extremely rare — I don’t think the National League had any, based on the 1958 or 1959 seasons. Not even Warren Spahn, or Roy Face (18-1 out of the Pirate bullpen). The grade was based mostly on ERA, but when George Adrian “Red” Witt, 9-2 with a 1.61 ERA for the Pirates in ’58, was rated B, it was clear that rookies were penalized. (Even worse, Witt was assigned a “W” — so he’d walk more than the average pitcher.)

When I started collecting APBA’s “Great Teams of the Past,” it seemed that they all had at least one ace, Grade A starter. And some were even better than A, they started games as A & C or even A & B.

The APBA “optional pitching rules” for “advanced fans” allowed pitchers to upgrade — or degrade — during games. They always started games with the grade on their cards. But if a Grade D pitched 5 innings without giving up an earned run, he became a C. If a C tossed 6 such innings, he moved up to B. And so on. This in-game progress was always painfully slow; those Grade D pitchers could get shelled badly, even by average teams. And if a pitcher did manage to rise to Grade A, it did him no good for next time, he started back at Grade D.

Pitchers could also change grades in the other direction. A Grade B would become a C if he was touched for five earned runs in a three-inning span (or less). The consolation for Grade D’s was that they could not be degraded.

OK, here is what I’ve done to improve on APBA’s rules, or to adjust them to this league of all stars. First, I let pitchers improve their grades with just three innings (nine outs) of good work — no earned runs. For relievers, they go up a notch after just six outs. It’s the same in the other direction — three earned runs in a nine-out stretch, down one notch; for relievers, it’s just two earned runs. Believe it or not, this is not hard to keep track of, and the more dynamic changing of grades seems to be much more realistic. For the managers, it means you think about yanking your starter when he’s given up four runs and has a runner on, because a home run means six runs and a drop of two grades.

Another big difference is that I let the pitchers start their next game with the grade they earned previously. So in Game Six above, Clark Griffith, coming off a shutout, started the game as an ABC (as high as you can go); Tanana started with the grade AB, and since he had also pitched an inning toward an upgrade after he got to AB, he needed just six outs to become an ABC.

One decision I had to make (as Commish) for this tournament was whether the grades would carry over from series to series. And I decided that they would not. So each pitcher started each new series with the grades on their cards. None of these guys were below Grade A, and many were AC or AB. (I mentioned before, I think, that they also all had a “Z” on their card, indicating good control — fewer walks; all except Bob Feller.) When I play out simulated seasons, the grades carry over, but no matter how hard someone is hammered, they never start the next game lower than Grade B. It’s the humane thing again.

I generally require starters to rest three days between starts, but if they pitch on less rest, they go down a grade. Relievers who pitch 3+ innings must take a day off. Pitchers who pitch into extra innings must rest an extra day for every three innings over nine.

I invented the ABC grade, just for this league. One reason was that it seemed to me that pitchers who were just unhittable for a while, should not give up gopher balls easily. So if an ABC is on the mound, and a hitter’s card results in a “1” — a HR in every situation except when bunting — I required another roll, just one die, and if that roll was a 1, it was a HR; but 2-6, the result was the same as a 5 on the game board — maybe a HR, but more often a double. Exception: if the wind is blowing OUT, the 1 will be a HR even against the ABC.

I made one other rule change, worth mentioning here. With a steady stream of pitchers, none with a grade worse than B, batting averages tend to be lower all around. Even players like Ty Cobb, Hugh Duffy, and George Sisler, .400+ hitters, struggle to get to .375. So I made a rule that with the bases empty, the number 9 result on a batter’s card — and every batter, no matter how great, or lousy, gets two 9s — is always a single. Except against that Grade ABC (it’s a strikeout — in fact, in Game Six, I think Tanana’s first five strikeouts were all 9’s.) The other exception, the first hit of the game cannot come on a 9, unless it is against a Grade B pitcher (who cannot stop a 9 with the bases empty). I’d just hate to lose a no-hitter that way.

I think that’s it for pitching. As you might guess, I’ve modified other rules, too — more for fielding than hitting. It is harder for shortstops like Honus Wagner, Joe Tinker and Lou Boudreau to make errors, than for very good shortstops like Alan Trammell. Same for the Mazeroskis and Gehringers. And the third basemen like Pie Traynor or Clete Boyer or Brooks Robinson. I have a wind factor, in about 22% of the games, and sometimes it blows IN, making HRs harder to hit. And I have a great Unusual Plays Chart, freely borrowed from a non-APBA friend, which I’ve adapted and tinkered with over the years; this may not come into play for several games in a row, and it is only in play once per game. This chart allows you to “program in” more injuries, or fewer; more or fewer rainouts, or rain-shortened games; and to introduce all kinds of weird plays or events that just never made it to the APBA Game Boards.

It’s only a game. But it is great fun, especially if you can find enough people to form a league, and then “manage against” each other. It’s pure baseball — every game is different and unique. Babe Ruth has a card that will get him 60 homers over a season (in a normal league), but he can still slump — or hit three homers in a game. Playing with all stars, there is never a dull at bat, there’s always something going on.

ON DECK: DEADBALL STARS VS. MODERN SLUGGERS

When you have the cards and the APBA game boards, you can mix & match and come up with an almost limitless variety of simulations. Pit the leagues against each other, the all-time AL stars vs the NLs … base the teams on geography … top of the alphabet vs the bottom … lefties vs righties … and so on.

I’m thinking of giving the deadball era stars a shot at the lively-ball sluggers — meaning anyone from Ruth forward. After all, many of the “old guys” like Cobb claimed that they played a harder, brainier brand of baseball. So let’s see how they do against the guys who swing from their heels.

(I could also play a team of nine Ty Cobbs against a team of nine Babe Ruths, holding pitching and fielding constant. Or I could do a “Sweet Sixteen” tournament with the top 16 hitters entered in the brackets. I think Baseball Weekly did something like that, once upon a time, maybe with the top 64 players?)

The Deadballers — who’s on first? I think Frank Chance might have to platoon with Big Ed Delahanty, mainly because there is no room for Del anywhere else, except DH. At second, it’s Nap Lajoie and Eddie Collins. At short, Honus. At third, I like Frank Baker or Jimmy Collins. Behind the plate, Roger Bresnahan looks like my starter, with Ray Schalk and Chief Meyer backing up. The outfield is “an embarassment of riches” — Hugh Duffy, Cobb, Sam Thompson, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Slidin’ Billy Hamilton, Tris Speaker … Edd Roush? Sam Crawford? Happy Felsch? Do I carry Gavvy Cravath, for the pinch-HR? It already hurts to realize that I’ll have to trim this bunch down to 16.

The nine pitchers are also a delight. In the APBA simulation, the differences between pitching grades may seem small, but they can sometimes make a huge difference between killing a rally, and letting the opponent have a big inning. So I automatically start with the Grade ABs: Walter Johnson, Smoky Joe Wood, Ed Walsh, Iron Man McGinnity. That puts these guys in the bullpen: Pete Alexander, Cy Young, Matty, Addie Joss, Three Finger Brown, Chief Bender, Hippo Vaughn, Knuckles Cicotte, and I can only use five of them! Jack Chesbro is an AB, too, based on that crummy 41-win season he had in 1904; that makes him a tougher cut than Amos Rusie, also an AB, but with less control than any of the others. I keep in mind that these guys will be facing a steady stream of power hitters, and if the hurler can get to the ABC grade, they might keep a few more balls in the park.

The Sluggers start with Lou Gehrig on first — or maybe Jimmie Foxx, who was more of a pure slugger, no? Where does that leave .400 hitter Bill Terry? At second, Rogers Hornsby has got to start over Ryne Sandberg, even if Ryno can hit a few more balls. At short, Ernie Banks can battle Alex Rodriguez and there is no shortage of slugging shortstops if one of them slumps. At third, Eddie Mathews and Mike Schmidt can platoon. (Because in the APBA version I play, the righty-lefty factor does not matter, when I say “platoon” what I really mean is that I will go with the hot hitters. A Cobb or Ruth will stay in the lineup, and so will others, because they are unlikely to slump very long. It’s mostly psychological, and — the dice.)

Catching, I like Roy Campanella, but then there is Johnny Bench, and Mike Piazza. Good grief. Maybe I need a bigger roster, which is do-able, since I don’t have to pay any of these players’ salaries. Would we have 30-35 man rosters, if the players all got a standard salary?

The outfield is ridiculously crowded. The Yankees offer Ruth, Mantle & DiMaggio, but I’ll likely cut one of them. Ted Williams, Yaz? Aaron, Mays, Ott? I want to maximize the power factor, but McGwire and Sosa will not make this team, they just don’t have enough other tools. Barry Bonds does, but maybe not Stan Musial. Hack Wilson reeks power, but Frank Robinson? I’m already thinking Willie Mays at leadoff.

There are no AB pitchers from the lively ball era, except for a few relievers, but I’ll probably go — as I did with the deadballers — with a pack full of aces. Doc Gooden, Carl Hubbell, Bob Gibson, Dizzy Dean, Steve Carlton, Sandy Koufax, Ron Guidry, Denny McLain, Lefty Grove, Vida Blue. OK, maybe I can squeeze in Eck after all. But I’ll only carry nine pitchers.

I have played TONS of simulations where the Cobbs and Wagners played alongside the Gehrigs and Hornsbys, and I’ve played lots of deadball teams against latter-day dynasties, the Gas House Gang, the Yanks of 1927 or 1937, the Athletics of 1931. But Murderers Row was not all sluggers, top to bottom. Those great teams succeeded, I suspect, as much because of guys who could get on base and run, as because of the long-ball hitters.

So I might expect at least one game to be won by the speedy “little guys” who scrape and claw and steal about six runs, and beat the sluggers, who manage five home runs, but all solo shots.

I also expect the sluggers to put together at least one fireworks display, scoring 15-20 runs. And I would not be surprised to see the sluggers shut down, if not out, one or two games — just because of the Law of Averages.

I expect pitchers on both sides to be hit hard, and if I was one of them, I’d buy some good insurance. The deadballers will also steal a ton of bases, no matter who is pitching or catching. They just will. They are all greyhounds, who can draw walks and bunt and play some defense, too. I’d expect them to turn a few more DPs up the middle, than the sluggers. But who knows? I’d like to hear from anyone else who has done this kind of simulation. “The bigger they are, the harder they fall”? Or will the Goliaths crush the kids with slingshots? Let’s see.

TESTING, 1 … 2 … 3

After writing above that “I could also play a team of nine Ty Cobbs against a team of nine Babe Ruths” — I got intrigued by that, and decided to see what would happen. Would it be a preview of the Deadballers vs Sluggers?

Cobb and Ruth were great competitors, in their day, both on the diamond and on the golf course, and I suspect that Cobb, at least, also calculated his net worth (Coke stock & all), compared to the spendthrift Bambino’s. Their playing careers did not quite overlap, Cobb broke in in 1905 and played until 1928, never really slowing down much — he was over 40 when he stole 22 bases in 134 games, in 1927, the year Ruth hit his famous 60 HRs. Ruth was a rookie in 1914, mainly pitching till 1918, and he hung on till 1935.

Like many players and reporters, Ty Cobb preferred the dead ball era and its style of play, to the lively-ball, hit-it-out-of-the park brand that Ruth ushered in. Ruth copied Joe Jackson’s swing, adding more heft, and when the ball was juiced some, those three elements were a lethal combination for AL pitchers. Whether Ruth or Cobb was the greatest player became, after both retired, a terrific hot stove question. Cobb was head and shoulders above all others as the top batsman. Ruth was the top slugger, but he could hit, too, and pitch, and became a larger-than-life celebrity and box-office draw. His rise coincided with the rise of “the media” from the mostly-newspaper days, to the age of radio, movies, and lots more magazines.

I imagine Cobb and Ruth meeting at an old ballpark, say, Tiger or Yankee Stadium, and posing for flash-bulb photos before the contests. Ruth puffs a cigar, swigs beer from a paper cup. Cobb has a glare in his eyes, and maybe a little blood. The rules are simple: both men are the batters, they and no one else will swing for nine innings. There will be pinch runners, neither will need to pitch or field. (Using the APBA simulation, both would face a steady stream of B pitchers, and a Fielding Two defense.)

GAME ONE

Cobb won the coin toss and batted first, and scored first on a pair of singles, walk and hit batsman. A DP with the bases loaded cost him some more runs. Ruth got the run back on a single and double. In the second, Cobb singled, stole, walked, and went up 2-1 on another single. After a ground out, he whacked a triple and double and was up 5-1. Cobb made it 7-1 in the fourth, with another triple and three singles, one on a hit-and-run.

Ruth led off his fourth with his 4th hit, a double, then slammed his first HR. 7-3. Two walks, a single, a triple and a ground out later, the score was tied. In the sixth, Cobb tripled and singled to go ahead 8-7, but Ruth connected with man on in his 7th to take the lead for the first time, 9-8. Cobb seemed out of steam, he continued to get hits, but could not score again. Ruth tripled home two insurance runs in his 8th, and the final was 11-8. Cobb had outhit the Sultan 17-12, but the swats came with men on, and Game One went to Ruth.

GAME TWO

In the second contest, it was Ruth who took the early 7-1 lead, homering in the first, second and fourth. Cobb continued to rack up hits and stolen bases, but could not produce the big inning. Up 10-4 after seven, Ruth hit a grand slam in the 8th to salt it away. Cobb responded with four runs of his own, hitting his first HR and stealing four bases, but it was not enough, the final was 14-9.

GAME THREE

I didn’t start this as best-of-seven, but I knew that Cobb would never give up after dropping two to Ruth. So I let them square off one more time.

After homering just twice in Game One, and four times in Game Two, Ruth found his “Home Run Derby” groove in Game Three. He connected with one on in the first and two on in the second to go up 5-0. But Cobb replied with a triple and homer in his 2nd, and scored another on two more hits. Then in the third, Cobb put together two singles and a steal, and two sac flies, to tie the game at 5-5, then he homered again to go up 6-5.

Ruth managed just one single after that second HR, and was starting to perspire going into his fifth. He then put on a display: double, walk, single, single (steal), triple (to make it 9-6), single, steal, home run, strikeout!, homer, walk, homer!, ground out, double homer! — twelve runs, 17-6. Whew!

Cobb never came back, scoring just three the rest of the way. Ruth slammed two more homers, to make the final 20-9. In hits, it was closer, Ruth 18, Cobb 15.

In the series, Ruth had 28 extra-base hits, including those eight homers in Game Three. Cobb had 16. Cobb actually had more hits (47-44), but Ruth drew 21 walks to Cobb’s 10. (If there is hope for the Deadball Stars in this duel, maybe that statistic provides it. I think most of the other stars are better at drawing walks than Cobb.) Ruth fanned 16 times, Cobb just once.

I imagined Cobb refusing to leave the park without besting the Babe at least once. “Double or nothing, you fat $#@&%$,” were his exact words. But the Babe has a carful of women to join, he winks at Cobb, tosses him a few expensive cigars, and is gone.

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