Results tagged ‘ Administration/General ’

A Roll of the Dice

I ran across this article in today’s New York Times about the annual APBA tournament underway in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

I played APBA from about ten years old all the way up into my late 30s, when adulthood left me little free time. Although it evolved into variations including a “master” game and a computer version, I was always fondest of the original board game (now known as the “basic” game).

It’s quaint by today’s standards, but its simplicity and flexibility were what made it fun. Each player had a card with numbers that worked with a roll of two dice and a set of boards for each possible on-base situation to come up with a result. It didn’t precisely reproduce major league results — “APBAball” generally had better offensive numbers than real life — but it was close enough to be realistic. Playing APBA was a lot of fun and you could whip out a game in about a half-hour.

Mention the number 66 around an APBA player and he’ll smile. If you roll the two dice and each die shows a six, that’s “66″ in APBA parlance. On a player’s card, a “66″ is almost always a home run (unless the player really stinks as a hitter). Every once in a while I’ll see a fan at a game with a “66″ T-shirt, which is the APBA fan’s version of a secret club’s handshake. It’s his way of advertising he’s a member of the APBA family.

Unlike a computer program, you could alter APBA to your heart’s content. Once I wondered what it would be like if you changed baseball from nine innings of three outs each to seven innings of four outs each. No problem. The game doesn’t force you into the “reality” format, it’s just individual plays. Want to have a ten-man lineup with two DHs like they do sometimes in minor league exhibition games? Go ahead, there’s nothing to stop you.

You could even make your own cards if you wanted. Eventually APBA sold an add-in for the computer game that translated your statistical input into a card, but if you wanted to see what happened to the game if you created a card where a player never struck out or hit a homer two-thirds of the time, you could do it.

I still remember some of the more memorable games I had, including a 30-inning contest between the 1988 World Series participants, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Oakland A’s. The game had a triple play and I believe it was the Dodgers’ staff that pitched more than nine consecutive innings of no-hit relief in the contest.

You could, of course, make up your own teams and trade players. I would do a “contraction” draft reducing the major leagues down to sixteen teams, using all the leftovers as a minor league for each team with callups and demotions. But many APBA fans were strict purists, doing their best to reproduce actual seasons, even down to the starting pitching assignments, injuries, and rough innings pitched/at-bats to see how close they could come to replicating reality.

When I was teaching adult computer classes in the late 1980s, my employer sent me to the East Coast. I had a week off between D.C. and Philadelphia, so I took the time to drive to Lancaster where APBA is headquartered. They gave me a tour and I got to see where my cards originated. It was still a very manual process, nothing like today’s computer games.

Most of my free time these days is devoted to “reality baseball” with the Angels minor leagues, but in my heart I do miss APBA a lot. Glad to see it’s still around.

Earthquake Strikes Southern California

A moderate earthquake just struck Southern California at 8:40 PM PDT.  The initial report is a magnitude 5.0 with an epicenter near South Los Angeles.  Details will be posted if significant.

Burlington Hawk Eye on “Sugar”

Back on April 3, I wrote about Sugar, a remarkable film about the minor league career of a Dominican pitcher.

It was a delight for those of us who know Iowa baseball locations, and today’s Burlington Hawk Eye has an article about Burlington locations used in the film along with a general overview of the story. I’m glad they didn’t give away the ending, because it’s not what you expect.

Click Here for the official movie web site.

Better Living Through Chemistry

Much of the baseball world has been obsessed with the revelation that Dodgers outfielder Manny Ramirez tested positive for the drug human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) which is banned by Major League Baseball.

This followed on the heels of the revelation last February that Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez tested positive for anabolic steroids in 2003.

I may be in the minority, but I really couldn’t care less.

Not that I advocate the use of body-altering substances. When it comes to that sort of stuff, I’m a pretty vanilla personality. When I was in college in the mid-1970s, I was one of only two guys on my dorm floor who didn’t smoke pot. I just couldn’t see the point.

Perhaps my apathy stems from my generally cynical view of a certain segment of people who call themselves fans yet are more interested in being entertained than having an emotional dedication to a team or a player.

Los Angeles Times sportswriter Kurt Streeter suggested in a recent column that “All will be forgiven, as long as No. 99 comes back swinging a fat bat.”

I think he’s right.

Not that everyone who follows the Dodgers feels that way, but I think a lot of people do. It’s all about results, it’s all about entertainment, and so long as Manny hits dingers they’ll look the other way.

It was the same in 2001 when Barry Bonds hit 73 homers. There were rumors of steroid use, but the mainstream looked the other way as they enjoyed watching Bonds hit monster home runs. The outrage came later, when the novelty had worn off. For some people, there’s nothing they enjoy more than seeing someone more successful than them knocked off a pedestal.

It’ll be the same with Ramirez one day, when he’s no longer productive and therefore no longer entertaining.

Angels fans can smirk at Dodgers fans, but what if it had been Vlad Guerrero who tested positive?

Owner Arte Moreno showed little tolerance for Gary Matthews Jr. in 2007 when Sports Illustrated reported that Matthews had ordered human growth hormone in 2004. But if it were Vladi who tested positive and was suspended for 50 games, would the Angels fan react any differently than the Dodgers fan?

If Guerrero returned and went on a hitting tear that took the Angels to a world championship, I suspect a lot of Angels fans would suddenly come down with short-term memory loss.

Because there’s so much money at stake in professional baseball, and therefore the pressures are so great to entertain by winning, I’m really not surprised that so many ballplayers are resorting to chemicals that protect and enhance their physiques. If an actress gets a facelift or a tummy tuck to look youthful so she can keep playing roles that might go to a younger actress, are theater goers going to complain? I’ve yet to hear one movie patron walk out in disgust and demand a refund because an on-screen performer had his or her body enhanced.

The most extreme example of where sports and entertainment cross is professional wrestling, where athletes subject their bodies to a grueling schedule and nightly physical abuse to tell a story. Wrestlers are just as athletic, if not more so, than the typical ballplayer, but they’re under pressure to entertain too or they’re out of a job. It’s really not a surprise, then, that so many wrestlers have died young from steroids, alcoholism, or painkillers. But most fans still go to wrestling events, just as attendance at baseball games is still strong and enthusiastic despite all the embarrassing headlines about drug use.

I suppose it could be argued that, in wrestling parlance, A-Rod and Manny and their ilk have “turned heel,” i.e. they’re now a bad guy whose job is to get booed by the crowd. “Heel” or “face” (bad guy or good guy), the bottom line is the take at the front door, and isn’t that the same with professional baseball? You can fill Angels Stadium with 40,000 screaming and obnoxious Yankees fans, and Arte will gladly take their money, because it’s a business.

Besides, the notion of athletes altering their bodies with chemicals is nothing new. Troy Percival was infamous for chugging coffee before a relief appearance to get a caffeine high. Ball Four author Jim Bouton told ESPN that “In the 1970s, half of the guys in the big leagues were taking greenies, and if we had steroids, we would have taken those, too. I said in Ball Four, if there was a pill that could guarantee you would win 20 games but would take five years off of your life, players would take it. The only thing I didn’t know at the time was the name.”

There were also athletes whose performance diminished from chemical abuse. Mickey Mantle’s career suffered from his alcoholism. Babe Ruth was frequently out of shape, and his carousing caught up with him during spring training in 1925 when he underwent surgery for what was billed as an intestinal abscess, although it was rumored he was suffering from gonorrhea. What might their career numbers have been if they’d taken care of themselves. Yet no one ever questions that, it’s just considered “colorful” and a part of baseball lore.

With so much at stake, with fans demanding so much, with all that money on the table, I can understand why athletes succumb to temptation. They are mentally geared to compete at everything in life. Part of that is competing against their own bodies. It’s that mindset that wins titles, and if that’s the end then how many people will quibble about the means? Maybe later, but not while they’re winning.

On the rare occasion that I hear about a ballplayer I know testing positive for a banned substance, I feel disappointed but I tend to be forgiving — not because I want to be entertained by them, but because I understand the pressures that led to the decision.

And many times, you’re dealing with someone who isn’t exactly the Stephen Hawking of pro sports. I don’t think you’ll see Manny Ramirez joining Mensa any time soon. Players from impoverished Third World countries long ago forgot about ethics because simply feeding your extended family back home is more important.

I’m glad MLB continues to rigorously pursue drug testing, and more importantly is actually enforcing the rules. But I’m not sanguine about the notion that paying customers will walk away from the game any time soon because of positive drug tests. It’s all about entertainment, and so long as they’re entertained, they’ll be back.

Meanwhile, at OC Weekly …

Most of my baseball followers don’t know that I lead a double life, also dabbling in Irvine politics … OC Weekly reporter Matt Coker asked to conduct a farewell interview prior to my departure for Florida. We cover Irvine politics but also Angels baseball. The link is:

http://blogs.ocweekly.com/navelgazing/a-clockwork-orange/as-stephen-smith-leaves-town-i/

FutureAngels.com Goes Twitter

I’ve signed up for Twitter. To follow my “tweets,” go to www.twitter.com/futureangels. Click Follow to receive my updates; if you don’t have a Twitter account, click on Join Today.

If you’re not familiar with Twitter, Click Here to read the Wikipedia entry. I’m not all that familiar with it myself, so if some of you can sign up it will help me to get the hang of it.

The idea is to use Twitter to send out messages when there’s news or other items of interest. When I’m at a minor league game, I’ll send tweets during the game to tell you what’s going on.

I’ll start the tweets on Monday from The Epicenter in Rancho Cucamonga. The Quakes players report that day. They’ll be posing for head shots and team photos, and will be available to the media. Later that night is a welcoming dinner with the host parents. So it will be a good opportunity to give you little behind-the-scenes snippets as events unfold.

Of course, the FutureAngels.com web site and the FutureAngels.com Blog will continue.

“Sugar”

'Sugar' Promotional Photo
“Sugar” is the tale of a Dominican baseball player drafted into the American minor leagues. Promotional photo credit Sony Pictures Classics appearing on LATimes.com.

 

The Los Angeles Times today ran a review of Sugar, a movie about a Dominican minor league baseball player.

Watching the trailer on the movie’s web site, it looks to me like they hit on all the right cylinders. The impoverished conditions in the Dominicans. The minor league complex in Arizona with the English language classes. The culture clash playing in rural America.

Although the film has fictional major and minor league teams, and is rooted in a fictional Iowa town, many of the locations are easily recognizable. The stadium appears to be Quad Cities’ Modern Woodmen Park (known for most of its life as John O’Donnell Stadium). It looks like the Iowa team is wearing the old Swing of the Quad Cities jerseys, the team name before they switched back to River Bandits. (Quad Cities was a longtime Angels minor league affiliate.)

This is the second recently released independent film set in Iowa. 2007′s The Final Season was set in Norway, near Cedar Rapids. It was the true story of a local high school’s final baseball season. Parts of the movie were filmed in the Kernels’ Veterans Memorial Stadium.

Sugar will be hard to find, being an independent film. It’s here in Irvine at the Edwards University. I’ll try to see it this weekend and will post a follow-up once I have.

The next independent film on the baseball horizon is The Perfect Game, about the 1957 Monterrery, Mexico team that won the Little League World Series. The film was supposed to have been released in August 2008 by Lionsgate, but they dropped out of the project. One report says it will be released in Spring 2009.

Angel Macias, the key character in the movie, was later signed by the Angels and invited to their first spring training in 1961 as a 16-year old. When he reached 18, he played briefly in the Angels minor leagues and spent most of his career in the Mexican League.

But that’s another story … The book version is available in print.


UPDATE 7:30 PM PDT — I saw Sugar this afternoon. What a great little film. It’s dead-on perfect when it comes to depicting the typical life of a minor league Dominican player. It brought back a lot of memories.

For those of you in Cedar Rapids, much of the film takes place in Iowa, Quad Cities in particular. The home team is called the “Bridgetown Swing,” but you can see plenty of Davenport and Quad Cities signs in the background. They’re wearing the old Swing jerseys. Opposing teams wear jerseys from other Midwest League clubs — I saw Clinton, Burlington, Wisconsin and Great Lakes, but no Kernels. There’s about thirty seconds of film shot at Burlington over two scenes.

The third act is entirely unexpected. I won’t give it away, but this is not your typical sports film. At first I was disappointed by the ending, but then I realized it was entirely … Dominican.

L.A. Baseball 101

Steve Bilko in 1957
Los Angeles Angel Steve Bilko in 1957, their last year before the Dodgers arrived from Brooklyn.

 

For those unfamiliar with the history of Los Angeles professional baseball before the Dodgers arrived, Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Harvey has this article about the old L.A. Angels and Hollywood Stars.

Here’s an idea for Arte Moreno’s marketing people:

The Angels even had a greeter, the late columnist Matt Weinstock wrote:

“A jovial fellow in a baseball uniform rode a horse slowly through the downtown streets, Main, Spring, Broadway, waving at friends and occasionally blowing a bugle call by way of announcing the baseball game at 2 p.m.”

Sports Hollywood has this excellent article on the old L.A. Angels with plenty of photos.

The above photo is of Angels slugger Steve Bilko in 1957, the last year the Angels operated before the Dodgers arrived from Brooklyn. I’ve always got a kick out of the uniform, with the racing stripes around the shoulders. They remind me of Roller Derby uniforms.

Not covered in Harvey’s article is what happened to the PCL Angels once the Dodgers arrived. The Angels franchise was owned by Philip K. Wrigley, who also owned the Chicago Cubs. To move to L.A., Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley had to acquire the territorial rights. As part of the deal, the Dodgers acquired the PCL Angels franchise, while the Cubs got the Dodgers’ affiliation with the Ft. Worth Cats in the Texas League.

When the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles for the 1958 season, the PCL franchise moved to Spokane, Washington as the Dodgers’ Triple-A affiliate. The franchise is now the Las Vegas 51s, which just ended a long affiliation with the Dodgers.

We’re quite happy with our Salt Lake affiliation, but if that ever changes I’d like to see the Angels affiliate with Las Vegas, just to bring the whole “L.A. Angels” connection full-circle.

Meanwhile, in Florida …

FAMU baseball coach Bob Lucas and high school teammate Jim Jackson
FAMU baseball coach Bob Lucas and high school teammate Jim Jackson

 

I’m in Florida for a few days looking at properties. Regular readers of this blog know that my wife and I are planning a move to the Space Coast area of Florida, which includes Cape Canaveral, Cocoa Beach, Merritt Island and other nearby towns.

No, I’m not going to any spring training games, although the Washington Nationals are 20 miles down the road in Viera. But we did drive up to Daytona Beach today for a college game.

I’ve been writing here for a couple years now about the Statesville Owls, one of two Angels minor league teams in their inaugural 1961 season. Bobby Lucas, an infielder on that team, is now the head coach for Florida A&M University (FAMU) baseball.

The above photo is of Coach Lucas with Jim Jackson, a high school teammate. Jim never got a chance to play pro ball, probably because of his size. He drove up from Cape Canaveral with his wife to see Bob and the FAMU Rattlers.

Bethune-Cookman University was the opponent and the home team. Both institutions were originally all-black universities but have now integrated.

The game was played at historic Jackie Robinson Ballpark. The first baseball field on the site was built in 1914 and known as Daytona City Island Ballpark. It was renamed after Jackie Robinson in 1989 to note its place in professional baseball as hosting the first racially integrated game, as this was the first park in Florida where Robinson was allowed to play with the Dodgers in his first spring training.

FAMU vs. B-CU, March 21, 2009
FAMU plays Bethune-Cookman University today at Jackie Robinson Ballpark.

 

I’ll be back in California late Tuesday.

Managing the Future Angels

Tom Kotchman
Tom Kotchman leads the Angels organization in career minor league winning percentage and games managed.

 

I mentioned on Saturday that I’m working on the FutureAngels.com Database to add team and manager statistics for every year in the history of the Angels’ minor leagues, which began in 1961.

I just finished inputting the data, so I can begin running queries. Eventually you’ll be able to do this yourself, but I wanted to give you a couple of fun numbers.

Here’s the first query … Who were the most successful Angels minor league managers?

The specific query was, give me the career win-loss percentages for all minor league managers who managed at least 500 games in our system.

Here are the Top 10, with career win-loss and winning percentage:

  1. Tom Kotchman 1,340-1,010 (.570)
  2. Del Rice 306-252 (.548)
  3. Jimy Williams 371-316 (.540)
  4. Harry Dunlop 282-243 (.537)
  5. Rocky Bridges 295-266 (.526)
  6. Moose Stubing 723-662 (.522)
  7. Garry Templeton 294-272 (.519)
  8. Max Oliveras 500-467 (.517)
  9. Chuck Tanner 561-537 (.511)
  10. Don Long 698-697 (.500)

Some of you may recall that Tom Kotchman notched his 1,500th career win in 2008. He managed in the Tigers and Red Sox systems before joining the Angels in 1984.

Here are the Top 10 in total games managed:

  1. Tom Kotchman 2,350
  2. Don Long 1,395
  3. Moose Stubing 1,385
  4. Mitch Seoane 1,381*
  5. Mario Mendoza 1,241
  6. Bill Lachemann 1,134
  7. Chuck Tanner 1,098
  8. Max Oliveras 967
  9. Ty Boykin 944*
  10. Bobby Magallanes 698

* The career totals for Mitch Seoane and Ty Boykin are overstated. Seoane was fired on May 5, 2000 as manager of the Cedar Rapids Kernels and replaced by Boykin, who was the hitting coach. I don’t have the season split (yet) for each, so all I was able to do was credit both with the Kernels’ 2000 win-loss record. This problem occurred with a few other season records; my source is the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball by Baseball America, which for each team simply shows their win-loss record for a year along with all its managers for that season. I’ve already been told these listings may be inaccurate, so I have more research to do. But it’s a start.

These lists really show just how incredible a career Tom Kotchman has had, leading the organization in both total games managed and winning percentage.

Also of note are all the people who went on to big-league managing careers. Chuck Tanner is probably best known for his run with the Pittsburgh Pirates; his major-league career win-loss record is 1,352-1,381 (.495). Jimy Williams managed three clubs, and has a career record of 910-790 (.535). Del Rice was an original Angel in 1961, and managed the team in 1972.

I’m hoping to give you the ability to generate lists showing things like winning percentage by city, by level, stuff like that.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.