Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler
February 20, 2007
Happy Mardi Gras! As the Krewes of Zulu, Rex, Elks and Crescent
City begin their parades through the streets of New Orleans, thousands
of revelers will be lined up along the streets to grab doubloons, beads
thrown from the floats by masked Krewe members. That's right -
largely worthless gifts that people scramble for come from anonymous
But not all surprises from unknowns are worthless. In fact,
many of them change the course of history.
It turns out that probably the most famous pilot in aviation history
outside the two brothers who invented powered flight wasn't a very good
pilot at all. Baron Manfred Von Richtoven, better known as the
Red Baron, was by most accounts an average pilot when it came to
actually flying his plane. However, he was an exceptional
marksman with his plane's machine guns, with both the two versions of
the Albatross and his more famous
Fokker triplane. What also isn't well known was that he wasn't
down in a dogfight by British pilot Capt. Roy Brown, a myth perpetuated
the class-conscious British military. The bullet that killed the
entered his chest with upward trajectory across his torso, something
Brown could not have managed with his biplane in our physical universe.
No, the man who shot down the most feared dogfighter in history
was an enlisted Australian anti-aircraft gunner whose identity remains
a mystery to this day. The death of Richtoven was a crushing blow
to the German morale, already flagging in the conflict. Six
months after he was buried,
so too did the Germans at
Versailles bury their aspirations of winning the war.
More recently, perhaps the two most important men in the history of
mankind are unknown to 99.99% of the population on Earth. Vasili
Arkhipov was a submarine officer on a Soviet nuclear attack submarine
the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. His submarine had been trapped by
warships that were trying to force his boat to the surface. It
he who convinced the submarine's captain that it would be smarter to
the sub and await further orders from Moscow than to launch a nuclear
at the US fleet and probably start World War III.
Stanislov Petrov was a lieutenant colonel in the Soviet military
assigned to launch a full scale counter-attack if the US ever launched
it's nuclear arsenal at the USSR. On September 26, 1983, his
that the US had indeed launched a missile at a target inside Russia's
borders. Despite what his computer indicated, he did not push
the button to counter-attack.
He felt there must be some error, reasoning that if the US ever
launch an attack they would launch everything, not just one missile.
later, a second, third, fourth and fifth incoming missile appeared on
screen. Rather than notify his superiors, which would have almost
certainly resulted in a retaliatory strike, he trusted his instincts
having no other evidence to do so and did not respond.
Fortunately for everyone his
So what does this have to do with baseball? Well, actually a lot.
In simulation games like Strat-o-matic, roto and even in real
baseball, it's often not the famous names who end up being the
for a championship run. Everyone knows Albert Pujols and Johan
Santana are going to be great, and their price tags reflect that.
lesser known guys like Gary Matthews Jr. or Akinori Otsuka or any
of guys who got no respect at the draft that came up big when it was
to collect league trophies. Even in real baseball, where would
Cardinals have finished without the contributions of Chris Duncan,
Scott Spiezio or Adam Wainwright?
It was with this in mind that I accepted an invitation to a
Strat-o-matic experts league that was using players from the 1969
season. One of the most obvious traits about the league back then
was that there was an abundance of really good pitchers. Bob
Gibson, Steve Carlton, Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan, Juan Marichal, Gaylord
Perry, Jim Palmer, Phil Niekro, Don Sutton, Ferguson Jenkins, Catfish
Hunter and Don Drysdale are just the Hall of Famers who were active.
The list of 20-game winners, Cy Young winners, no-hitter authors
and super-talented pitchers is almost endless: Jim Kaat, Jim Lonborg,
Jim Bunning, Bob Veale, Sam McDowell, Mudcat Grant, Dock Ellis, Denny
McLain, Mickey Lolich, Dave McNally, Mike Cuellar, Pat Dobson, Jim
Perry, Wilbur Wood, Earl Wilson, Dean Chance, Andy Messersmith, Mel
Stottlemyre, Larry Dierker, Claude Osteen, Bill Hands, Bill Singer...
so unlike playing a game based on the current player population,
filling out a staff of good pitchers shouldn't be overly difficult.
What is difficult is filling out a line-up that can score runs yet
won't give back those runs with bad fielding. There were a
handful of great all-around players like Johnny Bench and Hank Aaron,
but their pricing in the Sporting News Strat game makes it next to
impossible to roster more than two or three without having to fill out
the team with extremely marginal players. The dilemma then is to
choose whether to grab a good fielding team and hope they score enough
runs, or a take a chance with good hitters and hope the ball finds
their glove enough that the pitching staff doesn't need intravenous
fluids every game.
I chose to name my squad the Washington Apollos, in honor of mankind's
greatest technical achievement (which just so happened to take place in
1969), and use "the Launching Pad", Atlanta's Fulton County Stadium, as
my home park. This choice turned out to be fortuitous because it
was this that allowed me to walk the razor's edge between fielding a
good defensive team and a good
hitting team. The key was finding inexpensive platoon players who
can take full advantage of a park that is favorable to home runs.
This allowed me to pay top dollar for some of the best all-around
players in the middle of the field - shortstop (Rico Petrocelli),
second base (Dick McAuliffe) and centerfield (Reggie Smith) - and then
find some decent options at third and the other two outfield slots.
The two remaining spots in the line-up - first base and DH -
would be filled by inexpensive platoon players that should
produce as much offensively as guys twice their salary. And like
aforementioned unknown men who changed the history of the planet, these
largely unknown players could have a huge impact on the outcome of this
are Woody Held and Jim
Hicks. Held's final season of a 14-year career was 1969. By
then he was merely a bench player but for eight years he was a fairly
averaging a little better than 20-homers a season. Hicks,
was a never-was amassing a total of 141 career at bats split between
teams over five years. Strangely enough, his Strat card only
half his 1969 production, the half spent with the Angels. The
half of his actual at bats came with the Cardinals, where he displayed
contact but not as much power or as good an eye at the plate.
Their actual numbers as displayed on their Strat cards are in bold.
The other stat lines are what they produced in several SN Strat
when given a chance to play regularly.
Name B P
Def AB R 2B HR RBI BB SB E BA
SLG OBP BAL Salary
Held, W. R CF 4(+2)e9 63
9 2 3 6 13 0 .143 .317 .299 5R
Held, W. R CF 4(+2)e9 289 44
5 27 52 41 0 3 .187 .484 .303 5R 1.96M
Held, W. R CF 4(+2)e9 271 46 5 26
56 26 0 4 .199 .535 .285 5R 1.96M
Held, W. R CF 4(+2)e9 280 51 12
33 76 37 0 8 .275 .671 .378 5R 1.96M
Held, W. R CF 4(+2)e9 471 85 18
34 73 76 0 22 .198 .452 .318 5R 1.96M
Held, W. R CF 4(+2)e9 338
67 8 40 83 47 0 12 .240 .624 .346 5R 1.96M
Held, W. R CF 4(+2)e9 397 76 12 40 92
56 0 12 .222 .554 .333 5R 1.96M
Held, W. R CF 4(+2)e9 392 76 11 43 104 39
0 8 .255 .617 .336 5R 1.96M
Held, W. R CF 4(+2)e9 450 89 10
46 101 47 0 11 .220 .553 .309 5R 1.96M
P Def. AB R 2B HR RBI BB SB
E BA SLG OBP BAL Salary
Hicks, J. R 1B 4e30 48 6
0 3 8 13 0 .083 .271 .274 9L
Hicks, J. R 1B 4e30
84 17 1 7 25 25 0 6
.226 .488 .400 9L 1.07M
Hicks, J. R 1B 4e30
161 32 0 7 26 48 0 1 .199 .354 .383 9L
Hicks, J. R 1B 4e30
171 30 5 13 29 45 0 4 .199 .456 .362 9L
Hicks, J. R 1B 4e30 131 29
5 13 32 36 0 2 .237 .573 .396 9L 1.07M
Hicks, J. R 1B 4e30
200 39 4 16 33 59 0 2 .235 .515 .409 9L
Hicks, J. R 1B 4e30 196
46 3 19 35 45 0 4 .265 .602 .401 9L 1.07M
Hicks, J. R 1B 4e30
202 51 1 20 52 84 0 3 .223 .545 .446 9L
Hicks, J. R 1B 4e30 221 53
4 20 57 62 0 4 .249 .557 .409 9L 1.07M
To give a comparison, Frank Howard - who was also not a very
good fielder but managed to punish opposing pitchers to the tune of 48
homers and a .976 OPS for the Senators in 1969 - his salary in
game is $7.22 million. Combining Held and Hicks in a platoon
similar production to that of Howard but for just $3.03 million, less
half what Howard costs. Making a similar accommodation at first
with guys like Bubba Morton, Jose Pagan and Willie Smith should also
pretty decent bargain-basement production.
In order for the pitching staff to work, it will have to
be comprised of entirely groundball pitchers with very few if any home
run chances. Jim Bunning's card, for example, was ranked 100th
256 pitcher cards in the number of home run chances it allowed but in
first 30 innings of work in this league he allowed 7 home runs.
Guys like Bob Gibson, Sam McDowell, Fritz Peterson, Jerry
Koosman, Juan Marichal and Steve Carlton were some of the top starter's
cards in this regard. McDowell was the one I got to lead the
starting staff. Likewise the bullpen had
to keep the ball in the park so the obvious choice for closer was Ken
who not only doesn't have any home run chances on his card but is the
thing to Mariano Rivera in the 1969 card set.
I did end up with a few big name players on my team - Petrocelli,
Smith, Bobby Murcer, Tug McGraw and Johnny Podres - but the success of
the team will
depend largely on how effective the little known players like Held,
Tatum, Steve Whitaker, Tom Murphy and Tommy Harper are. But as it
been demonstrated in more arenas than just baseball, depending on the
can have a huge pay-off.
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