Telephones and World Series

Cable guy. My phone rang Friday night.
“Hi, this is [I didn’t catch the name] from Charter, the cable company. How are you doing tonight?”

I knew I should have forked over the extra bucks for privacy guard. “I’d be a whole lot better if you’d take me off your calling list,” I said.

“You don’t even want to hear about our special offers?” he asked.

“Nope. I don’t watch TV,” I said.

He sounded disbelieving. “You don’t watch TV?”

“Nope.”

“You mean to tell me you haven’t watched one second of TV today?”

“Right.” I hadn’t. Actually I hadn’t watched one second of TV since I fell asleep during the playoffs and was rudely awakened by Frank Sinatra singing “New York” at high volume after the Yankees steamrolled the Mariners. Disgusted, I turned off the boob tube (that’s all it shows during the commercials) and went to bed.

“What are you doing now?” he asked.

“Getting ready to go out.”

“Oh, you’re going to a party or something?”

Close enough. “Yep.”

“Oh. Sorry to bother you, sir.” And he hung up.

This is the one time of year I do watch TV. That’s World Series time. Unless it’s Yankees-Braves, in which case I have more important things to do, like clean my toenails. My phone rang last night right after Curt Schilling plunked Derek Jeter. “That’s my phone,” I muttered to no one. “Don’t they know better than to bother me during the World Series?” No one answered. I picked up the phone. “Hello?”

Whoever it was must have wised up. There was no one there. Good thing. If it’d been the cable guy again, I’d have had to tell him it’s not worth $35 a month just to be able to watch seven baseball games with a clearer picture.

A few random World Series observations:

Yeah, I know Curt Schilling beat the Cards, and I wanted a Cardinals-Mariners series. Even still, he’s one cool guy. He doesn’t care who sees him praying just before each start, and he bought a ticket for his dad, who died in 1988 and never saw him pitch in the big leagues, for this game. Having lost my dad at a similar age, I empathize. And he’s just a class act. At the end of the game, as his teammates were coming off the field, he ran out to give them handshakes and hugs. Starting pitchers almost never do that. I have to root for him. Baseball needs more good men like Curt Schilling.

Baseball also desperately needs another commissioner like Bart Giamati. Is it just me, or is baseball commissioner Bud Selig the worst public speaker in the history of public speaking? It really bothered me that he had to refer to a script to present Barry Bonds with his worthless Commissioner’s Historic Achievement Award or whatever it’s called. Selig’s speech could be summed up as, “Barry, you had a fantastic season, taking a record that once belonged to Babe Ruth, Roger Maris, and Mark McGwire, joining the ranks of three of the greatest sluggers of all time, while also having one of the greatest all-around offensive seasons of all time. It’s my pleasure to present you with this award, previously awarded to McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn. Congratulations.” But it took him what seemed like several torturous hours to say that. What I just wrote isn’t particularly eloquent, but compared to Selig’s speech, it’s practically Shakespearean.

At any rate, I was happy to see Arizona win. I can’t root for the Yankees. Used to be the only team I disliked more than the Yankees was the Mets. But if the Mets were playing the Yankees, I’d have to root for the Mets just because they aren’t the Yankees. Yeah, I know, that sounds un-American this year. But two people I respect–one of whom I respect so much, his picture hangs in a frame in my living room, across from a picture of Abraham Lincoln–feel exactly the same way.

So here’s to Arizona. And to the American League, who next season will hopefully put the Yankees in their proper place.

Fifth.

Baseball Mogul 2002 offers a glimpse of the future…

I have seen the future, and it crashes a lot. I’ve been playing Baseball Mogul 2002 like a fiend, and I love it. I love statistical baseball and I love financial simulations, so for people like me, this game might as well be heroin.
My big annoyance is that it crashes a lot. It seems to get through the first season just fine, but I haven’t gotten through a second season yet without a crash. That’s annoying. Playing games in a month’s batches seems to make it worse. I suggest you play week by week, saving at the end of each week.

I started off with the Kansas City Royals, of course, and pretty soon I realized what dire straits the team is in if the game doesn’t change. Without a bunch of trades for can’t-miss prospects, it’s virtually impossible to lift the team over the .500 mark, and with free spenders like Cleveland and Chicago in the division, third place is about as well as you’ll do. An out-of-this-world manager like the late (and very sorely missed) Dick Howser could probably improve matters a ton, but Baseball Mogul’s manegerial model is a bit clunky. You can change how your manager manages, but it’s with a bunch of sliders. There’s no way to model, say, a Dick Howser based on the tendencies he used in the dugout and save it. That’s a feature Earl Weaver baseball had way back in the early ’90s and I can’t believe modern sims don’t copy it.

After two seasons with the Royals, I got frustrated. I needed something easier, but not necessarily too easy. So I took on the Curse of the Bambino and took the helm of the Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox haven’t won a World Series since they sold Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees in 1920 for an astronomical $100,000. (Ruth was already a superstar and guided the Bosox to three World Championships, but with him gone, the Sox have been heartbreakers ever since, appearing in four Series and losing each in Game 7. The Yankees have just been scum.)

But how to take on the high-revenue, free-spending Yankees? The Bosox were a challenge unto themselves. Nomar Garciaparra, the greatest shortstop alive today, was injured at the beginning of the 2001 season, of course. MVP candidate Manny Ramirez’ presence in the lineup helped soften it, but I had a cripple playing first base (Brian Daubach was nowhere to be found, not that he has enough punch to really justify holding down that position). So I traded for Toronto’s Brad Fullmer, to get some protection for Ramirez. And Boston limped its way to the playoffs. It wasn’t exactly pretty. The Boston bats racked up tons of runs. Pedro Martinez was masterful, of course, but behind him I had four No. 4 starters: Frank Castillo, Bret Saberhagen (I was glad to see him come off the shelf, but he was the epitome of clutch pitcher, one of those guys who’d give up 9 runs if you didn’t have to win, but when the pennant was on the line, he’d pitch a shutout), David Cone (another ex-Royal, dumped unceremoniously for salary years ago, like Sabes), and Hideo Nomo. Fortunately the Bosox had a solid bullpen. We beat Cleveland in the first round of the playoffs, in five. Pedro had to pitch twice. Sabes won the other game. Of course we faced the Yankees in the ALCS. Boston won in 6, again behind Pedro and Sabes. It would have been poetic justice to have Cone face them in the series and win, but I had to go by the numbers rather than entirely by emotions. That brought us to Larry Walker’s and Mike Hampton’s Colorado for the World Series. Pedro won Game 1. Sabes won Game 2, of course. Castillo lost Game 3. Pedro pitched Game 4 on short rest and lost. I didn’t want to pitch 37-year-old Sabes on such short rest, so I pitched Cone instead. He lost. Sabes came back for Game 6 and won. A shutout, of course. Pedro came back strong and won Game 7.

The curse was lifted. Pedro, with a 19-6 regular season record and a 5-1 record in the postseason, took home the Cy Young award and an All-Star appearance. Manny Ramirez also brought in an All-Star appearance, but most importantly, the team brought in the World Championship.

The 2002 season was where things went nuts. The big-market teams started looking like Rotisserie Leagues thanks to free agency. I went and grabbed Anaheim’s Troy Glaus to play third base and Cleveland’s Kenny Lofton to play left field and bat leadoff. Then I grabbed Minnesota’s Eric Milton to give Pedro a legitimate #2 starter behind him. A couple of weeks into the season I noticed Houston’s Billy Wagner was still unsigned, so I nabbed him to give closer Derek Lowe some help in the bullpen. We rolled through to a 109-53 record, obliterating Oakland and New York in the playoffs. This time there wasn’t even any danger of Pedro’s arm falling off. (He went 27-1 in the regular season with a sparkling 1.53 ERA.)

Then I ran into the free-spending Braves. The Braves’ pitching staff was mostly unchanged from the real 2001 roster. (It was already an All-Star team.) But the lineup… Rafael Furcal, ss. Andruw Jones, cf. Chipper Jones, 3b. Barry Bonds, lf. Sammy Sosa, rf. Tony Clark, 1b. Quilvio Veras, 2b. Paul Bako, c. With the exception of the bottom three, they had arguably the best player in the league at each position. (The other three would be the second- or third-best player on a lot of teams.) Oh yeah. They also had superstar Moises Alou riding the bench. I took a look at Atlanta’s finances. Yep, they were bankrupting the team, deficit spending in hopes of pulling in a World Series. It came down to Game 7, Greg Maddux vs. Pedro Martinez, a showdown of the two greatest pitchers playing today (and arguably the two greatest pitchers alive). Maddux beat Martinez 2-1 in a heartbreaker. (Hey, you try shutting out that lineup!)

After facing that, I felt a little less guilty about running a Rotisserie-style team out of Boston. I’d passed on signing Kerry Wood as a free agent the season before for just that reason. No longer. Atlanta, unable to afford Maddux and Glavine for the next season, let both of them walk. I signed Maddux to a four-year deal, which pretty much guaranteed he’d get his 300th win in a Boston uniform. And between the two of them, I could pretty much count on getting at least three wins in a 7-game postseason. Throw in another clutch performance by Sabes (re-signed for purely emotional reasons–I was either going to get Sabes another World Series ring to go with the one he got with the Royals in ’85 and my fictional Bosox in 2001 or I was going to ship both Sabes and Cone back home to Kansas City, to finish their careers where they both belonged all along. But Cone retired so I opted to go for another ring.) and I’m pretty sure I’d be able to lift the Curse of the Bambino again.

The game even fabricates newspaper accounts of the season’s big games. The picture is almost always the same, and you can usually tell the story was computer-generated rather than written by an intelligent human being, but it adds an element of drama to it.

I also noticed the injury model is fairly realistic. Keeping Pedro Martinez healthy for a full season is virtually impossible, both in this game and in real life. But there are players who will tough themselves through their injuries. Mike Sweeney suffers about one serious injury per year, an injury that would knock most players out of action for a couple of weeks, maybe a month. In Baseball Mogul, Sweeney sits. In real life, Sween tapes himself up and keeps going until he either gets better or the injury hampers his play so severely that even he realizes the Royals are better off with his backup playing. That doesn’t happen often.

The other glaring drawback is that you can’t watch the games. I’d love to watch the All-Star game and at least the World Series.

So. We’ve got a baseball simulation that crashes a lot, doesn’t let you watch the key games (or any of them, for that matter), where injuries are all or nothing, and the managerial model is more crude than I’d like.

Those are serious shortcomings. But the rest of the game is so fabulous that I can mostly overlook them.

Now, the question is, who pitches Opening Day 2003? Martinez or Maddux?

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