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Bret Saberhagen

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?

01/10/2001

Mailbag:

Relocating the My Docs folder

First, some computer news. AMD is building a third fab after all. Location still TBA. Reportedly they’re looking for someone to share this $4 billion facility, but that of course could change by the time it’s ready in 2004. They were looking for someone to share their Dresden fab up until the day it opened, it seemed, but it turns out that capacity kept all to themselves really isn’t enough.

Time to talk baseball. My Royals did it. They made their first blockbuster trade since 1991, when they traded their beloved pitching ace, Bret Saberhagen, for a bag of baseballs. Well, actually they got Gregg Jefferies, who played third base with an oven mitt and hit .270–his biggest contribution was helping George Brett get his 3,000th hit by giving him some protection in the lineup, forcing pitchers to pitch to Brett–before getting traded across the state for Felix Jose, a bust who played right field for a couple of seasons, then played himself out of a job and dropped off the face of the earth. They also got Keith Miller, a scrappy player who was murder in the clutch, but he couldn’t stay healthy. He only lasted two seasons before he was done too. The most noteworthy guy from the trade was Kevin McReynolds, an underachieving power hitter past his prime, who lasted a couple of seasons, then was shipped back to the Mets in exchange for Vince Coleman, who provided some needed speed but his expensive contract and poor defense led them to ship him to Seattle for a prospect. His replacement was a youngster by the name of Johnny Damon.

Well, the Royals have once again traded a franchise player. Johnny Damon, their leadoff hitter, team leader, and sometime center fielder (he also plays left) is gone. Traded to Oakland, home to many an ex-Royal, in a three-team deal that brought a 20-year-old shortstop prospect and a backup catcher to Kansas City. (Ironically, this backup catcher lost his job with the A’s because Sal Fasano was better. Sal Fasano’s old team? The Royals.)

But the key to the deal was Roberto Hernandez, a 36-year-old closer. He throws hard and routinely saves 30 games a season. Lately the Royals have been doing well to get 15 from their closers. The Royals routinely scored 6 runs a game, but their bullpen routinely gave up 7. Hernandez and newly acquired setup man Doug Henry look to end that trend. Without Johnny Damon they won’t score 6 runs a game as much anymore, but the improved bullpen can reduce the number of runs they give up by one or two.

I feel good about this trade. Johnny Damon talked about how much he loved Kansas City, but he acted like a hired gun. And when he wasn’t making threats about leaving, he was trying to run the team. The solution to all the Royals’ problems last year, according to Damon, was Paul Sorrento. Paul Sorrento was a .240-hitting first baseman with some power and an average glove. The Royals already had Mike Sweeney at first base, a converted catcher who thinks he’s the second coming of George Brett. He’s good for .320 or .330, 20+ homers and 100+ RBIs a season. Not a great fielder, but he’s getting better. Paul Sorrento only would have taken playing time from Sweeney and wouldn’t have given them much. I guess 29 other teams agreed, because after the Royals let Sorrento go, no one else snapped him up. Then the Royals went and got Dave McCarty, a career minor leaguer with a fabulous glove who’d always managed to hit .230 or .240 in his brief stints in the bigs. But as a part-time player, McCarty found his groove. He flirted with a .280 average and hit a number of big homers, in addition to playing well, if not spectacularly, at first base and also spending some time in left and right field. Great move. Paul who? Good thing the front office didn’t listen to Johnny Damon.

This off-season, Johnny Damon was talking about how the Royals needed to go get some pitching, like, say, Darren Dreifort. Darren Dreifort. Who? Exactly. Darren Dreifort is an overpriced career National Leaguer who in a typical season goes 8-8 with an ERA around 4.50. The Royals already have six guys who can do that, given the kind of bullpen support Dreifort always got in LA, and they won’t ask for $7 milion a year to do it either. What’s so special about Darren Dreifort? He and Johnny Damon have the same agent. Can anyone say conflict of interest?

Johnny Damon was fun to watch, believe me. I liked the guy, as long as he kept his mouth shut. He played hard and did everything they ever asked him to do. Move to left field to make room for Carlos Beltran? OK. Hit third? Sure. Uh oh. All of our cleanup-type hitters are dropping like flies. Will you do it for a while until one of them gets healthy? OK. Uh oh. Carlos Beltran’s hurt. Would you move back to center field for a while? Sure, and might as well field spectacularly and hit .387 the second half of the season too.

But Johnny Damon didn’t want to sign a long-term contract. Johnny Damon wanted to make Bernie Williams money. And the Royals don’t have Bernie Williams money to offer. So Johnny Damon was going to move elsewhere the instant he became a free agent. The best thing the Royals could do was trade him for whatever they could get.

What they got was an expensive relief pitcher and a shortstop prospect, but Roberto Hernandez is no more expensive than what the Royals offered Johnny Damon. And now the Royals have cleared the logjam in their outfield. Mark Quinn can keep on playing left field. Carlos Beltran can go back to center. Jermaine Dye’s a lock in right. Dave McCarty and Mike Sweeney can rotate between first base and DH, which had been Quinn’s old role. Or power-hitting prospect Dee Brown can take over at DH if he’s ready, with Sween at first and McCarty back in the old role of supersub. Carlos Beltran or second baseman Carlos Febles can hit leadoff. If they falter, third baseman Joe Randa doesn’t have Johnny Damon’s speed, but he can replace his on-base percentage.

And as for the shortstop prospect, Angel Berroa, the Royals had no successor to smooth-fielding Rey Sanchez. Sanchez is a free swinger, but he’s managed to hit .270 or .280 for the Royals for two seasons so he’s not as bad as some make him out to be, but he’s 33 and has been a bench player most of his career. (Rob & Rany don’t like him much, but I have two words to say to that: Felix Martinez. Martinez was Sanchez’ predecessor, and he had one good hit his whole time in a KC uniform. It was a sucker punch in a brawl with the Anaheim Angels.) But Sanchez probably can’t be an everyday shortstop much longer and the Royals had to think about the future. Berroa looks to be one of those rare shortstops who can hit and field.

And Mike Sweeney is more than ready to take over Johnny Damon’s role as team leader. Sween loves the community, and the community loves him. Sween leads a Bible study in the clubhouse already, and players come. When a player has a problem, Sween’s the guy he’s most likely to seek out. What’s his manager have to say about him? He once told a Kansas City Star reporter that he has a twentysomething daughter. Now don’t get me wrong, he said. I don’t want her to marry Michael Sweeney. But I want her to marry someone like Michael Sweeney.

This from a guy who doesn’t give many compliments.

Sween’s as good a guy as any to build the team’s future around. Johnny Damon’s been around a little bit longer, but Mike Sweeney has qualities Johnny Damon never had and might not ever have.

Yes, Johnny Damon was nice to have, but he wasn’t the team. He looked irreplaceable, but his mouth made management wonder otherwise, and I think management was right.

Now, what do the Royals have to do to get Bret Saberhagen back? He’s been not-a-Royal for longer than he was a Royal, but I’ll always think of him as that 21-year-old who won two World Series games.

Not everyone agrees with me, of course. KC Star sportswriters pretty much do. Rany Jazayerli doesn’t. Rob Neyer hasn’t spoken yet.

Mailbag:

Relocating the My Docs folder