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THE BRAGGING ZONE

August ruminations on The Bragging Rights League, my latest alternative history Strat replay (http://braggingleague.wordpress.com)



By Jeff Polman

The bat bags have been zipped, the emory balls shelved, Jeff Heath has returned to his semi-forgotten status in Canada and Cleveland baseball history, and the Bragging Rights League has ended.
 
And what an ending! Oscar Charleston of the Birmingham Armstrongs went positively Yastrzemski the last two weekends of the season, as the “Armies” came from four games back to edge out the Newark Ellingtons for the coveted pennant. Check out these details from the big Charleston Chew:
 
9/3 at Newark: ARMSTRONGS 9-14-1, ELLINGTONS 6-10-0
Oscar hits a solo homer and sac fly in big comeback win after dropping the opener in the series.
 
9/4 at Newark: ARMSTRONGS 8-17-1, ELLINGTONS 7-17-3 (13 innings)
In the biggest game of the year, Birmingham comes back from a 7-4 deficit to score three in the top of the 9th with the help of a Josh Gibson error, and Oscar’s solo homer in the 13th off Bill Byrd wins it, giving the Armstrongs a 1-game lead.
 
9/9 at Detroit: ARMSTRONGS 9-14-2, CALLOWAYS 8-12-0
Oscar doubles in the go-ahead run in the 5th, adds another solo clout in the top of the 9th to ice it.
 
9/10 at Detroit: ARMSTRONGS 5-13-0, CALLOWAYS 4-11-1 (10 innings)
Oscar homers to begin the scoring in the 3rd, wins it with another homer off Ray Brown in the 10th, on a 1-3 roll.
 
9/11 at Detroit: ARMSTRONGS 9-14-0, CALLOWAYS 2-9-0
For his encore, Oscar homers two more times and knocks in four in Birmingham’s pennant-winning rout.
 
So in the five-game winning streak that gave his team the crown, Charleston went 11-for-23 (.478) with 7 home runs and 12 RBIs. If that performance alone didn’t earn him his MVP award, the award should be done away with.
 
As for my scenario of having the white Chicago Dorseys “prove themselves” on the same field as the black major league, they certainly did that, but needed their roster goosed to 37 players to even get over .500. It was understandable, though; the Negro League cards were an average of each player’s best seven years, while the whites were stuck with whatever they accomplished in 1941. That year was obviously no problem for Ted Williams, who played all 60 games and finished with league bests in homers (19), OPS (1.243) and batting average (.385). His outfield partner Joe DiMaggio fared far less well, with a .313 average and only five homers in the 46 games he played. Pete Reiser’s better on-base against righties put Joe on the bench frequently, and the move paid off as the Dorseys surged into third place the last few weeks.
 
Satchel Paige was the league’s pitching master, of course. Satch began the season with three very wobbly losses, but won his next eleven starts, finished with an amazing 2.48 ERA considering the hitters he had to face (not to mention being slotted against the other teams’ aces), and ended with a 117/32 strikeout-to-walk ratio and 1.17 WHIP.
 
The most fun I had doing the Bragging Rights League, though, was watching each team develop its own personality after the rosters were drafted. The Ellingtons with Gibson and Mule Suttles were big and brawny but had sketchy pitching. The Armstrongs were far down in team runs scored but made every one count and had a knack for late-game heroics. Their 21 comeback wins against only 8 blown leads were testament to this.
 
I’ve already mentioned the Dorseys’ improvement, but the Kansas City Basies also enjoyed a late run thanks mainly to Paige and a monster sweep late in the year in Newark, where they absolutely clobbered the unraveling Ellington staff.
 
Then there were the Pittsburgh Jordans and Detroit Calloways, both huge disappointments. The Jordans finished 7-20 at their home Greenlee Field, while Detroit, despite scoring the second most runs, were 4-10 in one-run games, blew twenty leads, and also had a wretched home mark of 9-18 at Mack Park.
 
I’m sure most of you who play in draft leagues also enjoy the first time your club starts developing its own character, but using this great Negro Leagues set, gleaned from an old baseball world largely hidden to the public at the time, with players I knew practically nothing about, gave everything a very rich life of its own.
 
I’ll be starting a brand new replay blog early next year, but will continue these columns each month to share further Strat thoughts. I mean, it’s not like I won’t be rolling any dice until then.