THE BRAGGING ZONE
By Jeff Polman
Okay, so there’s this pitcher named Nip Winters in Strat’s Negro leagues set, and he’s on my first-place Newark Ellingtons. Decent card, not exactly Satchel Paige but certainly no Frank Wickware. The real Nip broke in with the Baltimore Black Sox in 1920, pitched for at least four other Negro teams, played in Cuba, and suffered from off-the-field alcoholism.
For my Ellingtons, he was 12-0.
Of course, we know now that wins and losses don’t indicate how good a pitcher really is, but still, a 12-0 record tells me he had a knack for taking the hill on days the Newark offense was alive, and that the dice Strat gods were usually rolling in his favor.
So even though the Ellingtons’ lead over Oscar Charleston’s Birmingham Armstrongs had shrunk to one after blowing two come-from-ahead games to the all-white Chicago Dorseys, I was pretty certain old Nip would snip off the Chicago offense and keep Newark alone in first.
But then fresh-brewed fate intervened.
After Jimmie Foxx made it 1-0 Dorseys in the 1st with a scoring fielder’s choice, Joe DiMaggio stepped up. Joe has been nothing but disappointing the entire season, and has been benched for Pete Reiser when more lefties are needed in the lineup. I sat up straighter on my couch, gave the dice a solid roll and tossed them on my coffee table.
The black control die bounced once, twice, fell onto the floor and scooted under the couch. I hate when this happens, because I normally have to stand, pull the couch out and fish through dust balls for the little sucker. I have since brought a yardstick into the room and given it a permanent place in the corner, just for these occasions.
This time, though, the yardstick was only swatting it further away. I pushed the table back, got on my belly and swept the yardstick across the floor again, bouncing the die off a couch leg and right back to me.
Unfortunately, in the process of shoving the table back, the cup of hot coffee I had placed above my cards had spilled, and small splashes of French Roast had landed on Nip Winters, the other dice, and nearly every card in the Newark lineup. I quickly ran for a paper towel, cleaned and dried everything as fast as I could, and kept playing.
But Nips’ glove had a sticky substance it just couldn’t shake. With first and third and two out in the Chicago 2nd, Gordon singled, Keller singled, Williams singled, Foxx walked, DiMaggio doubled, and it was 6-0 Dorseys just like that.
I kept Winters in the game, thinking his usual good fortune would return, but it was too late. The coffee spill had clearly upset him and the team, the Dorseys won 11-4, matching the 11-4 Birmingham win over Pittsburgh, and lo and behold, I had a tie for first place with just six games left!
We all know Strat cards are just that; thin, flat pieces of card stock. It’s amazing, though, how the longer you play with a team, whether it be a real MLB roster or a fabricated one through a draft, the more they take on their own personality, and the more the players come alive—not just through stats and ability, but as characters you begin to see traits in.
Take the biggest bust in my league: Frog Redus of the Detroit Calloways. This guy has a .347 card with 24 homers, 97 RBIs, and a plus-.900 OPS. For me he’s at .212 with a .620 OPS, an e20 in the outfield and fails horribly in the clutch wherever I slot him in the lineup. Pittsburgh’s Buck Leonard (.251) and Rap Dixon (.206) haven’t come close to their .344 and .336 marks, while on the pitching side, Bill Drake and yes, Bob Feller were so awful in their rotations they had to be bounced to the bullpen.
How many times have you had a slugger with incredible 1 and 3 columns land in his 2 column practically every time up? (DiMaggio’s problem, by the way) There’s a manager in my ECBA draft league from San Diego who keeps an entire batallion of dice handy when we play face-to-face and “changes up” constantly throughout the game when his luck is going bad. I never go to that extreme, but I can understand why some people do.
For me, full-season replays tend to iron out the bad luck wrinkles like an iron on a shirt. I need time to settle on the best lineups and rotations for each team, and even more time for the players to introduce themselves as flesh and blood cardboard, so I know how to read their “personalities”….and hopefully keep them away from spilled coffee.
See you next month with the Bragging Rights League season finale!