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THE REPLAY ZONE
 

By Jeff Polman
 
January ruminations from your trusty Strat-O-Matic replay addict.
 
 
Ah yes, 1958...
 
Arnold Palmer wins the Masters.
 
Ford releases the Edsel.
 
The first Pizza Hut opens in Kansas City.
 
"The Donna Reed Show" premieres on ABC-TV.
 
"At the Hop," "Tequila," and "Volare" are big hits on the radio.
 
Popular movies are "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," "Touch of Evil," "House on Haunted Hill" and "Vertigo"—
 
Hold it right there a second. Vertigo is my favorite Alfred Hitchcock suspense thriller of all time, set in a dreamy, creepy late 50s San Francisco.
 
Sounds like the perfect setting for a Strat replay blog.
 
Yes, starting right after the Brown Truck delivers the spanking new 1958 cards, I'll be launching Mystery Ball, my newest full-season "fictionalization". This one should be tons of fun, because as a "whowunit," there will be both a murder mystery and pennant race suspense to dive into. Posts will appear on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays every week, and I'll be sure to provide the link to the site in my February column.
 
The 1958 season isn’t exactly known for its pennant races, with the Braves and Yankees coasting into the World Series, but as I've learned, anything can happen on the Strat field. The Giants, who along with the Dodgers played their first year on the west coast, will provide the focus for my blog story at charming little Seals Stadium, once the stomping ground for Joe DiMaggio on the Pacific Coast League Seals. The amazing Willie Mays and rookie Orlando Cepeda will be the power kegs of their lineup, and will hopefully stay competitive with the first place Milwaukee Braves most of the year. The Braves, with Aaron, Mathews, Covington, Spahn, and Burdette, are a scary-good outfit, and will be tough to topple.
 
Over in the American League, I expect the Yankees to use their lofty power, on-base percentage and depth to pave an easy road to the pennant, but the late 50s had their share of talent on the Indians, White Sox, and Red Sox, so anything can happen in that league, too.
 
The only certainty is that the Phillies (losers of 85 games in '58) and Senators (losers of 93) will be bringing up the rear, but at least we'll get to watch Richie Ashburn play and see Roy Sievers and Jim Lemon swing the bat. It was certainly not a multi-dimensional brand of baseball that year, with very little speed and a lot of walks and 3-run homers, but with an absence of shut-down bullpens like we have today, this will likely lead to more late-inning walkoff wins. And who doesn't like those?
 
* * *
 
How does a Strat replayaholic spend the winter between new card releases? Well, this one has bounced between four ongoing off-season projects, one of them pretty exciting.
 
—A full-season replay of 1963 that I'm taking my sweet time to play. So far the Yankees (24-5, with an astonishing 2.40 team ERA and 1.16 team WHIP) are in first, with the very tough White Sox (26-8) right behind them, while the Braves (23-13), Reds (22-13), Giants (22-14), and Dodgers (22-15) are staging an incredible four-team NL race.
 
—A truncated Best of 2010-2011 NHL season, with a 72-game schedule and the eight best teams from each conference. There will be no Stanley Cup playoffs, just a 5-out-of-9 final series between the champs of the East and West. Points standings after 64 total games played: EAST Penguins-13, Bruins-12, Canadiens-10, Flyers-8, Capitals-8, Ranges-7, Sabres-7, Lightning-4 WEST Sharks-12, Coyotes-11, Ducks-11, Blackhawks-8, Kings-8, Canucks-7, Red Wings-6, Predators-6
 
—A 154-game replay with eight fantasy teams culled from Strat's latest Hall of Fame set. This has been a blast and a half so far. I staged a draft to try and get the clubs as even as possible, and it's pretty much worked. The hitting, as you'd expect, is off the charts. I've reached the Fourth of July and only one team has an ERA under 5.00. To give you an idea of how brutal the league is, the Iowa Dream Fields have a team featuring Honus Wagner, Ernie Banks, Stan Musial, Johnny Mize, Duke Snider, Tony Gwynn, Dave Winfield, Orlando Cepeda, Ryne Sandberg, Bill Dickey and Al Simmons, pitchers Pete Alexander, Old Hoss Radbourn, Rube Foster and Warren Spahn—and they’re dead last at 31-41.
 
—Finally, the most creatively rewarding news is that I've just had my first book published! 1924 and You Are There! is an adaptation of the first replay blog I did three years ago with the '24 season, and is largely the daily diary of 17-year old Phillies fan Vinny Spanelli, who goes to nearly every game at old Baker Bowl. Along the way he falls for Rachel, a fetching Brooklyn Robins fan, becomes the Phillie batboy and even helps arrange a secret exhibition series between white major league stars and a team of Negro Leaguers.
 
The original blog was evenly split between Vinny's story and dispatches filed by Calvin Butterworth, a Tigers beat reporter. It was far too long for a book, though, so I kept the best Butterworth items and chopped the rest out to make it even more fun to read.
 
The book is available from Amazon or from my CreateSpace eStore.
 
See you next month!

Note: Photo at the top is of the first Major League pitch ever thrown on the West Coast.