THE BRAGGING ZONE
Monthly ruminations on The Bragging Rights League, my latest alternative history Strat replay (http://braggingleague.wordpress.com)
By Jeff Polman
Greetings again! My latest online replay project is a “baseball fantasy blogella” that turns the game’s tainted racial history upside down. Why? Well, because with Strat-O-Matic, you actually can, but there are deeper reasons. I’ve written a number of stories and film treatments in which famous victims through history (Van Gogh, the Donner Party, Red Sox fans pre-2004) see their fortunes magically reversed and get eternal satisfaction out of the deal, so it seemed fitting to force a team of white 1941 all-stars to undergo all the race-baiting and hardships the Negro League players had to.
But let’s not deter from the action on the tabletop, for Strat’s Negro League set is fueling nothing but unpredictable, hit-filled amazement so far. Extra innings and walkoff blasts are common, and with so many monster batting cards, a great pitcher is no sure thing if he’s not getting the rolls. How about this line for Satchel Paige after his first four starts? 0-3, 4.64 ERA, 47 hits allowed in 33 innings.
Or the line score from this game, with the first-place Birmingham Armstrongs hosting the contending Detroit Calloways:
DET 001 000 020 105 – 9 19 0
BIR 020 010 000 106 – 10 19 1
To populate the black major league the whites have to “prove themselves” in, I first conducted a draft and broke the set evenly into five teams, all named after famous jazz musicians of the period. With dice rolls determining the team draft order, here’s the way the first three picks went for each club:
1. Newark Ellingtons—Josh Gibson, Smokey Joe Williams, Mule Suttles
2. Birmingham Armstrongs—Oscar Charleston, Big Bill Foster, Pop Lloyd
3. Kansas City Basies—Satchel Paige, Willie Wells, Cristabal Torriente
4. Detroit Calloways—Slim Jones, Chino Smith, John Beckwith
5. Pittsburgh Jordans—Turkey Stearnes, Max Manning, Buck Leonard
Thrown into this ring are the Chicago Dorseys, the greatest “ragtag” collection of 1941 white players there never was. A sample of their roster:
1B-Johnny Mize, 2B-Joe Gordon SS-Luke Appling (manager) 3B-Cecil Travis LF-Ted Williams CF-Joe DiMaggio RF-Jeff Heath (the blog’s narrator) C-Bill Dickey SP-Whit Wyatt, Thornton Lee, Elmer Riddle, Bob Feller, Red Ruffing, Sid Hudson, BENCH (among others)-Jimmie Foxx, Ken Keltner, Pete Reiser, Arky Vaughn
There was much debate in my head about which season to pick white all-stars from, but the 1920, 1927 and 1934 players just seemed too potent, so I settled on ’41. And who doesn’t want to play Williams and DiMaggio every day in the outfield?
So far, though, the Dorseys are tied for last with the Basies at 4-11. I recently concocted a scenario to get Wyatt and Riddle on the team and into the rotation, because Bob Feller (0-3, 8.85 ERA, 2.24 WHIP) has been an absolute frightmare, but much of the problem, similar to Paige’s, has been the team’s godawful dice luck.
On the other hand, Birmingham and their absurd 12-3 mark could hang their cards from the ceiling, drop their dice in a Cuisinart and still pour out rosy victories. They don’t have the lofty team stats Detroit currently enjoys, but as evidenced above, they pull out every close game imaginable with the perfect rolls at the perfect times.
It’s been a joy to create these teams and let them grow lives and characters of their own. I’m now on Chapter 6 of 22, but because I only post every Sunday, there’s plenty of time to catch up with the story. Be sure to check out the Bragging Rights League team roster pages, too, featuring musical selections by each team owner.
See you next month!