THE BRAGGING ZONE
June ruminations on The Bragging Rights League, my latest alternative history Strat replay (http://braggingleague.wordpress.com)
By Jeff Polman
Well, since my last visit with you folks, the BRL pennant race has taken a turn for the less gripping. The Newark Ellingtons, behind Josh Gibson, Mule Suttles, Oscar Heavy Johnson, Wild Bill Wright, and the undefeated Nip Winters (10-0) have pulled out to a four-game lead with 18 to play. Why? Maybe because the second place Birmingham Armstrongs have gone 5-10 in that period, their offense all but coming to a standstill.
Birmingham Catcher Biz Mackey, an early favorite for MVP, has seen his batting average drop to .224. Sluggers Bullet Joe Rogan (.230) and Willard Brown (.239) have also gone south, as Oscar Charleston (.360, 1.094 OPS), remains the only scary hitter in the bunch.
So, as I learned when replaying 1924 a few years back, when your pennant race dissolves, you need to focus more on other things. In my case, it’s story, and in particular, the saga of the Chicago Dorseys. The all-white squad is bumping along in last place but just two games away from third, with a passable record of 18-24. Their offense, heavy on walks and middle-of-the-pack in runs scored, has kept them afloat somewhat, but their inconsistent pitching and porous defense (compared to the Negro Leaguers) has kept them from fueling any kind of a winning streak.
Narrator Jeff Heath has been all but relegated to occasional starts and pinch-hitting because of his 4e16 outfield rating, but there’s been plenty of plot developments for him to narrate. Aside from his discreet interracial romance with Blossom Pickering, the governor of Alabama’s daughter, President Langston Hughes has announced a competition among the Dorsey players to become the first white to play in the major leagues.
But my main concern has been trying to get the Dorseys higher in the pennant race, which has required some roster shenanigans that have yet to pay off. Starting with the best 1941 American Leaguers, I first added Whit Wyatt, Pete Reiser, Johnny Mize, Arky Vaughn and Elmer Riddle to the team to bolster them in a few key areas, and recently went a step further and bumped the clubhouse to 38 players.
Naturally, you can only put nine cards on the field at once, so this ploy hasn’t exactly helped the Dorsey fortunes. Add that to the constantly unlucky split rolls they’ve been getting, and it’s clear while they’re running in place. Going up against better pitching and more powerful lineups nearly every game, Chicago player-manager Luke Appling has had to look for every statistical edge. For instance, the great Joe DiMaggio, with only two homers and 18 RBIs in his 30 games, has been mostly swapped out in center for Pete Reiser against pitchers with more hittable cards against lefties. Joe Gordon, a complete disaster at second with a .152 average and 8 errors, has been axed for a platoon team of Bobby Doerr and Benny McCoy, but neither hits lefties all that well.
Actually, though, there shouldn’t be any surprises when it comes to the Dorseys. They are, after all, an all-star team representing one season, while the Negro League set features players averaging out their best seven seasons. That they’re as close as they are is obviously a tribute to Appling’s great managing/GM skills.
Not to mention the remarkable Ted Williams. Holding his own against the Negro League greats, he’s at .346 with 14 homers, 38 RBIs and a league-leading 1.157 OPS in 42 games. Compare that to the less-formidable Josh Gibson, at just .283 with 11 homers. Newark’s success has certainly been more of a team effort.
On the pitching side, Satchel Paige of the Kansas City Basies, after a weak 1-3 start and getting consistently racked, has won six starts in a row and now has a great (for this league) 3.04 ERA and fantastic 82/18 K/BB ratio. Like the Dorseys, Pittsburgh Jordans and Detroit Calloways, the Basies need to put a quick locomotive of a winning streak together to have a chance in this race, but even if they don’t, the ride has been tons of fun.
See you next month!