THE FUNK ZONE
By Jeff Polman
October ruminations on my 1977 replay, Play That Funky Baseball (http://funkyball.wordpress.com), and other Strat-O things
I’m not going to lie to you; I’m a hopeless Red Sox fan. The entire top of my bookshelf is lined with volumes about the Olde Towne Team. One of my prized possessions is a baseball that Carl Yastrzemski fouled back off my knee during batting practice in 1978. I will never name my children Bucky or Mookie. That sort of thing.
But when it comes to the world of Strat-playing, 99 percent of the time I find myself pulling for the Yankees. Why is that? It seems to have something to do with badly wanting the game to reflect reality, and in reality, the Yankees are usually good. When my 1941 season replay ended, the DiMaggio Yanks found themselves a shocking five games behind the Williams Red Sox, with at least half of the New York pitching cards crumpled and ripped, then re-assembled so they could finish out the year. I was livid.
In my current 1977 online replay, this predicament is confounding me like never before. I do have 16 absentee managers speaking for the teams, but I’m the one doing the rolling and making most of the “field” decisions, and with my Boston-friendly reputation hardly a secret, the last thing I want is to be accused of shenanigans if Boston takes the pennant (they currently have a small lead at the beginning of August). Trust me, please, when I say that even with all their ferocious home run power, and despite a far-below average rotation, Boston has been getting lucky and timely dice rolls from Opening Day, with the Yanks largely getting the opposite.
I’m talking Fred Lynn and his .260 card batting up around .300. Bernie Carbo with 27 homers, Denny Doyle with clutch triples, Yaz with a frightening OPS and Fergie Jenkins 13-3. And then I’m talking Graig Nettles around .220 with a flood of inexplicable errors, Reggie Jackson failing in the clutch, Mickey Rivers unable to throw out his grandmother, horrible X-chart outfield range day in and day out, and Sparky Lyle with a 3-8 record and numerous blown saves.
I realize the Yanks only won the AL East that year by a couple of games, but they haven’t come close to being the nails-eating squad they should be, as reflected in the numerous clutch hitting spots on their cards. Thankfully they ARE in the race with less than two months left, so things could change. But this traitorous Yankee Strat fan is uneasy.
And as Boston opens another big 3-game set in the Bronx, with the very fortunate Luis Tiant going against the extremely jinxed Mike Torrez, I thought I’d provide the annotated play-by-play so you know I’m not making this up. I also have a 15-year-old witness standing behind me…
TOP OF 1ST: Carbo walks, Fisk whiffs, Yaz misses 1-10 ballpark, Rice flies out.
BOTTOM OF 1st: Alston and Zeber fly out on identical 5-8 rolls, one inch away from a HR/double split, Munson grounds out, smack between three single rolls.
TOP OF 2nd: Evans walks, Lynn whiffs, Hobson singles Evans to third, Burleson grounds out with infield up, Doyle (!) singles on a 3-6 roll, scoring Evans, then Hobson on Rivers’ chicken arm, Carbo whiffs.
BOTTOM OF 2nd: Jackson singles, Rivers lines out, Nettles doubles off Tiant’s card, but Reggie holds up at third due to Lynn’s arm. With infield back, Chambliss whiffs on 3-7, smack between three gbA rolls that would have plated a run, White flies out.
THIRD INNING: No scoring, nothing strange to report.
TOP OF 4th: Lynn singles with one out, Hobson hits into DP.
BOTTOM OF 4th: Jackson whiffs, Rivers gets the one piece of Yankee luck the entire game, a single and error on Doyle, Nettles grounds Rivers over to third, Chambliss singles to make it 2-1, White whiffs, 6-10 on Tiant’s card, smack between two hit rolls.
FIFTH INNING: No scoring, nothing strange to report.
TOP OF 6th: Fisk grounds out, Yaz HOMERS, nice and clean on Torrez’s 6-9, Rice whiffs, Evans HOMERS on a 1-ROLL!! (confirmed by 15-year-old witness, 9:12 p.m. PDT). It’s the 6-9 HR/flyout split on Torrez’s card, so Evans also rolled the 1-11 rob try with Roy White. Lynn flies out. 4-1 Boston now.
BOTTOM OF 6th: Munson singles, Jackson, Rivers and Nettles all roll outs on Tiant’s very hittable card.
TOP OF 7th: Hobson singles on a 1-6 roll, but he’s left at second after a two-out Carbo walk.
BOTTOM OF 7th: Zilch. Through seven innings, Nettles’ double is still the only hit rolled on Tiant’s card.
TOP OF 8th: Yaz reaches on Zeber error, Rice singles him to third with a 1-6 roll, the only hit in the entire column amidst a forest of DPs, Evans grounds out to make second and third, Lyle relieves and gets Lynn and Hobson.
BOTTOM OF 8th: Alston rolls a 1-10 ballpark HOMER, Zeber misses the same 1-10 ballpark HR and flies out, Munson singles, Jackson does his usual thing, grounding into a Burleson X-chart DP.
TOP OF 9th: Burleson rolls a 6-2 single off Lyle, the only hit in the entire column. Doyle bunts him over, Carbo whiffs, Fisk singles, 4-6 in Lyle’s hit neighborhood, to make it 5-2, Yaz whiffs.
BOTTOM OF 9th: Rivers reaches on another Doyle error, Nettles singles him to second. No reason to bring in the pen, Tiant is actually Cuban-Irish. Chambliss rolls a 5-8 flyout, the same next-to-a-HR split chance four other Yankees have rolled in the game, White grounds into another Burleson X-chart DP to end it.
The Sox now have an 8-4 series lead, and the Yanks are four and a half back. This is your standard matchup between these two: clutch Boston rolls whenever they need them, Tiant walking nobody, inept Yankee fielding and hitting, even with ringers Alston and Zeber at the top of the lineup (I give up some glove when they start, but Randolph and Piniella have been useless against righties). By my count, Boston had five good pieces of dice luck and one “bad” one (Yaz’s early 1-10 HR miss); New York had one good piece of luck and four bad ones.
Of course, the rest of this season could play out very differently. The Yanks could start rolling the clutch spots they’ve been wildly missing all year, though it’s also possible I’ve used up their good karma. My 1959 replay ended with New York surprising Chicago and Cleveland to take the AL pennant, then beating the juggernaut Giants in the World Series. And you might find this hard to believe, but Boston has never won one of my replays. The closest they got was with ’78 when they beat out New York by one game, then got trounced by Texas in the ALCS, and in my Best of ’07 league, when they roared back to take the AL, then got swept by Atlanta in the Series.
Maybe if I’m lucky, the Royals can run away with this darn thing and put me out of my misery.