History Lessons At Your Fingertips (Replay Zone – May 2015)

By Jeff Polman
May ruminations from your trusty Strat-O-Matic replay addict. Check out, “Mystery Ball ‘58”, my new baseball novel, which was inspired by a replay of the 1958 season.
Ripping and sorting the just-arrived 1953 season recently, I came across a player I didn’t know existed. This is a common occurrence when breaking open a "new old season", but this one threw me, because I’ve always been enamored with great old baseball nicknames, and I had never, ever heard of Yo-Yo Davalillo, older brother of longtime Indians outfielder Vic Davalillo.
A trip to Baseball Reference was in order. Yo-Yo, a Venezuelan whose real name was Pompey and was signed as an amateur free agent that year, had 58 at bats for the ’53 Senators, batted .293, went a monstrous 7-for-12 in his first three big league starts, all wins against the Indians and Browns, before tailing off. Soon after that, a severe injury and fear of flying prematurely ended his major league career, and he played, coached and managed in the Venezuelan League from that point on.
What’s clear is that I may never have learned the story of Yo-Yo if I hadn’t acquired one of Strat’s newest past seasons. It’s one of the reasons I’ve always enjoyed ordering and playing with them, regardless of the sport: You not only get to play with classic players from the past, but also discover things about the sport’s history in the process.
A few weeks spent with the 1911 baseball cards, for instance, teaches you how horrendous the fielding was back then (Honus Wagner sports a 1e60 at shortstop!) due to the bad fields and small gloves, and how much a part of the game speed and small ball were. Nearly every offensive player has an “asterisk” steal rating, and there are numerous players who were caught more often than they were successful.
1920 was a treasure trove of fabulous player nicknames I had been previously unaware of. Anyone for Rowdy Elliott, Bunny Hearn, Greasy Neale, Possum Whitted, Homer Summa, Pickles Dilhoefer, Jigger Statz, or Shovel Hodge? The Cubs alone featured Hippo Vaughn, Sweetbreads Bailey, Speed Martin and the best name in the bunch, Chippy Gaw!
A replay of the 1934 season emphasized the almost complete absence of effective relievers in that era. For my eventual champion Tigers team, after enduring one late-game meltdown after another using people like General Crowder and Luke Hamlin to try and close games, I started leaving the starting pitchers in for the duration, regardless of their fatigue, and usually found just enough success to win.
The good Yankee clubs of the ‘40s and ‘50s were notable for their pitchers giving up a huge number of walks, but somehow winning many games. The lack of hits on the pitcher cards and tight up-the-middle defense had a lot to do with it, though this is an instance where I feel a “clutch pitching” factor would be even more realistic.
If you like pure pitching, then the mid 60s cards are for you, especially any you can obtain from 1963 or 1967-1969 period. Some may find a flood of 1-0 and 2-1 games boring, but if you’re doing a full season replay, you’re bound to finish it up a lot faster!
Finally, we all know what the “steroid era” of the 90s wrought, and from comments and posts I’ve read on the Internet, Strat players near and far seem to really enjoy playing with those seasons. I’m at least a third of the way through a Best of 1997 replay, and yes, I have yet to grow tired of 14-10 games, but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. The best advice I can give is to replay a couple of different kinds of seasons simultaneously and jump back and forth between them whenever a certain kind of play gets tiresome.
Meanwhile, may you unearth an historical artifact as good as Yo-Yo Davalillo!