Looking Forward to the Places SOM Will Take Us
Back in Baseball History
Back in Baseball History
Re-creations of Classic 1969 and 1953 Coming Soon
By Glenn Guzzo
Abetted by lower-priced gas, the Strat-O-Matic Baseball time machine has been running ‘round the clock recently, meaning gamers will be getting great mileage come early 2015: Two new classic seasons instead of the typical one.
The time machine’s first stop: 1969, the year Major League Baseball expanded from 20 teams to 24, the year of the Miracle Mets and the year when many of the game’s stars shined their brightest.
Getting more years to the gallon, the time machine keeps going, back to 1953, the year of the mighty Brooklyn Dodgers, perhaps the most beloved team from Strat-O-Matic’s first single-sided great-teams set 50 years ago.
Both the 1969 and 1953 seasons will be in Super Advanced format and are scheduled to be released for board-game and Windows-game play when the 2014 season is unveiled.
Here are highlights from seasons that many gamers have longed for:
— The Miracle Mets: Having never finished above ninth place in a 10-team league for their first seven seasons, the Mets were 9 ½ games behind the Cubs in the new NL East in early August. But a month later they were only 2 ½ back, swept a pair of games with Chicago, won the East, swept Atlanta in the NLCS and upset Baltimore in a five-game World Series that featured so many strokes of good fortune that the “Miracle” tag has remained for 45 years.
Cy Young winner Tom Seaver (25-7, 2.21) had the best year of his Hall-of-Fame career, Cleon Jones hit .340 and Tommy Agee was an all-around star (26 HR, 12 SB and sterling center field defense).
— Baltimore: The 109-win Orioles are among the best teams never to win a World Series. They had power, led by MVP-worthy sluggers Boog Powell (.304-37-121) and Frank Robinson (.300-32-100) and pitching (a Majors-best 2.83 staff ERA).
Cy Young winner Mike Cuellar’s first season as an Oriole was the best of his career (23-11, 2.38), Dave McNally won his first 15 decisions on his way to 20 wins and Jim Palmer returned from two injury-plagued seasons with a 16-4, 2.34 campaign. The bullpen was four-deep with Eddie Watt (1.85 ERA), Dick Hall (1.91), Pete Richert (2.21) and Dave Leonhard (2.49) combining for 35 saves.
— The new ballgame: The first year of divisional baseball featured expansion to Canada, the one season for the Seattle Pilots (soon to become the Milwaukee Brewers) and more offense. After the historic Year of the Pitcher in 1968, baseball lowered the mound and shrunk the strike-zone for 1969. New teams in Kansas City, Seattle, Montreal and San Diego – none of whom lost fewer than 93 games – allowed the established stars to feast on inexperienced batters and pitchers.
This season is remembered as the best of all for such Hall of Fame talent as Seaver, Pete Rose, Willie McCovey, Reggie Jackson and Harmon Killebrew, and the best for such other stars as Cuellar, Frank Howard, Paul Blair, Rico Petrocelli and many more.
In all, seven men hit 40 or more homers, eight stole 40 or more bases and 15 pitchers won at least 20 games and a dozen starters had ERAs below 2.50 (but none below 2.00). The offense-defense balance had been restored.
— The NL West: The year’s best division race ended with the Braves’ first title since moving from Milwaukee to Atlanta. With sluggers Hank Aaron (44 HR), Rico Carty (.342 with .549 slugging in 304 AB) and Orlando Cepeda, and pitcher Phil Niekro (23-13, 2.57), Atlanta finished three games better than San Francisco, four better than Cincinnati and eight better than Los Angeles.
The division also provided the NL’s dramatic home run derby, won by McCovey over Aaron, 45-44, and a bounty of future Hall of Famers in their primes. The Giants also had pitchers Juan Marichal (21-11, 2.19) and Gaylord Perry (19-14, 2.49). Cincinnati, with batting champ Pete Rose (.348/.428/.512), Tony Perez’ second best year (.294-37-122) and Johnny Bench (.290-26-90), led the Majors in scoring.
Other stars in the division were not bound for the Hall of Fame, but San Francisco’s Bobby Bonds hit 32 homers and stole 45 bases. Lee May cracked 39 HR for Cinci and pitchers Bill Singer and Claude Osteen each won 20 for LA. Houston’s Jimmy Wynn belted 32 home runs.
— Fun throughout: Interesting teams are everywhere this season.
In the AL West, 97-win Minnesota was nine games better than Oakland, thanks to MVP Killebrew (.276-49-140), who led the Majors in home runs and runs batted in, batting champ Rod Carew (.332), Tony Oliva (.309-24-101) and 20-game winners Jim Perry and Dave Boswell.
Oakland’s Reggie Jackson (.275-47-118, league-best .608 slugging) wasn’t far behind Killebrew, while teammates Sal Bando (31 HR, 119 RBI) and Bert Campaneris (62 stolen bases) added balance.
In the AL East, Washington’s Frank Howard (.296-48-111) was in the midst of the league’s home run derby. With Ted Williams making his debut as manager, and Dick Bosman (2.19) winning the ERA title, the Senators won 86 for their first winning season since re-entering the AL in 1961.
Boston won 87 games and led the Majors in home runs, with 40-homer men Petrocelli and Carl Yastrzemski and young sluggers Reggie Smith and Tony Conigliaro. The Red Sox finished three games behind Detroit. Four Tigers slammed at least 21 HR and nine had at least 11. Denny McLain (24-9, 2.80) followed his 1968 Cy Young by sharing the ’69 award with Cuellar, while Tiger teammate Mickey Lolich was 19-11, 3.14.
The Yankees began life without Mickey Mantle. Bobby Murcer cracked 26 HR, Horace Clarke hit .285 with 33 SB and Mel Stottlemyre won 20. Cleveland’s Sam McDowell (18-14, 2.94) led the Majors with 279 strikeouts.
In the NL East, the 92-win Cubs had strong campaigns from their four future Hall of Famers. Ferguson Jenkins won 21 and led the NL with 273 strikeouts. Ron Santo (.289-29-122), Billy Williams (.293-21-95) and Ernie Banks (23 HR, 106 RBIs) provided the power.
Pittsburgh’s Roberto Clemente hit .345, teammate Matty Alou hit .331 and Willie Stargell (.307-29-92) had one of his finest seasons. Six Pirates topped .300.
In St. Louis, Bob Gibson (20-13, 2.18) and Steve Carlton (17-11, 2.17) starred on the mound, while Lou Brock led the NL with 53 stolen bases and Joe Torre drove home 101 runs.
Dick Allen hit 32 homers and slugged .573 for Philly.
Even such non-contenders as Montreal (Rusty Staub: .302, 29 HR) and Houston (Joe Morgan: 49 SB, 15 HR; Larry Dierker: 20 wins) had fun players to watch.
On the stoop of his brownstone in Brooklyn, future film director Spike Lee rolled the Strat-O-Matic dice feverishly for Jackie Robinson and the rest of his favorite team, the 1953 Brooklyn Dodgers.
With a frightening offense and five fielding 1s in the starting lineup, these Dodgers were the darlings of countless other early Strat players learning or reliving baseball history through Strat-O-Matic’s “Oldtimers” sets of great pre-1962 teams.
The Dodgers were loaded with three of the National League’s top six home run hitters, three of the top five RBI men and four of the top five base stealers. MVP catcher Roy Campanella (.312-41-142), CF Duke Snider (.336-42-126), batting champ RF Carl Furillo (.344-21-105), 1B Gil Hodges (.302-31-122), LF Robinson (.329/.425/.502), Rookie of the Year 2B Jim Gilliam (.278, Majors-best 17 triples, 100 walks, 21 SB), SS Pee Wee Reese (.271, 13 HR, 22 SB) and 3B Billy Cox (.291) made this the most feared lineup any Strat player had seen.
Unsurprisingly, these Dodgers led the Majors in almost every meaningful offensive category, including 955 runs – 154 more than the next best, the AL Champ New York Yankees.
But the 105-win Dodgers, who dominated the NL to win the pennant by 13 games over Milwaukee, did not win the World Series. As had happened in 1941, 1947, 1949 and 1952, the Yankees beat the Dodgers in that contest, this time in six games.
The 99-win Yankees were dominant pennant-winners, too, 8 ½ games ahead of Cleveland and 11 ½ over Chicago. In terms of wins, these Yankees were Manager Casey Stengel’s most successful pennant winner.
Though lacking Brooklyn’s flash, the cross-town Yankees led the AL in runs, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging and ERA. They had their own star catcher in Yogi Berra (.296-27-108) and everyone one else in the starting lineup hit at least .271 or stroked at least 15 home runs.
New York’s advantage over Brooklyn was on the mound, where the Yankees had five men at 13-7 or better. Lefties Eddie Lopat, the American League’s ERA leader at 16-4, 2.42, and Whitey Ford (16-6, 3.00) gave New York a special edge when the Series was played at Yankee Stadium, with its deep left field. In Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field, far friendlier to the Dodgers’ righty-heavy lineup, the Yankees could counter with right-handers Johnny Sain (14-7), Vic Raschi (13-6) and Allie Reynolds (13-7).
Despite lacking pennant-race drama – surely the reason 1953 lagged behind so many other classic re-creations from Strat-O-Matic – this season had plenty of great players, interesting teams and spectacular moments:
— In their first year in Milwaukee following their move from Boston, the Braves were surprisingly successful on the field (92 wins after 64 in 1952) and at the gate, where they attracted a record 1,826,397 fans – a reception that fueled relocation interest that resulted in four other franchise moves over the next five seasons.
A year ahead of Hank Aaron’s rookie season, Braves fans thrilled at the breakout season of young home run champ Eddie Mathews (.302-47-135), newly acquired sluggers Joe Adcock and Andy Pafko, stolen base leader Bill Bruton and a big-three starting staff of Major League-leading winner and ERA leader Warren Spahn (23-7, 2.10), Lew Burdette (15-5) and Bob Buhl (13-8, 2.97).
— Campanella, Snider and Mathews all had MVP-worthy seasons. So did St. Louis’ Stan Musial, who was third by hitting .337, first with a .437 on-base percentage and slugged .609 to tie Snider for a league-best 1.046 OPS. Musial led with 53 doubles and 105 walks.
— AL MVP Al Rosen of Cleveland (.336-43-145) missed a Triple Crown by one batting average point. Batting champ Mickey Vernon (.337-15-115) had an MVP-worthy season, too, leading the AL with 43 doubles and finishing second in both triples (11) and RBIs.
— On the other hand, Rosen had just one more home run than Philadelphia’s Gus Zernial.
— New York’s Mickey Mantle blasted his legendary 565-foot home run at Washington.
— St. Louis Browns rookie Bobo Holloman threw a no-hitter in his Major League debut against the Philadelphia Athletics. Two months later he was demoted to the minors with a 3-7 record and never pitched again in the big leagues.
— Fifth-place Washington was 76-76, but Bob Porterfield led the AL with 22 wins and led the Majors with nine shutouts.
— AL Rookie of the Year Harvey Kuenn was a .308-hitting shortstop who led the league with 209 hits.
— Boston’s Ted Williams spent most of the season in the military and had only 91 at-bats. He still hit .407/.509/.901 with 13 HR and 34 RBIs. Multiply that by six and you get …
— By winning the HR title in the NL, Mathews snapped Ralph Kiner’s seven-year reign. Kiner still hit 35, but only 2 in 135 at-bats for Pittsburgh, the team he won his home run titles with, before being traded to the Cubs.
— Cincinnati’s Ted Kluszewski was fourth in the NL with 40 home runs, making it six 40-HR men for the 1953 Major League season.
— The Phillies’ Robin Roberts tied Spahn with 23 wins and was second to Spahn with a .275 ERA. The Cardinals’ Harvey Haddix won 20, was fourth with a 3.06 ERA and led the NL with six shutouts.
— Cleveland’s Big Three starting pitchers of Bob Lemon (21), Mike Garcia (18) and Early Wynn (17) combined for 56 victories. Bob Feller added 10 wins.
— The fourth-place Red Sox won 84 games. They did it with uncharacteristically strong pitching. Mel Parnell was 21-8, 3.06. Mickey McDermott was 18-10, 3.01. Ellis Kinder saved a Majors-high 27 games in a Majors-high 69 appearances with a 1.85 ERA.