Big League ManagerFebruary 28th, 2009 at 9:47
Table top hockey had created the bug in my brother and I for simulated worlds of sport. The drama of athletic competition in the arena of team sports and the personalities involved, both the star players and the journeymen who filled out the roster, was real fodder for our imaginations. We took it a step farther, a step more abstract, with Big League Manager.
I was introduced to BLM (Big League Manager) Baseball by my best friend in 8th grade. It was the summer of 1968 and he had recently moved to Ann Arbor from St Louis Missouri, and we had met in school, having several classes together. We were two white kids with a list of things in common…
* We were captivated by the book “Manchild in the Promise Land” about adolescence and race in America
* We both liked Simon and Garfunkle and particularly their current “Bookends” album
* We lived within a five-minute walk of each other
* We both had daily paper routes delivering the Ann Arbor News
* We both were into baseball
To that last bullet point, he being from St Louis was a big St Louis Cardinals fan, and I, being from southeast Michigan, was a big Detroit Tigers fan. He and I convinced either his or my parents to take us to maybe six or seven games over the summer. As events would have it, if you can remember back to 1968, Detroit and St Louis ended up as the two best teams in baseball and met in an exciting seven-game World Series, which Detroit ultimately won (and I won a dollar bet from my friend).
My friend had a game, BLM Baseball, which used statistical information about all the Major League Baseball players to let you simulate a baseball game and manage a team. Each player had a card with their abilities, based on their statistics from the previous season, boiled down to a set of seven numbers and ranges:
* A number between 1 and 100 representing the percentage of times they got a base on balls. If they were walked nine percent of the time, they had a “BB” value of 9.
* A number between 1 and 100 representing their batting average. If they hit .294, their “BA” value was 29.
* Three non-overlapping ranges of numbers between 1 and 100 that represented their propensity to hit doubles, triples and homeruns when getting a hit. A left-handed power hitter like Norm Cash of the Tigers might have a “2B” range of # to #, a “3B” range of # to #, and a “HR” range of # to #.
* A number between 1 and 100 representing the percentage of times when they did not walk or get a hit that they struck out. A player who struck out fifteen percent of the time would have a “K” value of 15.
* A number between 1 and 100 representing their ability to steal bases. An average player with no great base-stealing ability might have an “SB” value of 40. This indicating that they could steal third base about forty percent of their attempts and steal second about forty plus ten or fifty percent of their attempts. The plus ten for stealing second factored in that it was easier than stealing third. A good base stealer might have an “SB” somewhere between 50 and 80.
* Finally, a number between 1 and 100 representing their fielding ability. A player who successfully fielded a ball without making an error 98 percent of the time, had an “ER” of 2.
These seven numeric attributes represented a statistical abstraction of their unique abilities on the playing field. Add to these seven numeric attributes, the player’s name and what positions they could play, and that was the information that made up their card.
The pitchers as well had their stats, all the batting, running and fielding numbers above, plus pitching stats, which modified the batter’s stats when that pitcher was pitching to that batter:
* A number, indicating how much they added or subtracted from the batter’s walk percentage. An “M3” value was a pitcher who subtracted three points from the batter’s BB value, and a maybe a “P5” was as pitcher who was pretty wild, adding five points to the batter’s BB.
* Similarly, a number added or subtracted from a batter’s batting average (BA) when no runners were on base and a second for when runners were on base. Bob Gibson, perhaps the best pitcher in baseball that year, had a “P1” with no runners on base, but an awesome “M13” with runners on base, halving the batting average of a .260 (BA 26) hitter like the Tiger’s Mickey Stanley.
* Finally, a number indicating how many batters they could pitch too before their pitching capabilities would begin to deteriorate.
My friend and I would play this game for hours, often listening to Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bookends” album while we did) playing the Cardinals against the Tigers, the Yankees against the Dodgers, or any other permutation.
Excited by this great simulation, I got my parents to buy me the game for Xmas, complete with the cards of every player on every major league team with their 1968 statistics. I showed my brother how to play the game and we went at it.
We played the entire American League 1968 schedule for April – all ten teams, some 25 games each for a total of ~125 games. I kept the box scores for every game and at the end of my mythical April, compiled all the player statistics. Through this odyssey we experienced the joy of simulated dramatic come from behind victories and unlikely heroes stepping forward. I recall it was the Boston Red Sox who emerged as the first place team after the final April 30 games.
But now that we were comfortable with the system, and given the fun we had previously had creating hockey teams, we decided to invent baseball teams and created the BLM-style player cards for each of them. We used 3 by 5 index cards and typed in all the numbers using our Dad’s manual typewriter. I had my Cooperstown team, I actually forget what our nickname was. My brother, three years younger at age ten, was still able to master and manipulate the statistics and create his Petersburg team, I believe known as the Pirates. Well of course we played a World Series between our two teams and awarded a trophy to the winner.
Our fantasy baseball teams also spilled over to our outdoor play. We would pitch to each other, calling out the fastballs and breaking pitches thrown by our star hurlers and the hits, strikeouts etcetera by each team’s lineups. Or one of us would pitch and the other bat, as each team member in our lineup, trying to mimic each fictional player’s unique style at the plate. Like the short chopped swing of my .370 hitting shortstop, Leonard Lessing.