Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Bittersweet Memories for Long-suffering Cubs Fans

Courtesy of Frank Jackson and The Hardball Times ... "The 1973 Cubs: Swan Song of a Dynasty That Never Was."

Don't miss reading about one of the great eras in Chicago Cubs history, 1967-1973. Even without a single playoff game, this Cubs squad was easily one of the best in baseball, and featured a core group of four future Hall-of-Famers -- Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Billy Williams and Fergie Jenkins.

This article chronicles the history of this core group, where they came from and where they went, and the heartbreak they felt year after year as they always found themselves on the outside looking in when sometimes lesser teams were still competing at the end of October.

This article is particularly timely for me as I'm about two-thirds of the way through my APBA Baseball Game replay of the Cubs' fateful 1969 season.

Just as in real life, my replay Cubs are tearing up the National League! As of July 27, 1969, the Cubbies stand at 65-38 after splitting a four-game set with the Dodgers. Midweek, Banks earned the MVP award for the All-Star Game, leading the NL to a 4-2 win with a two-run home run in the eighth inning.

Next up for the Cubs at Wrigley Field is a four-game series versus Willie Mays, Willie McCovey and the San Francisco Giants.

God willing and a few favorable dice rolls here and there and maybe, just maybe, I can enjoy a World Series at Wrigley ...

Note: Here are the latest stats on my 1969 Cubs replay. 


Friday, July 11, 2014

'82 Brewers Begin Season Replay with a Bang!

Now I know how Leo Durocher may have felt when managing the Cubs into July and August back in 1969. ... When the weather got hot, the Cubs cooled off ...

Just as in real life, the '69 Cubs have started to struggle now that I've reached the 100-game mark and the stretch run of my replay season. Where I used to be sweeping the lower-echelon teams, the Cubs are now dropping series to the likes of the Seattle Pilots! (Yes, I know, the Cubs didn't play interleague games back then, but they do in my replay!)

Unlike the Cubs who famously crashed and burned in the heat of the summer pennant race, I'm ready to take a break. Maybe the replay Cubs can regroup after a brief respite and regain the swagger that propelled them to a 55-21 record -- 34 games over .500! -- at the end of June.

I needed some time off anyway ...

So I'm taking on a season replay of the 1982 Milwaukee Brewers.

I'm way overdue in replaying the Brewers' iconic 1982 season, which culminated in a World Series showdown versus the St. Louis Cardinals. It's the first and only time the Brewers have made it to baseball's championship, and followed by 25 years the World Series title earned by the then-Milwaukee Braves, who of course were led by Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews and Warren Spahn.

The 1982 Milwaukee team is easily my most favorite, whether reminiscing about the good-ol' days or playing APBA. I grew up outside Milwaukee. My first APBA baseball game arrived in the mail in 1976, and I was thrilled to play game after game with the lowly '75 Brewers team that finished in fifth place with a 68-94 record. At least they didn't lose 100 games!

That season marked Aaron's return to Milwaukee, where he became the designated hitter and managed to crack another dozen dingers. Robin Yount was truly "The Kid," and I became a huge fan of Sixto Lezcano, the promising right fielder who eventually got traded to St. Louis with some other guys for three of the key components of the '82 AL title team -- Rollie Fingers, Ted Simmons and Pete Vuckovich.

I graduated from high school in 1981. We attended many a game during my high school years and into my college days at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. By the time we had become bleacher bums at old Milwaukee County Stadium I had shifted my fickle favorite-player allegiance to mutton-chopped center fielder "Stormin'" Gorman Thomas.

Of course, the '82 squad featured three future Hall-of-Famers -- Yount, Paul Molitor and Fingers, the ace reliever. Yount went on to earn the league's Most Valuable Player award. That year he hit .331 with 29 home runs and 129 runs scored. He led the league in hits with 210, doubles with 46 and slugging percentage at .578. He topped it off with his first and only Gold Glove Award.

Vuckovich had one of his best seasons, earning the AL Cy Young Award by going 18-6 with a 3.34 ERA. Fingers saved 29 games as the Brewers compiled a 95-67 record.

I'll never forget the Brewers' dramatic march to the World Series after dropping the first two playoff games to the Angels in California. They came home to sweep the Halos in the best-of-five round and then headed to St. Louis to take on the Cardinals. So many times I've replayed Game 7 but I can seldom knock out Joaquin Andujar and those pesky Cardinals -- even when I "cheat" and have Rollie Fingers warming up in the 'pen. (He missed the series that year due to injury. Dang it!)

What the Brewers lacked in starting pitching they more than made up with their hitting. Harvey's Wallbangers led the league in home runs (216) and runs scored (891) -- no other team came even close to matching those numbers!

So I'm looking forward to a few more blowouts in this replay, which will once again use the basic game with a few tweaks here and there, including a 48-game interleague schedule (two home and two away against each NL squad). I use the actual starting pitchers for both teams, and the actual lineups for the Brewers' opponents. During interleague action, I try to use the opponent's actual lineup on that date, unless they happened face a righty on the day that Milwaukee lefty Mike Caldwell pitched. Then I try to find a lefty batting order as close to the actual game date. Not perfect, but it works.

My replay results have been pretty close to real life so far (e.g. '08 Brewers and '69 Cubs), so I'm looking forward to enjoying plenty of wins by the '82 Brewers.

But if they hit a rough patch, I can always go back to the Cubs and see if I can finish off the 1969 season with better results ...

Brewers Win 10-0 in Season Opener

The Brewers opened their 1982 APBA season replay by destroying the Blue Jays 10-0 at Exhibition Stadium in Toronto behind home runs by Gorman Thomas, Robin Yount and Paul Molitor and a four-hit shutout by Pete Vuckovich.

Fans didn't have to wait long for the Brew Crew's offense to show up as the Brewers pounded Blue Jays starter Mark Bomback for seven runs in the second inning.

Designated hitter Don Money got the season's first hit, a double, followed by a walk to Ben Oglivie. Thomas then got the fireworks started, launching a three-run home run to deep right field. Catcher Charlie Moore, filling in for the injured Ted Simmons, then got the Brewers reloaded with a double, scoring on Jim Gantner's single.

Molitor followed with his first hit of the season, a double that moved Gantner to third. Yount then came up to deliver the second-three-run shot of the inning, a blast over the center field fence, staking the Crew to a 7-0 lead.

Meanwhile, "Dirty Pete" Vuckovich was setting down the Jays, scattering four hits and pitching a complete game in his season debut. Vuke struck out a half dozen batters and walked only two.

Molitor finished off the scoring with a two-run homer in the sixth inning as the Brewers banged out 14 hits in the opener for both teams.

The Brewers went on to sweep the series, coming from behind to beat the Jays 7-3 in game two and holding on for a 2-1 win in game three.

In their next stop, Ted Simmons returned to the lineup with a first-inning, bases-clearing triple to lead the Crew to an 8-5 win over the Indians. They duplicated the feat the next day, defeating Cleveland again 8-5 with three more home runs and a second win by Vuckovich.

Yount got injured, however, and will be out for about a week. And the Brewers got their first loss, a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Bert Blyleven, who pitched a complete game. (It was one of the few games Blyleven pitched that year; I had to use his '81 APBA card. I had to find the '81 card for "Super Joe" Charboneau as well. The 1980 AL Rookie of the Year turned out to be not so super after all, playing his last major league game on June 1, 1982.)

Next I'm looking forward to replaying the Brewers' home opener against the Rangers ...

Note: Here are my up-to-date Brewers replay stats.