Monday, December 19, 2016

Bouton, "Ball Four" Inspire 1969 Seattle Pilots APBA Replay

Took the opportunity this past summer to re-read "Ball Four," Jim Bouton's classic tell-all baseball book focusing primarily on his exploits with the 1969 Seattle Pilots.

I have to admit a morbid curiosity for the one-year wonders of that Seattle squad, who would go on to ditch the Emerald City and become my favorite team -- the Milwaukee Brewers -- the next season.

Throughout the book, Bouton complains about his lack of playing time, both as a starter and reliever, despite his growing proficiency in tossing the knuckleball and what little toll it took on his ancient arm.

So that got me to thinking ... What if the Pilots had listened to Bouton and used him more often on the mound? Would it have significantly improved the outcome for a team that finished last in the new AL West Division with a record of 64-98? Spoiler alert: The answer is ... no.

Through the magic of the APBA Baseball Game, I took it upon myself to answer that age-old question posed by Bouton, who is convinced he could have made a difference had he been given the chance.

Before embarking on this expedition, let me note that this would be my first one-team season replay using a losing team. Like many other APBA replay enthusiasts out there, I don't see any fun in the prospects of replaying a season for a team that wasn't finding any joy in real life. Previously, I relished replaying winning seasons for the 2008 Brewers as well as the 1969 Cubs.

In addition to eliminating any limits on using Bouton, I wondered what would have happened had the Pilots not traded rookie of the year Lou Piniella to the Royals before the start of the season. So, Piniella became the Pilots left fielder and away we went ...   

One of the great things about APBA's reprinted 1969 card set is that it includes every player who took the mound or batted at least once, making it possible for me to use the actual lineups of the Pilots' opponents. With few exceptions, including Bouton's added starts, I used the Pilots' actual pitching rotation, then managed the rest of the squad as I saw fit. I limited all other players to 110 percent of their actual at-bats and innings pitched. I also worked in the team's other transactions, so there was somewhat of a revolving door in the personnel I could use throughout the season.

So, how did it turn out? First of all, it was a joy playing this team, partly because it was such an interesting collection of players, from base-stealing maven Tommy Harper and Tommy Davis to Mr. Versatility Diego Segui, who was equally good as a starter or ace reliever. Besides, 1969 was a great year for the AL, with the seemingly unbeatable Baltimore Orioles and the heavy-hitting Minnesota Twins, making it just plain cool to replay.

Predictably, I didn't fare much better than ill-fated Pilots manager Joe Schultz. I guided them to a 68-94 record, which just goes to show that expanding the role of your knuckleballer and adding one potent bat in the three hole does not a contender make. Nice try, however.

Bouton (rated a DX starter and a C* reliever) got 9 more starts and 62 more innings for the Pilots, which resulted in a 6-8 record, better than his 2-1 in actuality. He matched his save total: 1. (Note: Toward the end of August, I granted Bouton's trade to the Astros, bringing to the Pilots Dooley Womack, who piled up some decent stats in 27 games out of the bullpen.)

Piniella also exceeded expectations. Sweet Lou batted .306/.352/.437 in 142 games, scoring 71 runs and leading the team in runs batted in with 89. He hit 30 doubles, along with 10 triples and 7 home runs.

What this team lacked in power, it more than made up with speed, swiping 194 bases, compared to only 122 homers. The speed brigade was led by Harper, who stole 95 bases, which helped him score a team-high 105 runs. First baseman Don Mincher lead the team in home runs with 26.

Overall, the team batting average (.242), slugging percentage (.354), ERA (4.33) and other stats pretty closely matched the real-life Seattle stats for the year, just another testimonial to the accuracy of the APBA game.

In addition to Segui, who went 8-10 with 5 saves; Bob Locker lead the team with an 11-6 record and 8 saves. Gene Brabender was the hard-luck hurler, going 4-14 in 29 starts and 192 innings.

Despite the disappointing, yet predictable, win-loss record, this was still among my most satisfying APBA projects. It reinforced the fun that can be had when you tweak reality by playing "what if ..."

I think Jim Bouton would be OK with the outcome.


Note: Click here for the complete replay stats.

Note II: Here's a great link to a new post by baseball historian John Thorn, "Jim Bouton: An Improvisational Life."