Friday, July 28, 2006

Movie Review: "Bad News Bears"

Bad News for the Yankees
by Matt Sandler

Watching the level of play displayed in Bad News Bears (2005) is like playing in the Sunday softball game that I organize every weekend. You’re going to see a lot of errors, various levels of hustle, and some questionable offensive skills. But you’re also bound to have a lot of fun while enjoying the very lack of slickness. Bad News Bears is a very funny movie, aided immeasurably by the inimitable Billy Bob Thornton and a hilarious and offensive script by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (Bad Santa).

The movie is a remake of The Bad News Bears (1976), and thus it continues in the tradition of current movies stubbornly avoiding the word “The” in the title (see The Poseidon Adventure vs. Poseidon). (The earlier movie was written by Bill Lancaster, who receives screenplay credit on this one despite passing away in 1997.) It tells the story of ex-major leaguer Morris Buttermaker (what a great movie character name), who has gone to seed as only a character played by Billy Bob Thornton can. Single mother Liz Whitewood (Marcia Gay Harden) recruits him to coach her son Toby’s (Ridge Canipe) Little League team of twelve-year-olds, the Bears, to lend some of his baseball experience. Later, we will learn that she also harbors an attraction for the sleazy scumbag type that he epitomizes.

Buttermaker’s major league career consisted of pitching 2/3 of an inning for the Mariners in the 1980s, and he now makes a living as an exterminator and lives in a trailer. He engages in all sorts of vices, and even has a local strip club sponsor the team. One of the running jokes in the movie is that several of the strippers from Bo-Peep’s Gentleman’s Club, the sponsor, are among the most vociferous fans at many of the Bears’ games. Buttermaker seems in a constant drunken stupor, but he still seems like deep down a good guy who has just made some questionable lifestyle choices.

When he starts coaching, the Bears are a hopeless lot. Another running joke is that one of the players, Hooper (Troy Gentile), is in a wheelchair. The rest of the players are a standard ragtag group of nerds, fat kids, short and scrawny kids, and boys that have no clue regarding the basic fundamentals of the game. One also has the hilarious name of Timothy Lupus (Tyler Patrick Jones). They are only able to start winning some games when two great players join the team. One is the local skateboard punk, Kelly Leak (Jeffrey Davies), who is asked to join the team after the classic movie moment of gunning in the ball from the parking lot. The other is Buttermaker’s daughter, Amanda Whurlitzer (Sammi Kane Kraft), who is estranged from her father, who left her mother three years earlier. At first, she has no interest—all she says she wants are “nice hips and C-cups”—but Buttermaker is persistent, because he knows his daughter has a great pitching arm. It is also his way of reaching out to his daughter to reestablish some contact.

After struggling at first, the team starts to get on a roll, and Coach takes them for celebratory post-game meals at Hooters. They are on a collision course with the Yankees, coached by Roy Bullock (Greg Kinnear), who never passes up an opportunity to advertise the great deals at the “Valley Chevy-Subaru” where he works. One of the great things about the movie is that there are no cartoonishly drawn heroes and villains. Some of the kids on the Yankees are obnoxious—they’re Yankees, what do you expect—but then again, so are some of the players on the Bears. Bullock definitely comes across as a phony that cares too much about how his team does. But there is one moment that highlights the unusual degree of complexity that this ultimately silly comedy brings to its characters. His son, Joey (Carter Jenkins), the Yankees’ pitcher, complains about arm soreness, but Roy convinces him to stay in. Then, after a debate about whether or not to intentionally walk a Bears batter, Joey seems to throw at him. Roy is furious for endangering the Bear’s safety, and in a scuffle with his son, Joey falls to the ground, and then leaves the game. There are all sorts of conflicting ideas we have about Roy at this moment—pity for taking his role of coach too seriously, anger at leaving his son in the game, and respect for his realization in the heat of battle that to throw at a twelve-year-old's head is dead wrong. These are more varied shadings than we expect in a mainstream Hollywood comedy.

The same goes for Buttermaker, as well. The fact that he is played by Thornton means he is much more easy to root for than this type of character played by another actor. He is proudly himself, and no civilizing influences—umpires, Liz, Amanda—will tame him. But he also eventually takes his coaching role too seriously, until he, too, is redeemed at the end of the movie.

I will let you see for yourself if the Bears win the big championship game against the Yankees. How do you know if this movie is right for you? Let me describe one scene. At the end of the movie, Buttermaker, in the aforementioned redemption, realizes that Hooper has not had any time in the field the whole season. The boy in the wheelchair miraculously catches a fly ball hit to right field, after which Liz sweetly shouts, “The little crippled boy did it!” and the strippers cheer heartily. If this description puts a smile on your face, Bad News Bears is right up your alley.

Matt Sandler's column, "The Critical Fan," appears alternate Fridays.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

What MLB Can Learn From The NFL

by Scott Silversten

The next 45 days are a time for prayer.

You see, today is the first day of training camp for the New York Giants, who won’t take the field in a real game until Sunday, September 10. So for the next 6 ½ weeks, every morning before opening the newspaper, I say a small prayer in hopes that an injury has not stricken one of the team’s key players.

Eli’s elbows, Tiki’s knees, Lavar’s hamstrings and Jeremy’s groin (yes, I know how bad that one sounds) are constantly on my mind. Please, please, please let all members of Big Blue remain healthy until the Indianapolis Colts visit The Meadowlands to open the season.

Now, don’t panic. Like most of Baseball For Thought’s writers and readers, baseball is my biggest passion. Just like Annie Savoy said in Bull Durham, “… the only church that truly feeds the soul, day in, day out, is the Church of Baseball.”

However, something must fill those cold winter weekends and provide reason to exist until spring training arrives in February. And to be honest, the National Football League is as close to perfection as sports can get. Baseball is the better game, but let’s be honest, Major League Baseball could take several lessons from the NFL in how to run a professional league.

For example, in the NFL, the Pro Bowl remains a meaningless exhibition game; the playoff structure offers rewards for success during the regular season; good decision-making is the overriding factor in determining on-field success; and the league is willing to try new ideas to appeal to a younger and broader fan base.

While everything that NFL executives touch seems to turn instantly to gold, it also is quite obvious that a tarnish always remains on the decisions coming out of the MLB offices in New York. The latest example is the recent announcement of baseball’s new seven-year television deal.

Now granted, many of these decisions are based on money, and frankly, they should be. Money drives everything in our society, and in television, money is based on ratings. That is the biggest reason why, as part of the new deal, the World Series will start on a Tuesday instead of a Saturday beginning next year.

Essentially, that means instead of Games 1, 2, 6, and 7 being played on weekend evenings, only Games 4 and 5 will be played on Saturday/Sunday. Why? Simply because Saturday is the worst TV night of the week in terms of ratings. Never mind the fact that it’s often easier for fans to stay up for the late telecasts during the weekend.

“Our ratings research shows that this schedule should generate higher ratings,” said FOX Sports president Ed Goren.

Added MLB commissioner Bud Selig, “It’s so appropriate. That’s the way it used to be.”

What a typical baseball response, leaning on ancient history to support decisions. If legendary NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle made his choices that way, the Super Bowl would still be played mid-afternoon and televised on two networks at once.

Come to think of it, if baseball really wanted things “the way it used to be,” how about scheduling the World Series games for a little earlier start, say about 7:30 in the East.

Baseball has also made the mistake of giving all its Division Series games starting in 2007 to TBS, which will also utilize TNT when there is a conflict. There are no baseball fans who won’t be able to find the games (TBS is in essentially the same number of homes as ESPN), but I find myself at least wondering how much other programming TBS will dedicate to baseball.

The best part of Monday Night Football moving to ESPN this fall is that the sports network will turn each Monday during the season into a celebration of the NFL. For those who think a six-hour pre-game show prior to the Super Bowl is overkill, just wait until ESPN goes live from the Monday night site at approximately noon on game day.

Finally, whose decision was it for TBS to receive a “non-exclusive” Sunday afternoon package of 26 regular-season games. Any national package needs to be exclusive (currently, no game can be broadcasted locally on Sunday evening or Saturday between 1-4 p.m. that would conflict with ESPN and Fox, respectively).

A Sunday afternoon “non-exclusive” window seems like a waste, considering most fans are either out of the house or tuning in to the broadcasts of their local teams during those times.

What would have made more sense was to give TBS an exclusive Monday night package. Monday is the lightest day on the baseball schedule, meaning more fans throughout the country are likely looking for a game on many Monday evenings throughout the summer. TBS could then regionalize the games, much like FOX currently does on Saturday afternoon, while providing extensive highlights of the other games being played.

That would give MLB a national TV presence on Saturday, Sunday and Monday throughout the season.

An idea such as that would be along the lines of the NFL’s flexible schedule for the final seven weeks of its new Sunday night package on NBC (note: there will be no Sunday night game during Week 16, as it Christmas Eve). Understandably, the flexible schedule is a disservice to fans that hold tickets to a game scheduled for Sunday afternoon and then is moved to 8:15 on a cold night.

However, that is an inconvenience to 70,000 people. For the tens of millions watching across the country, ratings should soar for a huge late-season game that has been specifically bumped to primetime due to its importance. For those detractors, I note last season’s Sunday night game between the 2-8 New York Jets and 2-8 New Orleans Saints.

While it was long since passed the time for this flexible schedule idea to become a reality, the credit goes to the NFL for taking the chance on something that has flaws, but will likely be a benefit to the league’s fan base.

Here is to praying that the MLB hierarchy will one day learn from their NFL counterparts.

Scott Silversten's column, "Age of Reason", appears every Thursday

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Seeking New Columnist- Your Chance to Write!

Dear loyal BFT reader,

For nearly five months, and through over 100 opinion columns, BFT.com has been providing you with fresh, insightful commentary on the game we all love- every weekday. Doug and Mike alternate Mondays. Jeremy and I man the Tuesday slot. Thursdays have always belonged solely to our ex-ESPNer Scott, and Fridays are split by Rob and Matt.

Up until now, Wednesdays have been host to "Wild-Card Wednesdays". We've always loved WCW, as it is a great forum to feature guest columnists (including our own Fanatic's Wife), as well a place to offer you news and ideas from a columnist that couldn't wait until the next column.

That being said, we have received several inquiries from readers interested in writing for the site, and have to date been reluctant to take on new columnists. Part of that reason is since March, we've seen our readership continually increase- and thanks to readers like you, have built a loyal fan base. We love writing for you, and apparently you've enjoyed what we've written- so why change a good thing?

Upon further consideration, however, we have decided to take on a new columnist, and give a budding baseball enthusiast/writer a forum to speak to the masses.

We will be opening at least one Wednesday slot for the next and newest Baseball For Thought columnist! For those of you who may be interested, or for those of you who know someone who may be interested, here are some general guidelines:

1. As columnist, you would write one new column for every other Wednesday.
2. You can write about whatever you feel like, as long as it is original and well thought-out. And of course baseball-related. Other than that, anything goes. It's YOUR space. Your soapbox.
3. We are a gang of Mets fans, Yankee fans, Red Sox fans, Cardinals fans and a kind of A's fan. We do not discriminate based on your team preference. In fact, we encourage dissidence- it makes for better columns. If you are a die-hard D-Rays fan, and want to focus on all things Tampa Bay, go right ahead.
4. As you may be able to tell, some of us rely heavily on stats, some of us not at all. Some of us prescribe very religiously to sabermetrics, others less so. We believe our greatest strength is in our diversity.
5. Upon the launch of our newly designed site in August, you will receive your own columnist page with name, picture, and vital stats, on top of your column every two weeks.
6. We are a bunch of regular guys (and gal) who share a passion for the game. We hope you are the same.

So, here's what to do next:
1. Send an email to baseballforthought@gmail.com
2. In this email, please include a short blurb about yourself, which should at least include
a. Name
b. Age
c. Favorite team
d. What you do
e. Why you'd want to be a columnist for BFT, and what you can add to the site and for the readership (Be creative! Improvements you'd make? A schtick you would want to consider? Some pertinent experience that would make you an excellent columnist?).
- the blurb need not be lengthy- a few paragraphs with pertinent info is fine.
3. Also include a sample column (links to previous work also sufficient). This doesn't have to be formal- we are looking for passion, originality and writing ability- formal experience is very much so secondary.

The absolute deadline is August 15, though we encourage you to get your information back to us as soon as possible. If you have any further questions or comments, please don't hesitate to contact us. Someone will get back to you shortly.

Good luck!
The Baseball For Thought Staff

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Mets Would Be Foolish to Trade Milledge

by Alan Eliot

Billy Beane is a great General Manager. He's shrewd. He's so good at evaluating talent, and finding value where others could not, that other GM's have learned to be wary of him whenever he puts out the feelers on a prospect of theirs. "What could I have missed?", they ask. "What does he see that I don't?"

If the rumors and hearsay are to be believed, he adores Mets super-prospect Lastings Milledge. Wants Lastings Milledge. Can picture a freshly pressed uniform, in green, gold and white, proudly stitched with the last name of their newest addition: Milledge.

And, with the next move (again, if the rumors are true) offers Barry Zito. Straight up.

And from the side of Mets management, a pause. A quiver of the lip. A bead of sweat down the brow. In the offseason, Beane would not budge from an asking price of Milledge plus Mets reliever/possible starter Aaron Heilman. Suddenly, the price has dropped. Zito can be had. For just one player.

You can almost hear Beane spinning the tale to Mets GM Omar Minaya on the phone:

You know how prospects are. They are unproven. They more often than not don't pan out- it is the way the system works. You know this, Omar. Especially with a free-swinger like Milledge. What did he hit up in the bigs? .233? 24 strikeouts in 86 AB? Surely not what you were hoping for your top-prospect.

And I am offering you a guaranteed entity. I am not blowing smoke up your ass like Tampa Bay did to your Mets two years ago. This isn't Victor Zambrano. This is Barry f*cking Zito. What's that you say, Omar? Of course I realize that would have never happened under your guidance. Right. The New Mets. Ah ha. Got it. I understand. That's why you don't see me asking for a Mike Pelfrey. I know you guys are still wary of trading another top pitching prospect. Which is why we are talking about Lastings here, Omar.

Remember Lastings? Remember the .287 OBP? Remember the .419 SLG? Sure he started off well, but pitchers adjusted to him within a matter of a few short weeks. Sure it was a 24-game cup of coffee. Ah ha. I know. His learning experience. But you have to admit flags were raised, and not just for his lack of plate discipline. You remember the incident which allowed you to acquire him in the first place, with the girl? No one wanted to touch him that year, Omar, but the Mets. And then this year with the coming late and missing the bus. What's that all about? And with the high-fiving the crowd and showing up the opposing pitcher. You just know the kid is going to cause problems. You think Willie's going to be able to contain that mess-waiting-to-happen? You think his attitude won't rub off on the rest of the clubhouse?

But, luckily for you, we here at the A's don't mind checkered histories. We don't mind players with a past. Players no one else wanted. They thrive here. We get them for a price the A's can handle, and we take a chance on them. We don't need to win now. We can win next year, two years. It's all the same, and our team will remain competitive yearly regardless. We can afford to test out Milledge here, to watch him. You're on the cusp of winning the division for the first time in 18 years- what are you going to do when you call him up and he doesn't produce in meaningful games? How can you take that risk?

18 seasons is an awful long time, Omar. And your arms are falling apart at the seams. You expect to win with that joke of a starting staff? Pedro has rested for a month now, and who knows what he'll have when he comes back. You and I both know Glavine is not even close to as good as his record indicates- and at this point in the season, isn't fooling anyone with those pitches. Trachsel? A joke, right? A fifth starter in Kansas City, perhaps. Not a 3rd starter in the Big Apple. Soler? Maine? LIMA? Pelfrey? El Duque? Are these the possibilities you are juggling at the back end? You'll hobble into the postseason and be gone in three games.

I'm offering you Cy Young talent. 28-year old Cy Young talent. Lefty, 28-year old, Cy Young talent. Rick Peterson loved him here, and will love him even more as a Met. All for your big, fat, question mark, Lastings Milledge.

But you know how it is, Omar. I'm an Oakland guy, I make my living signing cheap players. You know I can't afford to re-sign Zito. My fans will forgive me with a temporary dip in the win-loss column. You're a NY guy, your fans demand wins, and wins now. You make your living signing stars like Zito. And they won't forgive you if you don't act to bolster your team. You have one of the most potent offenses in the NL- clearly your most pressing need is in your starting pitching. Your one piece of the puzzle for that championship- and I have it. And all it's gonna cost you is Lastings. The one piece of your puzzle that you absolutely don't need.

Well anyway Omar, you know where to reach me. Call me when you want to deal. Ciao.

And so it goes. Talk of Zito for Milledge. Milledge, the problem-child, with the lack of discipline, the unproven talent. Zito, the young former Cy Young Award winner, graduating from Beane's school of frugality and looking for a new home from which to dominate his respective league.

But what of it? Beane is the master of value. He knows others value past performance well, especially the Mets who have a track record for overlooking current problems for hope of a return to past glory. But an ex-Cy Young award winner is just that- an ex-Cy Young award winner.

Barry Zito, since his 2002 Cy Young Award Season, in which he went 23-5, with 182 K, 2.33 K/BB and 2.75 ERA:
49-43, .533 winning percentage.

This season, his K/BB is around 1.6, with league average at .253, and league OPS at .734. For comparison's sake, in 2002, the league average against him was .218, and league OPS at .626. Sure, every season, since 2001 he has logged in at least 213 innings, but there is no question that Barry Zito is no longer the Barry Zito that Barry Zito once was. Additionally, this would be crazy from the Mets' perspective for other reasons as well- not limited to the fact that Zito becomes a free agent at season's end, and there would be no guarantee of Zito coming back to the Mets. This is basically Billy Beane getting something for nothing. And of course, it could become an issue like the Kris Benson deal, where the Mets, desparate to retain him in the 2004 offseason to justify a trade, ended up overpaying for his services. That cost the Mets $8 million/yr. What would overpaying for Barry Zito look like?

Of course, similar arguments can be made against two other trade candidates for Lastings Milledge, Dontrelle Willis and Bobby Abreu. A few statistics:

Dontrelle Willis:
Dontrelle Willis is a bit of an enigma. You never know what you're going to get from him- will he pitch a complete game today, or will he give up 6 runs? Sure, he is a 24-year-old with some success at the major league level, and last year's close finish in the Cy Young race proves that. But look at these numbers, for someone known for his ability to strike out opponents:
K/9 2003-2006: 7.95, 6.35, 6.47, 5.79

There is a major question of who the real Dontrelle Willis is. In 2003, his first MLB season, he was 14-6, with a 3.31 ERA. His next season, 2004, saw shaky pitching and a 10-11 record and a 4.02 ERA. Last year he was stellar: 22-10, 2.63 ERA. This year, other than against the Mets, not so much: 6-7, 3.97 ERA.

The Mets have already sent a large portion of their talent to their division rival, the Marlins. Needless to say, dumping their top prospect (if it would only take one Milledge, and not, say, Milledge plus, to seal the deal) into the Marlins' system doesn' t bode well for the Mets in years to come, as Mike Jacobs is already a starter for the Marlins and Yusmeiro Petit is highly touted.

Bobby Abreu:
When I heard these rumors, I almost died laughing. Abreu turns 33 by the start of next season. An aging ex-superstar beginning the tail end of his career, asking for $16 million, and who will cost the Mets their top prospect. In other words, perfect for the Mets. Sure, he leads the NL in walks, and is 2nd in OBP, but Abreu lost his long ball in the HR Derby last year and has yet to recover. It's like he permanently ruined his swing that fateful, record-setting night. His OBP is so good this year, and his SLG so bad (at least Abreu standards), that they are nearly equal (.436 and .446, respectively). Your 8 HR isn't going to cut it, Bobby. Not when we consider that you only hit 6 HR after the All-Star break last year. Not for a corner outfielder who demands top dollar, and who will cost prospect(s). Again, freeing up salary for a division rival and paying them with our top prospect for the privilege = not smart. You were injured with leg and shoulder problems towards the end of last season. You may still have said injuries, and it may be impacting your power. If the Mets are willing to take that injury gamble on you, they deserve whatever comes from it. Historical lessons dictate, however, that Mets don't do well with risk.

And furthermore, since when do the Mets need an outfielder? The least of their concerns.

Putting it together
Besides for looking for flaws in the actual trades themselves, it is useful to remember that the Mets are in first place by 11.5 games, and in spite of their shakiness in the pitching department, have the lowest ERA in the NL at 4.10 (Padres are 2nd at 4.23), the second highest SLG (.453), the second most HR (136), and have scored the most runs (536). The one concerning thing is that the team closest to the Mets in offensive production is Atlanta, who leads the NL in SLG and HR, and are 2nd to the Mets in runs scored (532). Their recent surge may force the hand of Omar Minaya to act in a rash manner and pull the trigger on a potentially long-term bad deal for a short-term gain. This would be silly for many reasons, but mainly because the Mets making the playoffs will not be determined by acquiring one player. In the unlikely scenario that the Mets crash and burn (and miss the playoffs), they do it with or without Zito, and with or without Willis. Simply put, neither Zito nor Willis will affect whether the Mets make it to the postseason- that prospect of missing it is so unlikely that their value over a John Maine or an El Duque in that regard just isn't that high, especially in 2006 with their numbers.

You may be tempted to quip that they would be chips for winning in the playoffs- for which I'd add that the playoffs are an absolute crapshoot, and anyone once making it has a relatively equal chance of winning- if you don' t believe me, look at the statistics for Wild-Card World Series winners in recent years. Five or seven game series just aren't that long, and Zito and Willis just aren't that good.

The bottom line is the Mets will make the playoffs, and I like the chances of a team that has given up the least amount of runs in their league, and that has scored the most. But like I said, crapshoot.

Notice I've said very little about Milledge himself, other than the fact that he is the Mets' most highly touted prospect. That was at least partially deliberate. The fact is, with what's out there, that's all one needs to know. The Mets are not in any position to be desperate, unlike every other team in the running for a playoff spot. They are the team who should most likely hold onto their blue-chips and build for a future. They can afford it. They can win now, and win later. This is a position of power that Omar Minaya should remember very well, as the trading deadline approaches.

Alan Eliot's column, "The Stories We Tell", appears alternate Tuesdays

Monday, July 24, 2006

A Trip Down Memory Lane

by Doug Silversten

I recently started reading a book about the history of Strat-o-Matic baseball called, Strat-o-Matic Fanatics by Glenn Guzzo. I am not far enough into yet to provide a book recommendation to readers, but I will say, that even 100 pages in, it certainly has sparked fond memories of my childhood. However, not so much of Strat-o-Matic baseball: while I certainly grew up in a baseball-obsessed household, for some reason we didn’t own the game. I do distinctly remember playing at a neighbor’s house all the time though, and thoroughly enjoying it. It is ironic that I later fell in love with the statistical side of baseball, even specializing in statistics (along with quantitative finance…yikes!) while getting my MBA. Maybe it is a good thing we didn’t own the game, because I can certainly see myself becoming obsessed, and simulating seasons, much like I did recently with Diamond Mind Baseball with fellow columnist Rob Hyman.

No, the childhood memories the book has sparked revolve around other forms of baseball. Because while Strat-o-Matic wasn’t my obsession, I certainly had others. I loved baseball, and loved it in many forms. So, take a trip down memory lane with me as I talk about my top 5 baseball game obsessions growing up (in no particular order):

(Note: "Growing up" means before graduating college at age 22. Because one new baseball obsession has topped all of these, but that is for another column. What’s that, you ask? Fantasy baseball, of course, which is sort of the culmination of being obsessed with these 5 growing up)

Nintendo Baseball
I remember in the early 80s, video games, for the most part, didn’t exist. And then one day, EVERYONE had a Nintendo system. And I mean everyone. Rich, poor, didn’t matter…every kid in America was blowing the dust of those game cartridges before inserting into their NES. Every kid subscribed to Nintendo Power. Every kid knew what Up-Up-Down-Down-Left- Right-Left-Right-B-A-Start meant. And every kid played Nintendo baseball. And it was awesome. Realistic? Ha! Heck no. I remember how it was impossible to do a successful run-down. A runner could always try to take an extra base because if the player saw the throw was going to beat him, he’d just turn around and successfully make it back safely to a base. But who needed realism? This was virtual baseball! My brother and I would play over and over again, keeping track of stats and playing virtual seasons. Ah, good times. I even remember how we implemented our own rules to deal with the impossible run-down situation….if you turned the corner on a base, you had to commit to keep running, even if you were headed for a certain out. What can I say? My brother and I insisted on at least some semblance of reality.

Wiffle Ball
While baseball video games have certainly improved since the mid 80s, Wiffle Ball is just as awesome now as it was then. Nothing like it. Grab that thin yellow bat. Grab a Wiffle. Hours of fun. Growing up, it was just me and my brother, right in our driveway. A little net with a built-in strike zone. Our own little stadium, with a large tree designated as our “Green Monster.” Specific rules outlining what constituted a single, double, triple and HR. Yes, we took it seriously. My brother can deny it all he wants, but I was better. I could hit any crazy curve he threw. I wasn’t a great wiffle pitcher, but made up for it with some excellent defense. Then, in college, the fun continued. Fellow columnist Alan Eliot and I were roommates, and behind one of the dorms was the PERFECT wall which was clearly built for one reason, and one reason only….Wiffle Ball HR Derby. And even Alan, who has a hard time admitting I am better than him at things, must admit that I dominated this competition. But didn’t matter….we loved every minute of it and we both cannot wait until the next rematch.

Micro League Baseball
My first computer was a Tandy and while I remember using it for school once in awhile, its primary purpose was playing either a King’s Quest game, or…Micro League Baseball. What a game! Unlike other baseball video/computer games, you didn’t control the players in this one. You were the manager! The perfect fit for me, since the thinking aspects of baseball, and not necessarily playing, was what always appealed to me. And I was in heaven. I had the black and white 1984 version, which only means I know way more than anyone should about the 1984 Mets. George Foster baby! I had my little Mets pocket schedule and played the season. Kept track of all the stats, of course, and....never could win more than 90 games or so. Too bad I didn’t get the 1986 version two years later.


Ken Griffey Jr. Baseball
If someone asked my favorite baseball video game of all time, I would say Ken Griffey Jr. baseball for Super Nintendo. The game was based on real players, although only Griffey’s actual name was used. However, you had the ability to edit the names and make them the real ones. While that was annoying, that was the only negative about the game. You could play entire seasons and….it would keep track of the stats! No more pencil and paper like I needed for Micro League. Even better, the final season stats were always fairly realistic. No .400 hitters. No 180 RBIs. Realistic numbers made it all the better. The only major negative is I was more obsessed with this game than most of my friends, and I wound up playing most games by myself. That would change though a few years later with the next game.


Super Bases Loaded
Alan would not let me publish this column if I didn’t mention this game for Super Nintendo. It was sort of an odd game. When playing alone, the challenge was to play a "perfect game," which was not quite the same definition as what you normally think of as a perfect game. It had some weird scoring mechanism and you needed to finish with 100 points to "win" the game. I never quite understood why not just scoring more than the computer wasn’t enough. Anyway, not important, as the real fun was head to head with a friend. Freshman year of college, Alan and I would play this game all the time. And, I admit, unlike with Wiffle Ball HR derby, Alan was clearly superior here. It is not that I couldn’t compete. In fact, I often would take a lead into Alan’s last AB. However, by some miracle of fate, some random player named "Mussio" would always come through for him. Always. Just the thought of a Mussio walk-off homer still bothers me. I think I only beat Alan a handful of times in countless games. Damn you Mussio!!!!

Doug Silversten's column, "The Big Picture", appears alternate Mondays
"I've had a pretty good success facing Stan (Musial) by throwing him my best pitch and backing up third base."
- Carl Erskine

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