Wednesday, February 9, 2011


Every league--even one made up out of whole cloth via an arbitrary, semi-baked method--is going to have its doormat. And, sad to say, it looks as though the 43s are going to be the team to beat.

Joe Morgan, in pre-priggy days, demonstrates his singular
hand jive for 1970s Cincinatti's hot mama, Gwen Conley
As in being beaten, over and over again.

Yes, they have Joe Morgan. But even Little Joe, in his strong silent phase prior to the painful prolixity that created more voices of derision than ships launched by Helen of Troy, can only do so much.

Your roster for the hitters born in 1943:

Catchers--Andy Etchebarren, Jerry May, Frank Fernandez
First base--Lee May, Mike Epstein
Second base--Joe Morgan, Davey Johnson, Mike Andrews
Shortstop--Rico Petrocelli, Sandy Alomar Sr.
Third base--Joe Foy, Paul Schaal
Outfield--Roy White, Jose Cardenal, Lou Piniella, Merv Rettenmund, Curt Blefary, Bill Robinson

Marooned in the Bronx for most of the Yankees' fallow years:
Roy White

One thing this team has is strike-zone judgment. That fact allows us to assemble a lineup that will be a good bit more proficient at scoring runs than would appear to the case at first glance. But since your first glance tells you that these guys will score maybe 600 runs, the fact that they're gonna get to 675 (or even 700) isn't going to pass muster in this league. There just aren't enough homers to go with those walks.

So front-loading is the best approach here (as proved to be the case with the 42s). So that means we lead off one of Bill James's pets, Roy White. He's not really as good as Jim Rice (who's not as good as a whole bunch of folks in the BBWAA think he is, either...), but he makes for a fine leadoff man. Speed, power, on-base ability: Roy is definitely one of the guys you want getting the most plate appearances for your team over the course of a season.

Merv Rettenmund: .306/.397/.470
in his first three years,
.246/.366/.359 thereafter...
Let's put Little Joe in the #2 slot and pretend we are building a version of the Big Red Machine. (A whole bunch of out-of-warranty parts are gonna start falling out when we shift out of second gear, but that's what you get when you buy American: you can't say that you haven't been warned.)

We'd like to do a bit of cheating and let this team play a short-career guy, Merv Rettenmund, in center field and bat him third. Merv had several nice seasons in the early 70s with the Orioles, but he didn't have a lot of staying power. Any sim game is probably going to whack him a couple of times during the season and force you to play Jose Cardenal instead. Jose played for some pretty dismal Cubs teams in the early-mid 70s, and one gets the sense that this fact had already rubbed off on him about the time that the above picture was snapped.

Lou Piniella: "Hey, use your noggin--
batting me third is a way to get
your manager fired!"
Unfortunately, sim games balk at platooning players by best career segments, but Cardenal put up some fine numbers from 1972-78, while Merv's best years were 1969-71.

The guy who really has to bat third for this team is one of two choices to be its playing manager. Most of the recent pictures of Lou Piniella (in various stages of rage against the doleful men in blue, belying his "Sweet Lou" monicker) provide us no clues with respect to his playing career. He was a solid hitter, though he didn't draw walks and he didn't hit for power. The fact that this team is batting him third--when he rarely batted higher than fifth during his nice late-career run with the Yankees (1976-83)--is one of the reasons why this team isn't going anywhere.

Not getting choked up for the
Lee May Slurpee cup?
You'e not alone...
Batting cleanup is first baseman Lee May, who was the Big Bat discarded by the Reds in order to obtain Little Joe. Some nice irony, then, for May to be the guy most likely to be driving Morgan in. That full transaction (in December 1971: May, Tommy Helms and Jimmy Stewart to the Astros for Morgan, Jack Billingham--about whom more in a bit--Cesar Geronimo, Ed Armbrister and Denis Menke) sure makes you believe that May was perceived as the best player in that deal, doesn't it? (More irony: May hit better in the Astrodome than he did at Riverfront Stadium, and many old-time Astro fans thought the team made a good move in trading for him even after Little Joe led the Reds to three World Series in the next five years.)
Mike Epstein, getting an earful from Ted Williams

One possibility: platoon May with Mike Epstein. (This is one of the rare instances where the 43s can actually patch together a good platoon system--like the 42s, they lean heavily to the right.) As is the case with many of the players here, Epstein had a couple of excellent seasons--the first in 1969 under the tutelage of Ted Williams--but he wasn't especially consistent and he bounced around a lot. He's now a hitting instructor.

Rico Petrocell
Hitting fifth is Rico Petrocelli, who'd better hope that the 43s win the ballpark lottery and get to play at Fenway Park. Rico hit 134 homers at Fenway in his career, as opposed to just 76 on the road. Despite this, the presence of Sandy Alomar Sr. as the only other player capable of playing shortstop for this team will be enough to keep Rico in the lineup day in and day out.

We'll slot the Cardenal/Rettenmund "flip a coin"-style platoon at #6. Of course, it's an unorthodox one, since both bat right-handed.

The story of Paul Schaal in five
words or less...
Joe Foy
In the #7 slot, things aren't quite so lucky. The choice at third base is between a head case (Joe Foy) and a guy who was beaned in the head (Paul Schaal). Both of these guys can draw a walk, but Foy showed more power. It might be tough, however, to trot ol' Joe out there, given his career reversal once he was traded to the New York Mets (who gave up fourteen years of productivity from Amos Otis in order to get him--ouch!).

As with the 42s, this squad leads a bit too heavily with its right. This is not remedied by the choice of catcher. Andy Etchebarren didn't invent the mono-brow, he took it on a five-year mission to brave new worlds and scared the bejesus of new civil-eye-zations with just as much impunity as William Shatner oft-kiltered his lines. (Recent pictures of Andy, in his capacity as coach, indicate that he's taken a lawnmower to those brows, but my money is on the notion that it's a different person. The real Etchebarren must have been abducted by Klingons.)
Andy Etchebarren, best viewed from the side...

I'd be inclined to keep Frank Fernandez over Jerry May as Etchebarren's backup; while he hit just .199 in his career, Frank walked over 16% of the time and had some power.

Guys like this, hitters who didn't hit much at all for average but could draw a walk, used to be all over the place as backup players during the 60s and 70s, but they seem to be gone today--and, frankly, the game is poorer for it.

So here's that provisional batting order:

1. White lf
2. Morgan 2b
3. Piniella rf
Victim of a bad birthyear: Tommy John will be cruising
for a bruising when the 43s go for it in earnest...
4. May/Epstein 1b
5. Petrocelli ss
6. Cardenal/Rettenmund cf
7. Foy/Schaal 3b
8. Etchebarren c

The real problem for the 43s, though, is in their starting staff. Tommy John, a fine pitcher who'll one day be a Vets' Committee pick for the Hall of Fame, is nonetheless in a position to approach 20 losses in a sim season with this team. The rest of the starting staff, despite several instances of high single-season win totals, is staggeringly non-descript: Nelson Briles, Jack Billingham, Marty Pattin, and some kind of three way coin flip between short-career guys Jim Hardin, Bob Johnson, and Jim McGlothlin.

Davey Johnson, distended
by all the overdetermined
strategy he'll need to employ
Dr. Mike Marshall: there's no truth to
the rumor that he's married to the
sister of Dr. Joyce Brothers...
With that group, the radical approach for player-manager Davey Johnson (who's going to need all the brains he can squeeze out of his head, in a manner roughly analogous to the distortion effects employed by in their effort to make Claymation safe for the world) would be to take advantage of the fact that his squad is uniquely equipped with workhorse relief pitchers.

With Mike Marshall, John Hiller, Tom Burgmeier, Vicente Romo, and Dick Selma on hand, the 43s can afford to emulate the quick hook heroics of Sparky Anderson, only with even more insidious impunity. The trick is to pull the starter at the very first sign of trouble, then pitch three or four of these guys in two out of three games. The max range of the bullpen for the 43s is 715 IP, which is closing in on 50% of the total innings pitched by a team in a regular season; that's got to be the highest such total for any relief squad in the Showdown.

John Hiller, 1974: "It's the fifth inning, already!!
How come I'm not in the game??"
And with Marty Pattin on board, the 43s skipper has another swing man type who can add to this pre-modern strategy. You could definitely get away with a four-man rotation with this squad (John, Briles, Billingham and an ongoing coin-flip between Bob Johnson, Hardin and the star-crossed McGlothlin).

Johnson is going to have to pull more than a rabbit out of his hat, however, to get this team over .500. It's all too likely that whenever the starters get pulled, they'll be behind by several runs. The hunt-and-peck offense, projected to hit less than 100 HRs, will need a semi-historic performance from the bullpen in order to overcome their opponents.

As noted earlier, somebody in this ten-team league has got to lose; despite what's probably the most interesting (and highly durable) peformance capacity of any bullpen in baseball history, the 43s are virtually certain to be the orphan children of the Showdown.