The Commish







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It all started back in the summer of '81. You might remember that was the year baseball shut down for over a month while all the greedy-bastard players and greedy-bastard owners fought over who was greedier. As an 11-year-old boy, I was as obsessed with baseball then as I am now - only I had more time to obsess back then. So you can imagine how devastating the Strike was for me.

My father and I normally spent our summer months camped out in front of the tube, watching our beloved Yanks wreak havoc in the American League while listening to the familiar old voices of Phil Rizzuto, Bill White and Frank Messer. After a couple of weeks had passed without baseball, my father finally had enough.

One day, while sitting in my living room watching endless "Flock of Seagulls" videos on the radical new network called MTV, my dad came crashing through our front door carrying a large box. Inside that box was one of those new-fangled gizmos they called a "personal computer." This particular "PC" was a Commodore-64 - the cutting edge of computer technology in 1981.

Dad set this thing in the middle of our living room, plugged it into the TV set, and turned it on. Suddenly, the screen went bright blue, and was completely blank except for one word: a blinking "READY" in the upper-left corner.

"Okay, Mike," said my dad, "make it do something!"

We had one PC in my junior high school, and I was lucky enough to have sat at its controls once. So by default, that made me the family's computer science expert. I spent hours trying to get a little stick figure man to do jumping jacks using a FOR loop and some PRINT commands. Hours later, I still hadn't accomplished this task, and the awe-struck family audience which gathered around me all night had vanished. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to save my work since my father hadn't thought to buy a storage device for his new PC. As you can imagine, this made it kind of hard to do anything productive.

Eventually, we did get that storage device (a 5 1/4" floppy - much faster than the tape drive alternative, the floppy drive only took an average of about three weeks to load the average commercial software program), and our very first purchase was a copy of SSI's creatively-named "Computer Baseball." Oddly enough, after 17 years of technological innovation, the SSI game looked very much like the Diamond Mind game we use today. The display was mostly text, although there was an outline of a diamond and several "sprites" representing players on a bright green field. Of course, the game itself left a lot to be desired. There was no way to play an entire season without playing every single game (or watching the computer play itself.) There was no schedule facility for league play, no drafting features, and no carryover from game to game for injuries or resting of pitchers. Only the most rudimentary of stats were used, and there were hardly any managerial moves to make.

Of course, since it was the first baseball sim I'd ever seen, I had no idea what I was missing. As a result, I spent a great deal of time (far too much time now that I think of it) entering stats into that machine. It was at that time that I discovered something called the "Baseball Encyclopedia." I discovered an old 1975 edition at my town library, and I spent hours sitting at a table, logging all sorts of numbers into a notebook. I'd then transfer these numbers into the machine at home and create teams of all types and configurations.

I created an all-time team for every one of the 26 major league teams. I created an All-Decade team for each decade from 1900 to 1980. I created an all-time team for every letter of the alphabet (note: no one ever beat the M's - Mantle, Mays, Maris, Marichal, Musial, McCovey, Mathews, Mathewson, Morgan, etc.) I created an All-Babe-Ruth team featuring the Babe at every position (with stats from each year of his career.) I even entered the stats for my Little League team and pitted our guys against the '81 Yanks (note: the Yanks were no match for us.)

All in all, I think I enjoyed creating those teams more than I did playing the games. I played the SSI game for years. By the time I reached high school I was convinced no one could put together a better team, and no one could out-maneuver me on the field. The problem was I had no competition. Then a guy named "Billy Baseball" began coming over to my house, and the two of us would draft players back and forth and play our two teams head-to-head.

Then, in 1987 we came up with a brilliant idea: why don't we form a LEAGUE and invite other guys to pick a team? To this day, I don't know why we didn't think of it sooner.

And thus, in April of 1987 the "Computer Baseball League" (original, huh?) was born. The CBL consisted of ten teams, with five teams each in two divisions. We drafted our teams using the entire pool of talent from both the American and National Leagues, so you can imagine the all-star teams that resulted. To make matters worse, we only played eight-game schedules, since I had to play each game myself (using the computer to manage both teams.)

The first year, I went 5-3 and won my division. I then lost the CBL World Series to what I thought was an inferior team. The next month, we played another season - this time expanding the season to twelve games. I finished that season in second-place behind my arch-rival Billy Baseball. Clearly, something was amiss with this game.

The next month my team finished a woeful FOURTH place. This team featured SIX players who drove in over 100 runs and TWO 20-game winners. How could such a team possibly finish with a sub-.500 record? I determined it was simply impossible. So I began searching for a more "realistic" game. Fortunately, my father foresaw the demise of the Commodore-64 around this time, and went out and purchased an IBM-clone PC (an XT with 512k of RAM and an enormous 30-meg hard drive.) With a whole new realm of software at my disposal, my search eventually landed on "Earl Weaver Baseball."

If you've ever played computer baseball before, chances are you've played Earl Weaver Baseball. Not only was it the best baseball sim on the market in the late-80's - it was the ONLY true baseball sim around. Sure, there were arcade-style games such as "Hardball" and "Micro League Baseball." But for true statistics-based baseball sims, there simply was no competition.

The Weaver game lent itself well to league play. It had a schedule builder, a draft facility and a ballpark editor (note: all were "add-on's" which required you to spend additional money for each such luxury.) The CBL reformed in January of 1988 with only five surviving members of the original league. Because of this, we each drafted two teams - one AL and one NL. I probably don't need to tell you how this caused problems with conflicts of interest.

In any case, because we were all college students home on break, and had an endless amount of time on our hands, we decided to play all of our games head-to-head. We played a 16- to 20-game season each month, and we played six such seasons before the league's eventual demise. It didn't take long for us to realize that our love for the Earl Weaver game was a blind love which hid its many flaws.

Aside from favoring speedy slap-hitters a bit too much, and punishing hitters who struck out more than 60 times a year too severely, the Weaver game had several quirks which made the game hard to swallow. For instance, we discovered very early on that the corner infielders should guard the lines at all times during the game, since there was no increase in singles through the hole when doing so (and an overabundance of doubles down the line when not doing so.) Also, it was learned that mostly all hitters should be pitched around - especially light-hitting pitchers and .190-hitting shortstops. As a result of these discoveries, high-scoring games became all but extinct. It was highly unusual for two teams to combine for more than eight hits in a game no matter who was on the mound.

But by far the biggest flaw in the game's AI was discovered by Stamford Zoots manager Paul Marazita during CBL World Series V. Marazita and I faced off against each other that season in a tight, best-of-five series. It was a very exciting series, as each of the five games went down to the wire. In the final game of that series, the score was tied in the eighth inning. I had my closer on the mound (Dave Smith I believe), and Marazita had runners on first and third with one out. If any of you have ever played Little League baseball, or have ever watched a game at that level, you know what generally happens when a particularly wise-ass team gets runners on the corners with less than two outs: the runner takes off from first, the catcher gets confused and throws all the way through to second, and the runner on third steals home. Textbook Little League play.

The only problem is, the makers of Earl Weaver Baseball apparently never played Little League. Because the little pixilated catcher would always throw all the way down to the little pixilated second baseman in such a situation, and the runner on third would always score. There was no recourse for such a play. Even a pitchout would result in the catcher throwing through to second. Unfortunately, Mr. Marazita, being the "win at all costs" kind of guy he is, took full advantage of this little quirk and won the World Series because of it.

From that moment on, we all knew the perfect, realistic baseball sim had still not been found.

Once the CBL dissolved (after we had all graduated from college and no longer had the time we once had), I began playing rotisserie baseball. After all, here was a game which is so realistic it is based upon reality! I played in three leagues my first year of rotoball and I finished in first-place in all three leagues. Unfortunately, there was nowhere to go but down from there. Since then, I have owned ten teams in various leagues and have finished in first-place twice, second-place four times, third-place once and fourth-place twice.

The problem with rotisserie baseball is that, even though it is based upon reality, it is seldom realistic in terms of pure baseball. For instance, players like Brian Hunter and Billy Taylor are worth far more in rotisserie than in real life. Rotisserie fails to account for a lot of factors which greatly effect the real game - most notably defense. Players don't really play "together" in rotisserie, and it doesn't matter whether you have three power-hitting first basemen, or whether you only have two legitimate starting pitchers. Also, winning a rotisserie league is dependent much more upon luck than skill. And often, the owner who wins a roto league is the one who is most skilled at ripping off his fellow owners rather than the person who is most skilled or knowledgeable.

I hope that with the Diamond Mind baseball game I have finally found the realistic baseball sim I have been searching for since 1981. The BDBL now includes three members of the old CBL (myself, Marazita and Phil Geisel of the New Milford Ironmen.) It's great to be able to have this little mini-reunion of the old gang. If I could, I'd move my PC to my parent's old basement for Opening Day just to get in the spirit of things. I only hope I have the opportunity to redeem myself. Go ahead and pull that double-steal on me now, Marazita! I'm ready for it.