Say it ain't so


On simulation baseball

Black Sox play it straight but still fall short

July 16, 2008|By BILL ORDINE

On the agenda for a recent two-week pilgrimage I made to Las Vegas was a totally wholesome event in which I participated along with a buddy who also committed journalism here at The Sun and now works at USA Today.

The two of us were entered in a tournament featuring a decades-old baseball board game. Seventy devotees of something called the APBA baseball game gathered at the Palace Station in Vegas - site of O.J. Simpson's gimme-the-memoribilia event several months ago - to vie for the board-game championship playing with great teams of the past.

Sound geeky in a Star Trek convention kind of way? Yeah, probably it is. But the people were extremely pleasant and total baseball fans, and, I confess, the whole thing was pure, unadulterated fun.

APBA is a pre-video game version of EA Sports, meaning a game that allows participants to oversee players and teams whose make-believe performances are supposed to replicate their real-life counterparts. But instead of madly manipulating joysticks, these low-tech game players roll dice and keep track of runs, hits and errors on paper score sheets. The emphasis is on strategy (with a healthy dose of luck) rather than quick-twitch motor skills.

Having nearly the entire universe of baseball teams from which to chose, we decided on the 1919 Chicago White Sox - the team that scandalized baseball by throwing the World Series. Defying history's verdict on that star-crossed collection of baseball ghosts, my friend and I had hoped to redeem "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, Buck Weaver, Ed Cicotte and the rest.

In a weird twist, the day before the 52-team tournament started, we were strolling through the Forum Shops mall attached to Caesars Palace when we happened on a sports collectibles store where Pete Rose, of all people, was signing autographs for anyone buying selected items. The buddy, a Boston Red Sox fan, couldn't resist. He made the required purchase and had his picture taken with the most famous living baseball player exiled from the game for gambling.

I'm not sure what kind of karma that set in motion, but our White Sox - playing in a field of 52 great teams, from the dead-ball era to the 21st century - finished 4-6 in our eight-team division. Five of our six losses were by one run. We had just two home runs over the course of 10 games, one by Shoeless Joe.

If there ever was evidence of the soundness of Earl Weaver's philosophy about three-run homers, that was it. We would sometimes get 16 and 17 guys on base and score just three or four runs. That doesn't work against Ruth and Gehrig.

But as I said, it was a lot of fun. Among the scores of graying, middle-aged men who would spiritedly debate the merits of the 1927 Yankees vs. the 1975 Reds was a guy from Cockeysville, Roy Langhans, who has attended these annual gatherings for years and was playing with the 1957 Braves (Aaron, Matthews, Spahn). Langhans is actually in the APBA Hall of Fame. ("Mainly because I've bought just about everything they've made since 1957," he joked.)

Actually, it's because Langhans went out of his way at one point to encourage retail stores in the Baltimore-Washington area to carry the game, which is mostly sold by mail order out of Lancaster, Pa.

Langhans' Braves won their division, going 9-1, but in the kind of twist that baseball often provides, it was the only person in the room under the age of 40 who won the APBA World Series.

Brian Wells, a tall, likable, modest 15-year-old from Wyomissing, Pa., managing the 2001 Seattle Mariners, brushed aside the 1953 Brooklyn Dodgers for the board-game championship Sunday morning.

It was nice to see in an atmosphere where baseball's past was an obsession for a bunch of nostalgic but mostly aging fans that the game's sense of tradition might still have some stewards in the future.

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