Back to the Future II – Home of the Alternate 1985. Marty McFly was in disarray, Biff Tannen built his evil empire Biffco, and the future of Hill Valley hung in the balance of mad-scientist/inventor Doc Emmet Brown. All because Gray’s Sports Almanac wound up in the wrong hands. As the story goes, Marty and Doc were able to destroy the almanac to put Biff in his place, Marty didn’t suffer his life-shattering car accident, and Doc Brown was commended (not committed). Those movies are timeless; movies like these are just as exciting and fun to watch now as they were 30 years ago. That’s also one of the many beauties of APBA Baseball. You look at the APBA cards of players from yesteryear, and no matter how little or long it’s been since a particular player has played, it instantly brings you back to that time period. APBA has made me more of a student of the game’s history and rekindled more baseball memories than any other avenue I can think of.
For the past few months when time allows, I’ve enjoying an alternate 1984 in the comforts of my home and other locations compliments of APBA Baseball Master Game. After replaying the Oakland A’s seasons of 1987, 88, and 89, I’m smack dab in the middle of a season replay of the 1984 Minnesota Twins. Being a fellow lifelong Minnesotan (born in 1980), I was not aware of how close these ’84 Twins were to winning the American League West that year (3 GB). Because of this, and the fact I’ve yet to play much with any Twins team, I wanted to put this club to the test to see if they could possibly leapfrog their way to the top.
So far, it’s been a very rewarding replay to say the least. The 1987 A’s certainly weren’t dominant (my first replay), but the ’88 and ’89 teams were. It’s been a nice change to go back to a team that really you can say has a 50/50 chance to win (’84 Twins finished 81-81). There’s a tremendous amount of parity in the American League in 1984. And it’s clear that the Detroit Tigers by FAR have a lineup that can hurt you in a hurry! They are above and beyond better than the other 13 teams from my experience here thus far. I began this replay in October of 2015 and now, I’m just about to the halfway point. I went about four months without rolling a game, but now with baseball coaching all wrapped up, countered with gallbladder removal/hernia surgery next week, I’ll be forced to have some seat time. Wishful thinking will have me in the basement rolling some APBA games. I’ve found that out since my APBA playing days began six years ago that there will be times when I’m “into” the game and times I’m not. The luxury, though, is that it’ll be sitting there….on my simply card table….in the basement….ready to go whenever I need a fix. The ’84 Twins are 42-35, one full game ahead of the California Angels and three games
ahead of their actual ’84 counterparts. The Twins, however, are mired in a season-long six game losing skid. In the middle of that stretch were four heartbreaking losses by either a run or the game was lost in the last at-bat. I’m beginning to have a real LOVE-HATE relationship with closer Ron Davis (CX, MG 6). He’s put up OK numbers in the bullpen as the closer and is on pace for a mind-boggling 40 saves! But in a recent game against Detroit, he blew leads twice in Minnesota’s 9-7 loss at Tiger Stadium. The first time he blew the save opportunity walking, of all people, Tom Brookens with two outs and the bases loaded to force in the tying run in the 9th (he struck out Lou Whitaker to get out of the jam). In the top of the 10th, Randy Bush’s solo homer put the Twins up 7-6 going into the bottom of the 10th. With two outs, Davis walked Lance Parrish and Dave Bergman before Rupert Jones’ 66-1 sent the Tigers to the clubhouse winners on a walk-off three-run homerun. Frustrating, but unpredictable at the same time! There’ve been a few Ron Davis meltdowns up to this juncture and I’m sure there will be more, but for now, he’s converted 20 of 25 save opportunities…enough to keep his job.
The ’84 Twins possess three very serviceable starting pitchers. John Butcher (BZ, MG 11) has been the clear leader of the staff. He still has put up big numbers despite being roughed up in his last two starts, and if his success continues, he could be in the running for the Alternate 1984 AL Cy Young Award. Frank Viola (BYZ, MG 14) didn’t make it out of the second inning in a recent 15-0 loss in Detroit, allowing 8 earned runs as Sparky’s boys clubbed the southpaw into oblivion. Other than that, Viola has been able to go deep into games.
Mike Smithson (BZ, MG 10) is the third leg of the starting-pitching tripod, and he too has been pretty decent. Having three slightly better-than-average starters will give this team a chance. The bullpen is putrid. Davis, Len Whitehouse (C, MG 7), and Rick Lysander (CZ, 9) see most of the action, especially if the game is close. After that, it’s all D pitchers and a whole lot of praying!
Offensively, Kent Hrbek, Kirby Puckett, Mickey Hatcher, and Tom Brunansky are all making up for any pitching deficiencies this team may experience at any given time. All four players are far-exceeding their real ’84 alter-egos. Hrbek especially has been the key cog in the lineup, and is on pace for a possible Triple-Crown push. Puckett and Hatcher are a solid 1-2 punch in the lineup and have been excellent table-setters for Hrbek and Brunansky. After these guys, however, runs can be hard to come by. Randy Bush has come on recently, and Houston Jimenez is hitting at a surprising .273 clip in the #9 hole.
Gary Gaetti, Dave Engle, Tim Laudner, and Tim Teufel all provide offense albeit sporadically. Gaetti played in all 162 games in 1984, hitting a lone 5 HR. I will stay true to this as his “5” rating at third base is just too good to leave on the bench. But his .302 slugging percentage is a sad sight!! Ron Washington’s pitiful “7” shortstop rating hasn’t earned him the right to being in the lineup consistently, but his .306 average might earn him a few more starts than what he’s gotten up to this point. He’s a great pinch-hitting or pinch-running option late. Teufel has also appeared in all of the team’s 77 games so far, but his days are numbered.
With this replay, I wanted to do a “Big Three” of sorts – three moves, trades, or significant changes to create an “alternative,” yet realistic replay. The first
“move” was inserting Kirby Puckett into the starting lineup during the first week of the season instead of waiting for his early-May call up to the bigs. So far, I’m pleased with that decision as Puckett’s been quite consistent, and really should’ve been playing ahead of Darrell Brown since Day 1 anyway. It took me awhile to figure out what my second “move” would be until recently. John Castino, the 1979 co-AL Rookie of the Year, played his final season of his all-too-short MLB career in 1984. Chronic back issues forced his early retirement following the 1984 season as he aggravated it during a game in May, sliding into home at Anaheim Stadium. As a kid, hearing stories about Castino from my brother Ben and other old Twins fans, I’ve always wondered “what could’ve been” had Castino been healthy. Would he have been a piece of the Twins’ championships later down the road? Could the Twins have maybe earned more post-season berths? All-Star games? Gold Gloves? We’ll never know. HOWEVER….in APBA-land, we could at least find out if Castino has the wherewithal to give the ’84 Twins the push they need to win the AL West.
How can I accomplish this and yet keep this realistic with integrity? Here is my idea. Castino has not played since early May, just as in real 1984 as he’s been nursing his back. My plan is after the All-Star Break, to insert him back into the lineup as the regular second baseman with Teufel as backup with some starts here and there. Castino has a MONSTER card in 1984 as he hit .444 in his 8 games played. I’m not going to fully use that card as that would be completely unrealistic.
My plan is this – any game that Castino plays in (starts, pinch hits, etc), I’ll roll one die. Whatever the number rolled is will correspond to the card I’ll use for him in that particular game. If a one is rolled, I’ll use his 1979 card, a two, 1980, and so on. If a six is rolled, well, the Twins and Castino will really benefit. Who knows – he could have had a career season in ’84 (no way he’d kept up his .444 clip), but at least this way, it will provide the opportunity to at least have his that epic card in the mix. Because he was an “8” second baseman for fielding during his last two full seasons (’82 and ’83), he will remain an 8 in every game I play, and a “4” if he has to play third base. He will never be an “F” despite what his first two cards say. For everything else “Master Game” related, I’m going to keep it simple and use Teufel’s ratings for arm strength, stealing allowance, etc. For batting characteristics, no matter what the card, I’ll use the default -1/-1 for lefty/righty pitchers. I want this to be interesting enough to answer all of my “what-ifs” with Castino, to be random enough where there are six varieties of cards to use, but not overcomplicate this where I’m yanking my teeth out. I can’t wait to see how this unfolds. My opinion, simply is I wish Castino had been a part of the Twins run of titles because he deserved the opportunity to be a contributor, if not a leader. The ’84 Twins have seven games before the All-Star break, so it will be awhile before Castino returns, but it will be worth the wait!