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By The Numbers: APBA Baseball

By Father Gabe Costa
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Bobby Lemke and Leo Smith were two of my best friends growing up in Hoboken in the 1960's. And they still are. If the weather was bad and we couldn't play stickball, boxball or touch football, we would head to Bobby's house (or Leo's or mine) to play APBA Baseball.

I suspect many readers are familiar with APBA Baseball (or its main competitor, Strat-O-Matic). If not, the following two links will give you an idea of what the game was like and how it was played:

The game consisted of dice and cards. The main selling point was this: if you played out a complete year, the statistical results of the game would be pretty close to the actual numbers accrued for that season. This was actually verified by By The Numbers guest blogger, John Conforti. John once played out the entire 1961 New York Yankee schedule, which resulted in Roger Maris slamming 60 homeruns, instead of 61, and Mickey Mantle belting 53 homers, one less than his actual 54.

My friends and I had all the major league teams for three seasons: 1960, 1961 and 1964. We also had all star teams comprised of great players from the past, represented by their best individual seasons. Drafting from a pool of these players was heaven! We had our own Time Machine! Leo always managed to get Jackie Robinson. Ted Williams and Sandy Koufax were Bobby's favorite players. And I had to have Babe Ruth.

And then the trading began. I needed Lou Gehrig to back up the Babe. Would Leo give me the Iron Horse for Hank Greenberg? Would Bobby start Joe DiMaggio in center field over Duke Snider? Could Leo find a greater shortstop than Honus Wagner? Was Bobby really going to lead off with Mickey Cochrane? And who would Leo start in right field, Hank Aaron or Mel Ott?

There were no computers then. You got your hands dirty by rolling the dice and rearranging the players' cards in order to reflect the batting order. If Rogers Hornsby was injured, well, it was just too bad; Eddie Collins or Charlie Gehringer would have to replace him.  A nine-inning game might take all of ten minutes to play.  We would groan if Stan Musial hit into a double play and cheer when Roy Campanella hit one out. Do you call for the hit-and-run with Harry Heilman at bat? Do you put in Cy Young to relieve Pete Alexander? Do you keep Joe Tinker and Johnny Evers at double play depth?

I still remember a game when the Bambino hit three home runs, and then having the opposing manager intentionally walk him in the late innings, not to give the Sultan of Swat a chance to smash his fourth circuit clout…grrrr!…and this was with Lefty Grove facing Ruth!

For the three of us, the players came alive! We could see Ty Cobb slashing a double and Tris Speaker making a circus catch in center field. We could hear the crack of the bat as Mickey Mantle or Jimmie Foxx got hold of a fast ball. We were Connie Mack, John McGraw and Joe McCarthy.

We had games, series, leagues and tournaments. We'd play morning, noon and night.

Just to go one step further, every now and then we would record a game or two on a reel-to-reel tape recorder. One time, Leo and I were locked in a best-of-three series: his all time Giants versus my all time Yankees. Mathewson, Ott and Mays against Ford, Gehrig and Berra! The first two games were split. Much to Leo's chagrin, the Yanks won the rubber game. From time to time, I've offered to play that audio tape for Leo, but he continues to decline listening to that last game.

To this day, I still have the old blue box with the APBA baseball diamond, the four boards which determined what plays occurred on the field, the dice, the base markers and the game's Hit-and-Run booklet. I have dozens of teams in their original tan envelopes stashed away in an old shoe box. And every now and then, I'll dust off the game, light up a cigar and see if the Babe can still belt one off the Big Train.

Next Blog: Rare Magic Numbers and the Hall of Fame

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