The History of the Benjamin Button League
When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things… Errr sorry, Apostle Paul but SCREW THAT!! I am still a child at heart and I am gonna act and speak like one too!!
Acting Like a Child Can Be O.K. and Healthy
Recently, I met a new friend and she was telling me and others that some people just do not appreciate her child-like view on the world. She was detailing how she gets excited when discovering something new or different and she said that she gets some weird looks and reactions from adults because of this.
Well, I happen to think that is a crock. The world needs people to start looking through the eyes of an innocent child. So, with that in mind I am going to share with you about a childhood hobby that I had and still practice although in a little bit different way than when I was a kid.
Playing Sim Before There Even Was The Sims and Fantasy Baseball before it was Hip
One of the more popular online games today is the Sims. According to the National Museum of Play, the Sims has nearly 200 million sales in 60 countries and more than 20 languages, The Sims is the best-selling PC game franchise ever. In 2016 it was nominated into the National Museum of Play.
So what “Sim” game did I play 20 some years before The Sims video game was ever created. Well, it was and still is a baseball simulation game of players from the past. It is a board game based off of dice-rolls called APBA baseball (pronounced App-Buh not A-P-B-A) and it is not 100 per cent accurate but it can be pretty damn close.
Also, one of the best things about the APBA or baseball simulations is that you can draft your own teams and create like a super team of all your favorite players. You could decide to build your team around pitching, defense, speed and fielding. One time I was a dork and I tried to build my team around all slow baserunning guys. Let’s just say the team was not very good and that did not work out so well. My oldest brother and I started drafting our teams and then after the real baseball season would end APBA would come out with last year’s season and we would draft the rookies from that season onto our teams. My brothers’ teams were always better than mine, but I had a lot of fun with those teams. So, in a way one can say that my brother and I were creating our own fantasy baseball teams long before it ever hit the mainstream.
Baseball Simulation Aided My Education in These 3 Areas
Math and Statistics
Playing the game as a young kid there are a few things that it helped me immensely with as far as school and education goes. I had no problem with basic mathematics, statistics and fractions. By the age of 8 I know for sure that I was able to calculate player’s batting averages and E.R.A.’s in my head. (Just for clarification Batting average is determined by hits divided by at bats Example: if a player goes 5 for 8, his batting average is .625. A pitcher’s E.R.A. is determined by taking the number of Earned Runs allowed times 9 and then divided by number of innings pitch. Example if a pitcher pitches 3 innings and allows 1 earned run. His E.R.A. is 3.00 (1 earned run times 9 divided by 3 equals 3.00.
Part of the fun of replaying games and seasons was keeping a detailed track and statistical book of how the players were doing. This would involve taking several different papers of boxscores (games) and recording them into a statistical record sheet. There is no doubt that this process helped me to memorize fractions. For example if a batter goes 4 for 10 that is easy to determine that it is a .400 batting average or 40% which is the same result if a player goes 2 for 5 in a game which is also .400 or 40%. Also the game helped me understand the basics of statistics. For example if you look at the Babe Ruth card above, you will see that if you roll “snake eyes – a red die “1” and a white die “1” it result in a 1. In APBA a 1 is always a home run. The same thing occurs when you roll a “66” you get a 1 or home run. And if you look even closer you can see that listed on the card there are 36 possible dice rolls so if 2 of those 36 dice rolls are automatically home runs then you can estimate that Babe Ruth will hit a home run every 18 at bats.
Spelling: Basic Comprehension of Spanish and other Last Names of Ethnic Origin
Another benefit was that I learned to correctly pronounce the different last names of baseball players especially Latin American players. Although at first I may have thought 70’s Cubs Shortstop Ivan DeJesus’s name was pronounced “Dee-Gee-Sus” just like the Biblical figure, I quickly learned that the correct pronunciation was “Dee-Hay-Seuss”. Likewise, Phillies’ secondbaseman Manny Trillo’s name was not pronounced “Trill-low”, but “Tree-Oh”. Besides Latin American names, baseball is full of ethnically related last names like “Yastremski”, “Greenberg” and “Schmidt’ just to name a few.
U.S. Geography and History
United States geography was never really a problem for me either because I quickly grew to know the major cities in the United States from San Diego to New York City. Having a sports team to match a city and state really helped me to learn U.S. Geography.
And probably not as directly as Geography, but my thirst and love for History grew out of my love for baseball history. At a very early age probably 6, I was reading biographies of famous sports athletes and quickly learned important dates and names in Major League Baseball history. So, in high school and college it became relatively easy for me to parlay that into studying History.
Some Drawbacks of Baseball Simulation
My Room Growing Up Was an Utter Mess
For those of you who know me closely, this is going to be somewhat of an understatement. I am a bit of a slob. And my bedroom growing up was utter chaos. I literally played hundreds of baseball simulated games and I recorded each one a college-ruled piece of paper. These papers were littered across my bedroom. They were on the floor, under the bed in my dressers. The boxscores and the APBA player cards that come with the game were everywhere. It made my Mom so happy – SARCASM ALERT. Anyway, I remember my Mom saying to me that when she was a little girl she was always making a mess of her room with paper dolls. And she told me that her Mom (my grandmother) would say to her, “I hope when you grow up you have a daughter who makes a mess with her paper dolls.” Well, my grandmother’s wish was basically granted, but instead of paper dolls my room was littered with baseball cards, APBA player cards and paper box score sheets.
SIDENOTE: This runs in the family. My youngest son when he was little collected a lot of Yu-gi-Oh and Pokemon cards and let’s just say they were not always left in the most organized fashion.
It Can Be an Addicting Time Consumer
For me, baseball simulation when I was a kid was an addictive time consumer. I often would put off that research paper or that homework assignment because I just had to play the next baseball match in my fantasy baseball league.
This has not changed as I have gotten older. I have lived alone for the last 17 years (I do have 2 sons who spend time with me) and sometimes this baseball simulation addiction has gotten in the way of me doing household chores like the dishes or laundry etc. And some of my friends have told me I tend to use my baseball simulation addiction as an unhealthy way of isolation. I am sure to some degree their advice is accurate.
Baseball Simulation Today
So back in the 70’s, 80’s and even the 90’s, I basically played the game by buying baseball seasons and using the dice and boards that APBA supplied to determine the play by play action of each game. Keeping stats and boxscores was quite consuming. A lot has changed nowadays due to the prevalence of computer baseball simulation software games.
Switching from APBA to Strat-O-Matic
Before the computerized baseball software programs changed the landscape of baseball simulation games there were primarily two companies to choose from the APBA board game and the Strat-O-Matic board game.
Growing up I always preferred APBA to Strat-O-Matic because the version I saw of Strat-O-Matic came with a spinner and would land on numbers. I remember thinking it would be much easier to manipulate the flick of the spinner than dice rolls, but once I got older I knew that despite there now being a proliferation of baseball simulation games, the best ones and most accurate ones were APBA and Strat-O-Matic. I first tried the APBA computerized game in the 2000’s and I really liked it. You could simulate whole seasons at once. You could even create your own player cards. What would have taken me years to simulate with the board game took me now literally 30 minutes.
And I might still be playing my baseball simulation games with the APBA product, but two things happened. My computer crashed and all the stats and rosters that I had for the leagues I had formed were wiped out and secondly around 2007 to 2011 APBA bought the publishing rights to the digital computer software program and there were some delays in the release of the new product.
So, during that timeframe I switched to Strat-O-Matic and I have not looked back. I enjoy recreating the games and playing with the baseball stars of my childhood and beyond immensely.
Differences from the APBA to Strat-O-Matic’s
Disclaimer I have not bought the APBA 5.5 upgrade that they put out around 2011 and 2012 and it is my understanding that major changes have occurred in the APBA 5.5 version. So, let it be known that below is a comparison analysis of the APBA computer game prior to version 5.5 compared to the present version of Strat-O-Matic.
Both games do a pretty good job of duplicating the statistics of both players in the past and present baseball stars. In my opinion, APBA does a better job of reproducing a pitchers’ E.R.A. and performance than that of Strat-O-Matic. On the other hand, I think Strat-O-Matic does a better job of dictating how important fielding is to the game. A pitcher’s E.R.A. can be drastically different based on whether or not he has a good defense behind him. And although in some ways, I like this focus on defense I would prefer to have my pitcher’s E.R.A. be replicated to closer to what there are in APBA’s version. Strat-O-Matic in my opinion does a better job of taking in consideration of the dynamics of the stadium a game is being played in. I also think Strat does a better job of realistically depicting the impact of stolen bases, bunting and the use of the hit and run strategy. I think both games are about equal when it comes to statistical duplication of the hitters. The two games are also about as equal in design and animation of the baseball stadiums.
Ok. This is Way More Than I Ever Wanted to Know About Baseball Simulation. Tell Me, What the Hell is The Benjamin Button League.
Well, before I explain the Benjamin Button League to you I first need to explain the basic premise of the novel written by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Full disclosure I have never read the actual novel, but I have seen the movie starring Brad Pitt. If you are not sure who F. Scott Fitzgerald is you probably recognize his most famous novel The Great Gatsby.
For both the book and the movie the major premise of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is that instead of growing young and dying old, Benjamin Button lives life in reverse. He is born an old man and he continues to get younger and younger as all of his friends and colleagues get older and older. It is a very interesting twist and I found the movie to be quite entertaining.
Description of the Benjamin Button League
So now that you understand the premise of the Benjamin Button book by F.Scott Fitzgerald. I can explain the premise of the Benjamin Button League (BBL) and you will understand why I decided to give my league that name. The first season of the Benjamin Button League was 1965 all the players were randomly placed onto different clubs. And in a NORMAL league you would think that after I simulated the 1965 season I would move forward in time and draft the rookies from 1966 onto each of the teams in the league.
Well the BBL (Benjamin Button League) is not a normal league so instead of moving FORWARD in time the league moves backwards in time.
In the BBL historical timeline from 1965, 1964 and 1963 there were 20 teams in the league and 4 divisions (5 teams in each division). In 1962 MLB baseball expanded from 18 teams to 20 (adding the New York Mets and the Houston Astros in the National league) so in 1962 the BBL contracted and went to 3 divisions with just 6 teams in each division. In 1961 MLB expanded from 16 team to 18 teams so the BBL contracted from 18 teams to 15 teams. The team that year with the worst record the Pittsburgh Pirates were disbanded and the players that were on the Pirates were put in the overall draft pool in 1960 and so by 1960 the BBL was a 3- division league with 5 teams in each league.
One of the cool things about the BBL is that regional rivalries exist and are not partitioned off by the American League or the National League. There are not two leagues just 1 League (BBL) with 3 divisions. Presently I have played UP TO the 1920 season moving backward in time I have played over 40 seasons from 1965 to 1920. So presently in the BBL (the 1920 season) the breakdown of divisions is like this:
- New York Yankees
- New York Giants
- Brooklyn Dodgers
- Boston Red Sox
- Boston Braves
- Chicago White Sox
- Chicago Cubs
- St. Louis Cardinals
- St. Louis Browns
- Kansas City Pirates – (In the BBL, the Kansas City Pirates are playing their baseball games in the Philadelphia Athletics stadium. Later on, I will explain how the Kansas City Pirates came about.)
- Cincinnati Reds
- Cleveland Indians
- Detroit Tigers
- Philadelphia Phillies
- Washington Senators
BBL Playoffs and BBL World Series
Each team plays 50 percent of their 154-game schedule with the teams within their division and the other 50 percent with the other 2 divisions. Playoffs are as follows. Each division winner makes the playoffs. The seeding of the division winners then is based on Won-Lost percentage. There is a 4th team that makes the playoff and this team is the team that is a non-division winner who has the best record overall after the division winners.
So in Round 1 of the BBL playoffs the # 1 seed plays the #4 seed which is always the wild card team and the # 2 seed plays the # 3 seed. This playoff series is a best of 7 games. Then the winners in the 1st round play in a 7 game World Series. All post season games are played by me manually which means the simulation takes about 30 minutes a game instead of nearly instantaneously. Manual play means I get to view the games inning by inning and monitor things like stealing bases, defensive substitution, pinch hitting, sacrifice bunting and applying the Hit and Run.
Once a winner of that season’s World Series is decided and ONLY then can the order of the next season’s draft begin. Here is a typical scenario of the how the draft works.
A Brief BBL Draft Description – Think NBA Draft Lottery but With Dice Rolls
So the way the BBL draft works is as follows and I am going to use the 1920 BBL draft as an example. So the draft order is determined somewhat by the order of finish from the previous season 1921 (remember BBL goes backward through time). So each team is given a numerical number based on their finish, the team in 1921 with the worst record was the Brooklyn Robins (later nicknamed the Dodgers) and they were ranked 15th and given 15 dice rolls using the www.random.org dice generator. The second to worst team was the KC Pirates and they were ranked 14th so they received 14 dice rolls, the Reds finished 3rd to worst and they received 13 dice rolls and the Browns were 4th worst and received 12 dice rolls.
So this is how the dice roll draft for the 1920 draft went down
- Dodgers 15 dice rolls – Dice roll total 50
- KC Pirates 14 dice rolls – Dice roll total 38
- Reds 13 dice rolls – Dice roll total 47
- Browns 12 dice rolls – Dice roll total 52
So the first 4 picks in the 1920 draft were:
- KC Pirates
And this was a pretty important draft because 1920 was the infamous last year for the 9 White Sox players who were forever banned from baseball for throwing the 1919 World Series. One of the players banned was Shoeless Joe Jackson who if he hadn’t been banned would have certainly been inducted into Hall of Fame. This was a strange draft result a team like the Brown who received just 12 dice rolls rarely gets the number 1 overall pick that usually goes to the team with 15, 14 or 13 dice rolls practically never 12 dice rolls. So, the Browns got really lucky in the draft and it was truly exciting for me.
Roster Creation, the Actual Draft and Trades
For me after the Draft Order is set the most exciting time is the roster creation for the next season which is based off of the team’s roster from the previous year, plus the draft and trades between ball clubs.
Note: The rookies in the draft are actually “retired rookies”. For example, the last year that Shoeless Joe played in the MLB was in 1920 so he is part of the BBL “rookie” draft class.
There are some rules that I put in place for each team. At each position Catcher, Firstbase, Secondbase, Thirdbase, Shortstop, Left Field, Center Field and Right Field each team must have a starter at each position with over 450 At bats or 2 or more platoon players with 450 at bats. For example, rarely will anyone catcher have 450 at bats so each team has to reach the the 450 at bat limit with a platoon combination. For example, if Catcher 1 had 280 at bats and Catcher 2 had 200 at bats the total amount of at bats is 480 so it meets the criteria if it just had 1 catcher with 280 at bats they must trade for a catcher so they will meet that requirement.
The other requirement is that each team must have a total number of games started by their pitching rotation that equals 154 games and since in the real MLB there were 16 teams instead of 15 teams the teams can always meet this mark and have to make mandatory trades to do so.
I try to make the trades amongst the two teams fairly equal but if one team does get a slight advantage it would be the team that is supplying the other team with their mandatory need. Originally, I tried to make sure that each trade equaled out in the amount of at bats and assigned 450 at bats to every 200 innings pitched by a pitcher, but recently I have changed that strategy and I am trying to make the trade equal in WAR (Wins Above Replacement) which is basically a statistical number given to each player based upon their career performance.
All The BBL Detail is Both Kind of Amazing and Boring…. Why the Hell Do You Do It?
I Love Playing The What If Game. Alternate Realities Are The BOMB!!
One of my favorite Comic book series growing up was Marvel’s What If Series. It featured stories like What if Spider-Man Joined the Fantastic Four. What if the Hulk had the mind of Bruce Banner, What if Spider-Man had saved Uncle Ben? You get the idea. The BBL is like one gigantic baseball What If?
The BBL answers the following What if scenarios.
What if Babe Ruth played for a different team besides the Red Sox, Yankees and Braves?
In the Benjamin Button League Babe Ruth was drafted as a Cleveland Indian and as you might expect he made the Cleveland Indians quite competitive and instant playoff participant for years. Can you imagine how baseball history which experienced tremendous popularity in the 1920’s would have changed if the Indians had the Babe on their team. The Indians who have perennially been hard luck losers and last won a World Series in 1948 may have been forever changed by the Great Bambino.
What if the Georgia Peach Ty Cobb was a Cincinnati Red instead of a Detroit Tiger?
Presently the current season of the Benjamin Button League is 1920 and the Cincinnati Reds seem to be a dynasty in the making. They already have the “Georgia Peach” one of the purest baseball hitters the game has ever seen. They also have a pitcher, Hippo Vaughn who posted the Pitchers Triple Crown (lead the league in ERA, Wins and Strikeouts in 1918 -(a year which has not been played yet in the BBL!). They also they have a Pitcher turned Outfielder Smoky Joe Wood. Wood sports a lifetime ERA of 2.06 and had a .297 Batting Average after an injury forced him to become a batter instead of a pitcher.
What if 2B Eddie Collins led the Chi-Sox to back-to-back titles in 1922 and 1923?
In real life Eddie Collins did play for the Chicago White Sox in 1922 and 1923, but as opposed to the real-life MLB White Sox, the 1922 and 23 BBL White Sox squad also had some pretty good compliments to Collins including two Hall of Fame Outfielders Sam Rice and Harry Hooper. Plus, on the mound these White Sox boasted Hall of Fame pitcher Herb Pennock.
In the Benjamin Button League Timeline, the 1923 the White Sox defeated the Red Sox 4 games to 1. The Red Sox had an impressive team of their own boasting the league leader in 1923 ERA Dolf Luque and All-Star caliber outfielder Edd “Double D” Roush- my personal nickname for him. Then in 1922 Eddie Collins and crew were victorious over Babe Ruth’s Indians 8 to 7 in Game 7. If this would have happened in reality it would have been pretty awesome because it would have meant quite the turnaround from the 1921 Chicago White Sox who finished 62 and 92 after losing 9 players who were banned in 1920 for the 1919 Black Sox gambling scandal.
What if Jackie Robinson broke the Color Barrier with the White Sox not the Dodgers?
We all have heard the story of how Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers thanks to General Manager Branch Rickey signing him to a Major League contract. But in the Benjamin Button League it was the White Sox and former owner Grace Comiskey who signed Jackie Robinson.
What if Ted Williams, Joe Dimaggio and Duke Snider were all Yankees?
This unbelievable Outfield actually did exist in the Benjamin Button League, and you want to know what is more unbelievable? This amazing outfield combination together never won a BBL World Series. Now Joe Dimaggio and Ted Williams did win a title together but they never won the World Series with the Duke.
Other Reasons I Enjoy My Free Time Simulating Baseball with the BBL
Learning More About Baseball Greats like George Sisler
Another great reason for me to play simulated baseball is you get to learn a lot about some players you did not know much about at all. For example I have learned quite a bit about Hall of Fame Firstbaseman and St. Louis Brown George Sisler. Sisler did not play on dominant teams like Babe Ruth’s Yankees so he never was a household name at least as far as I know. But Sisler was arguably the best Firstbaseman in MLB from 1917 to 1922 (Lou Gehrig started playing full time in 1925). Sisler was known as an outstanding fielder and he was great with the bat. In 1922, he was named the Most Valuable Player after leading the league in Batting Average at a .420 clip. He had 246 hits, 42 doubles, led the league in triples 18, smacked 8 dingers and knocked in 105 runners and he stoled 51 bases.
Ironically and sadly, after his best season Sisler was never the same player. He missed the entire 1923 campaign due to a severe sinus infection that impaired his optic nerve. He experienced chronic headaches and double vision. – SABR Bio Research Project.
Discovering Wonders Such as Hall of Fame 3B Pie Traynor and the 1920’s Pirates Uniform
Until, I started playing the BBL I never knew that the Pittsburgh Pirates old uniforms in the 1920’s had blue lettering and to me this is such an awesome coincidence and I will explain why.
Earlier I explained that MLB went from 18 teams in 1961 to the original 16 franchises in 1960. The BBL had 18 teams in 1961 and had to contract to 15 teams in 1960. So the two expansion teams from the 1961 season the Mets and the Houston Colt .45’s were dismantled. All the players on those 2 teams were put in the pool for the 1960 draft. But that left the number of teams in the BBL to 16 and although that worked find for the AL and NL since there was two separate leagues that meant each league had 8 teams an equal amount. But in the BBL there are 3 divisions and one league so one more team had to disband. I had already determined beforehand the team that would disband and not be included in the BBL would be the team with the worst record in 1961…. And that team was the Pittsburgh Pirates.
So what does that have to do with Pie Traynor and his uniform? Well, nothing really except for the fact that I live in Kansas City, Missouri and I am a Royals fan. 1955 was the first year (last year in BBL timeline) that the Kansas City Athletics existed before 1955 the Athletics played in Philadelphia. So, what I decided to do was in 1954 to keep Kansas City as the franchise owner of the Athletics instead of Philadelphia. And I had compassion on the fact that the Pittsburgh Pirates were one of the 16 original franchises, but not in the BBL. So, I decided to change the franchise name of the Athletics to the Pirates. So, in a way, every team is honored. I get to keep Kansas City in the league and they get to play in a division of local rivals including the Chicago White Sox and Cubs and the St. Louis Browns and Cardinals. The Pirates are honored by keeping their name in the league and the Athletics are honored because the Kansas City Pirates continue to play their games in the actual ballpark of the real MLB Philadelphia Athletics, Shibe Park.
And because I have been playing the BBL for quite some time now I have grown to appreciate some of the old time great players such as Pie Traynor. That love of past legendary players is one of the reasons I decided to purchase a coloring book containing MLB legends and when I did guess what I found out. The 1920’s Pirates used a blue logo color for their “P” on their uniforms and guess what the color the KC Royals uniforms have consistently been since their conception in 1969 blue. The irony and coincidence of that made me extremely happy and made me quite proud of my decision to create the “KC Pirates” in the BBL. NOTE: the real 1920 uniforms were not as blue as depicted in Pie Traynor coloring pic above, but the “P” on the shirt sleeve was blue. Below are two different sets of pics the 1920s Pirates uniforms and the 2018 Kansas City Royals uniforms. You can tell that the uniform styles are quite similar and to me that is tremendously cool.
The 1920s Pittsburgh Pirates Uniforms
The 2018 Royals Uniforms
The Great Baseball Nicknames
One of the more fascinating things that I find pretty interesting is all the clever nicknames the old baseball players had like. “Rabbit” Maranville, “Shoeless Joe” Jackson, “Home Run” Baker, “Schoolboy” Rowe, “Dizzy” and “Daffy” Dean. There is a whole lot more. Present day baseball also has some cool nicknames like “Big Unit” Randy Johnson, and “The Kid” Ken Griffey, but the nicknames were far more colorful and prevalent. One of the things that you do not see too much today are nicknames like “Red” and “Whitey” and “Lefty”. Those nicknames were quite prevalent from about 1920’s to 1950’s. However, the greatest and most popular nickname of all time has got to be the “Babe” known primarily as the moniker for Hall of Fame Yankee George Herman Ruth. But baseball has had quite a few baseball players nicknamed “Babe”, the list above indicates many of the MLB players that were nicknamed “Babe’. You will noticed that the nickname was around both before and after Babe Ruth’s baseball career.
The Disappearance of Adolf and Heinie
And every once in a while you come across something in playing baseball simulation that is very difficult to ignore. From about 1920 to 1950 the name “Dolf” was quite popular. Probably the most popular one was Cuban born baseball player Adolfo Luque known as Dolf Luque. But as you would assume after World War 2 and the rise and fall of Dictator Adolf Hitler the name quickly became obsolete. Above is a chart showing the decline of the name Adolf after 1942.
Another name that was quite popular, but stopped being popular was “Heinie” usually short for Heinrich. Some of the great MLB players nicknamed Heinie are: Heinie Zimmerman, Heinie Scheer but the most famous player is Hall of Fame Leftfielder Heinie Manush.
…And The Best Reason of All is Watching Baseball Reality Repeat Itself in Simulated Reality.
You get to watch history repeat itself. In 1954, Hall of Fame Centerfielder, Willie Mays, led the underdog New Your Giants to a surprising World Series victory over the much ballyhooed and favorite to win the Series the Indians. To this day the catch and throw Willie Mays made in Game 1 that robbed Indians’ Vic Wertz of an extra base hit is often considered one of the best fielding plays ever.
Well, in the BBL in 1954 Willie Mays led the Washington Senators to a World Series victory also. People forget that besides that catch Mays made in the World Series he also had a terrific season also and was named MVP of the National League belting 41 homers and leading the league in batting average at a .345 clip.
Thanks for allowing me to share my passion with you of baseball simulation and if you made it all the way through this article to the end I am impressed! Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World.