The Nation's Pastime ...
19 field managers took part in the 2005 edition of the Sports
Illustrated (a.k.a. Superstar) Baseball tournament at the WBC.
All but two were familiar faces, which is about par for the
course. Notably absent was last year's champion and long-time
player Chris Palermo. In fact, none of the past three champions
were available, which shows just how difficult it has become
to fit in all one's favorite games in one short week.
But for the 19 present, none of that mattered. What mattered
was that the infield was smooth, the grass was cut and rolled
into a spiffy WBC logo pattern and the umpire was dusting off
the plate, waiting to see which managers would field which teams
for this edition of the SSB world championship.
The preliminary phase of this tournament is the Drawing of
the Teams. Names are randomly selected and managers have a few
seconds to select their favorite franchise (if it's still available)
or be given the best team remaining (as all teams are handicapped).
It didn't take uber-Sox fan Harry Flawd long to use his first
draft position to snare his beloved Red Sox. From there, teams
were taken pretty much in order of best team to worst. This
is mostly due to the fact that handicaps, while used during the
preliminary rounds, are discarded for the single-elimination
playoff. So, while one can guide an underachieving team through
the league portion of the schedule, the playoffs aren't kind
to the likes of the Brewers, Mariners, or Royals.
When all was said and done, our divisions shook out like this...
At the newbie table (this is a coached event, after all) were
the Braves, Astros, Expos, and Rangers (speaking of low-ranking
teams--this was the team accidentally taken by the GM, who chooses
last; he was thinking of the other old Washington franchise,
the Twins). The Rangers surprised the division by winning on
a tiebreaker, as all teams but the Astros ended preliminary play
with 2-1 records. The +10 run differential for Texas was the
At Table 2, Harry's BoSox ran the table over the Cubs (2-1),
Pirates (1-2), and Phillies (0-3). Something strange must have
gotten into the water during the 10 o'clock hour at this table,
as John Emery's Cubs thrashed the Phillies 17-9 while the Red
Sox were destroying the Pirates 12-5.
Table 3 was dominated by Tom Paroauda's Indians, who went
3-0. Everyone else ended up 1-2, as they spread the misery nicely.
Dan Dolan did finally win a game with his Yankees, though.
The other teams were the Philadelphia/KC/Oakland A's and the
St. Louis Browns/Baltimore Orioles. It is possible that this
table represented more cities than any other.
Over at Table 4, Scott Nerny's Reds did a fine impression
of the current edition of that franchise, laying down while everyone
else went 2-1. The Dodgers and Early Negro League stars didn't
have nearly the firepower that Dave Gantt's Late Negro Leaguers
did, and lost the crown based on the tiebreaker. In fact, given
that Gantt's team scored 10 and 14 in two of their victories,
it's hard to believe they were held to a single run when they
played the other Negro League team.
And at our Short Table (we have one most years), each team
was credited with a victory against "Bye" and played
one game against the other teams. As so often happens, we then
ended up with a three-way 2-1 logjam amongst the Cardinals, Giants,
and Tigers. Per usual, Bruce Young's Tigers won the division,
only to have him bow out to attend the Britannia semi-finals.
How many years in a row has this happened? And, more importantly,
when will he learn that he has a better chance at SSB than BRI?
So, the stage was
set for five divisional winners and three wild cards to advance.
With Bruce's departure, that meant we would draw four wild card
teams. In the first draw, teams who lost their divisional title
solely based on tiebreaker were thrown into the hat, and Bill
Beckman's Montreal Expos were chosen (fitting that one Greenville
Mafioso took the place of another). Then all remaining teams
with two victories were added to the mix and John Tighe's Early
Negro Leaguers came out. At that point, all teams with at least
onevictory were added to the hat and Greg Berry's Giants emerged.
For the final selection, all teams were in the hat and several
draws passed (with absent managers who figured they had no chance
to advance). Finally, Steve Vance's Orioles/Browns, with their
1-2 record got into the dance.
In the first playoff game, the lowly/lucky Texas Rangers sent
Kevin Brown to the mound to face Jim Palmer and the Orioles/Browns.
As neither team is exactly a powerhouse, the game was actually
pretty good. The O's scored a run in each of the last three
innings, with Ripken's run in the ninth being the deciding factor
in a 4-3 game.
Roger Clemens wasn't spectacular for the Red Sox when they
faced the Giants (Marquard), but the Fenway Gang was, as always,
explosive offensively. The Giants went down 8-6.
Old-school Negro League star Rube Foster won a pitchers' duel
against Indian Hall of Famer Bob Feller by a score of 3-1 to
allow the Early Negro Leaguers to advance over the Indians.
And in the other quarterfinal, Pedro Martinez and Les Expos
were no match for that juggernaut Late Negro League team, as
Ray Brown pitched his team to victory, 4-1, setting the stage
for a Negro League rematch in the semifinals...
...and in that game, manager Gantt may have out-thought himself.
Hoping to secure the legendary Satchel Paige (with a killer
pitching chart) for the championship game, he went with the less
heralded Hilton Smith to take the mound against the Early Negro
League. Not that Smith is any slouch, as either a pitcher or
hitter, but when the Late Negro League bats cool off, there's
trouble in Homestead. And that's just what happened, as the
Early Negro Leaguers bested their laterday counterparts by a
score of 5-2.
Over in the other semifinal game, Harry's beloved Red Sox
were doing the unthinkable--bunting, running, manufacturing runs.
You'd think that was Billy Martin managing the Splendid Splinter.
But when you're down to the last few games in an elimination
format, you do what's necessary to survive and advance. And
that's just what Boston did to the pesky Orioles/Browns, edging
out a victory 5-3.
And the stage was set for an epic championship game. Well,
maybe epic isn't the right word. After all, the pitching match
up for the game for all the marbles was Bullet Joe Rogan (Early
Negro) against Luis Tiant (Red Sox). The Sox won the dice roll
and were deemed the home team in this most important game of
The first inning was uneventful for Tiant, allowing a single
but shutting down the Negro Leaguers. Then Bullet Joe struck
out the side (Boggs, Yaz, Ted) in the bottom of the inning.
Frame two saw the Negro Leaguers go three up and three down.
And then the walls crashed in on Bullet. Pesky grounded out
to start the bottom of the second, but the next five batters
reached base (four singles and a walk) and the sixth batter (Wade
Boggs) slammed a three-run homer, to give the Beaneaters six
runs in the second inning. Two innings later, the Sox added
three more runs, behind doubles by Fisk and Williams and Pesky's
second triple of the game. Christobel Torriente tried to start
something in the fifth, but all that resulted were two runs (one
unearned) and those runs were matched by the Red Sox in the sixth.
In the end, Tiant went 8 innings, scattering 8 hits, and was
2-for-4 at the plate while Eckersley finished it off. Pesky
ended up 3-for-5 with a double and the triples.
And with those short 25 minutes (it's amazing how fast the
games go once you've got five under your belt), Harry Flawd claimed
wood and John Tighe can contemplate what might have been. After
the dust had settled, it was a typical SSB event--some quick,
fun dice rolling while we pretend that every great player in
the history of baseball is in the room with us; we lament failed
opportunities and praise heroic efforts; but, in the end, we
watch a train wreck. What better way to spend a Saturday morning?
There is talk of modifying the format for 2006, allowing customized
teams with a full-fledged draft to be held early in the week,
granting managers the chance to play "pick up" games
all week long at their convenience (much like Ace of Aces).
Please direct any thoughts on this potential change to Chris
Palermo or Randy Cox.