Volume 55/May 1997/Lancaster, PA
|Summer League Rises Again|
|Vedders Win Title|
|Clay Kibby Looks at Mike Piazza's SL Career|
|S.P. Swen Nater|
LONG GROVE,Ill-- The Summer League was pronounced dead. In mid-August 1996, GM Schottzie Maloney was leaving the league, and in the midst of his first pennant race in four seasons, GM Dan Casper went on hiatus. The interest of the other GM's shifted to a rival league. The storied league looked to be history.
Interest perked up in late October and November as Casper returned to play some games and the playoffs began, but emotions were no where near the shirt-tearing, fever-pitched fervor that made the Summer League so successful. Everyone thought the Evanston Vedders would be the last champion this great league would crown.
But as Spring blooms, a new spirit is alive in the Summer League. When GM Nims first started singing the league's funeral dirge last August, Commissioner Ken let his feelings be known. He said that no matter if the other higher-ups wanted to eulogize the league he co-founded in May of 1994, he would keep the Summer League going. His stature as the head of the league may have slipped since the league's inception, with Keith, Chris, and Greg having all captured championships and as the Executive Committee has routinely chipped away at his once proud autocracy, but it remains true that as it is played today, the league depends on Ken.
After the attitudes again went sour following the November playoffs, the new boost of enthusiasm came from the same source of the league initial death call, Greg Nims. All who have competed against Greg know that nobody puts as much of themselves into the league as Greg does and that the league would not have the same excitement if Nims was not involved. In January, Greg explained that the promise of his Savannah franchise in the Continuous League cannot eclipse the thrill of competing in the Summer League. While others had figured Greg to be losing interest in the Summer League after his playoff collapse, the proud owner boasted of his storied history in the league and challenged all comers to try and get him in '97 as he tries to reclimb the Summer League mountain.
With the heart and the head locked onto the '97 Summer League, the rest of the body will follow. In what looked like one of Chris Klein's infamous p.r. stunts (like the 100 lineshot club), he granted APBA patriarch Steve Swinea a franchise. Steve's initial enthusiasm seemed to cement his place, but questions remain. Will his knowledge of the board game and of the sport translate into enough Summer League success? Can Steve handle the commute to Long Grove? If eliminated early, will he continue the drudgery of the commute? Can he help his wife handle the inevitable jealousy to his new APBA mistress?
A seventh franchise has been awarded to the Crazyman, Jim Frank. After competing in all three of '95s Summer Leagues, Jim took a year off. The scoop is Jim plans to be back at Twin Orchard, and Ken has given his recommendation for the innovative owner to be welcomed back into the Summer League. Greg will probably not let him back until he gets his case of beer from the '95 (B) Maddux wager, but Jim will probably not want to come back until Keith finally gives him the much talked about case of LaBatt's Blue.
Greg sees another positive in this year's Summer League. "This will be the first year we won't have (a non-contending, in the league for his own amusement, playing with little care for the traditions of baseball and/or APBA baseball, giving nothing to the betterment of the league, GM/Owner/SKAT) in the league."
Analyzing the '96 Problems
What caused this cancer on the once healthy Summer League? The Executive Committee's decision to allow more than half of the teams into the post-season was one of the biggest reasons. Early games for "The Big Four" of GM's Nims, Klein, Klein, and Klein were no big deal. The experienced foursome knew the dice rolls would even out and their knowledge of the game and their assemblage of talent would eventually land them in the playoffs, especially since they had been split into separate divisions.
When the races did heat up, they never got white hot. Big John and his Keggers had a solid season, but throughout it all, he was in third place. Although he finished just a game from the playoffs, his place in the standings never gave the Brother Jim division all that much drama until Keith and Chris's final weekends.
In the Frank Schmank, Dan held a relatively large lead over Ken midway through the schedule, but the two still had many head-to-head remaining. Why Dan disappeared from Summer League circles with his team right where he wanted them is still a mystery. The answer, the Executive Committee believes, is that Dan just did not care about the league anymore, if he ever did.
With much cajoling, Dan finally returned to league headquarters. After struggling with Keith and Chris, the Smoka Tokas fell apart against division rival Ken. With 18 games left with Tommy, Dan needed to win 17 to overtake the Hanrahans. As the league's hierarchy was considering who could replace Tommy, Dan, while insisting the playoffs wait, went underground. The playoffs did go on, but the gray late-November skies seemed to reflect the state of the Summer League, especially as the Big Four turned all of their attention to their Continuous League.
The Executive Committee has acted to make '97 problem-free with the more stable additions of Swinea and Frank, the removal of the "fighting irish" Casper-Maloney tandem, and the decision to add the two Hanson brothers franchises which ensures a better proportion of playoff teams. With the crafty, yet crazed, assortment of GM's, expect '97 to be the most competitive yet. Rock on, Summer league!
An Insider's Story
The 1996 Summer League season was special and unique for many reasons, one of them of course being the first title for the storied history of the Evanston Vedders, and their owner Chris Klein. "It was like a dream come true for myself, and for this great town of ours," Klein said. In fact, it was a storybook season for the North Shore town, with the Vedders winning a world title, and the Northwestern Wildcats football team twice making a 'run for the roses', although coming up short both times.
The Vedders run in the 1996 season was based on a number of factors, the first of which started before draft day when maverick owner Klein was one of the staunch supporters of an expanded playoff format, that was eventually voted into existence. "We were just trying to create a long term interest in the league so some owners wouldn't lose interest after 30 games or so." It was Klein's Vedders in fact that had the league's worst record after 30 games at 11-19. "At that point we (Klein and manager Harry Caray) decided to give up on our starting pitching and defense, and move our attack to hustle and strong bullpen work. Any complete game after that was like a bonus for us." That equation turned out to be the winning formula in the end, as the Vedders relievers were virtually unhittable in the playoffs, when it counted. "Also the play of our catchers cannot be underestimated. Pudge Rodriguez was a dominant force behind the plate, and showed a surprisingly potent and timely bat, and Mike Piazza was the most consistent offensive player on our team." Piazza did win his first Summer League Batting Crown, and Rodriguez won his second consecutive Gold Glove. Albert Belle also swung a big bat for the Vedders, by finishing near the top in Runs, RBI, and Doubles. Jim Eisenreich and Roberto Alomar each stole more than 50 bases to help the team win the team SB crown.
Even coming off such a spectacular season, the team is, as usual, in turmoil. Klein swears that his team is leaving town unless they rename Dyche Stadium to Alternative Lifestyle Stadium. "I've never been known as a politically correct kind of guy, but I've always been a big fan of the rights of lesbians," Klein said at a recent KKK march. "Our team, and our stadiums, are going to be a little more family oriented this year, starting with the fact that I am naming my next four Summer League teams after my sons." Where does that put the team this year? Tinley Park Twins has been heard around the league before, perhaps this is year--stay tuned.
In addition, Klein seems somewhat pessimistic about his chances this year, in spite of seemingly gaining the neccessary knowledge to beat his brothers (including brother Nims). "There are going to be so many new teams, new managers, new locations this year, that anything truly can happen." That is true, there will be at least three new teams this summer, plus the much-ballyhooed return of the Jim Frank franchise, who seemed to get pregressively better in the three 1995 Summer Leagues. Klein is most excited about facing the guru of APBA, and his personal mentor, Steve Swinea. "For the first time ever, I might have a chance against Steve, because he's been out of the game for awhile, and I think he's about 75 pounds above his former APBA playing weight." That might be true, but early in the off-season, Steve was reported to be scouting the hell out of the league, and was determined to quickly regain his fame as a ruthless manager/GM who leaves no stone unturned. "The thing that scares me the most is that in January, a week after I asked him to play, he was asking how soon we could draft. That is one prepared guy! I don't know what is going to be next after he asked me for all of the box scores for every league game we've ever played!"
Piazza Finds His Place in the Summer League Sun
EVANSTON,Ill-- No other quality player had his weaknesses exploited like Mike Piazza did during the Summer League's first four seasons. But to Piazza's credit, the like the strapping lad from the streets of Philadelphia had a Rocky-esque 1996 Summer League campaign.
When he was selected early in the 1995 draft by Baton Rouge, the pick was openly laughed at by the league hierarchy. Although the best hitting catcher among the prospects, Piazza carried a woeful minus 2 throw rating. While his similarly poor rating did not have much affect in 1994 with Chris Klein's Champaign Jam, this was before many owners fully understood how to properly implement the stolen base into league strategies.
"I honestly thought Piazza's throwing wouldn't be much of a factor," said Barqs GM Dan Casper. "I felt I had made a solid pick. "Mikey," bemoaned the oft-criticized Casper, "was one of my boys."
The GM's who laughed soon had their managers running once Piazza was inserted behind the plate. This led to a horrendous start for the hopeful Barqs. The only recourse for Baton Rouge's "Junior College of Coaches" was to remove Mike (no relation to namesake Tony) from their battery. The promising hitter's production was also scapegoated as the short-sighted organization relegated him to the back-up DH role by the finish of 1995 (A)
Piazza, who came to grips with his defensive limitations during the '96 Summer League when he was reunited with Chris Klein, took over as Evanston's DH and scored himself a batting title. More importantly, he proved his mettle in heroicly catapulting the Vedders from a 3 games to 1 deficit to a Summer League Championship. "Piazza was a pearl in those last three games," said a tearful Klein as he accepted the Spit Cup.
Now removed from Casper, who was chased out of the league, the 1995 (A) second-rounder hopes to continue on the redemption path first blazed by fellow Casper "bust" John Valentin. Casper's second round pick in the inagural 1994 draft, Valentin rebounded from the bust label and has scored himself three championship rings.
"I really don't know what my future holds, if I can follow Valentin's lead, but the future's rosier with Casper outta the league and outta my life. I'm certainly hoping to get a few more rings like John did," said Piazza, the reigning Series MVP who stayed in Evanston over the winter to work on his game with Jason Kendall and Tracy Adams. "Defense aside, I've established that I am one of the top hitters in the game. And as we say back in Philly, 'Nuf ced, Schmoolie,' and you can quote me on that."
Summer League Preview: The Managers
LONG GROVE,Ill-- Never has there been such parity expected for an upcoming Summer League season like there is for 1997 season. The reason for the parity is the high level of the management, so say those involved. SL Journal is proud to give the Summer League fans a sketch of the best crop of managers ever assembled.
Once a flamboyant trader, Chris has slowed his player movement, but still finagled a trade with gullible Big John in '96. Wild card proved his mettle by repeating as champ after being given the disputed 1995 C crown.
Relivers are Keith's achilles heel, from the Gott fiasco in 1994 to leaving Bere in too long in the 1995 A playoff to last year's blown World Series, where Keith was ahead 3 games to 1 and had leads in games 5,6, and 7 before succumbing to the Vedders. Only GM who held first pick and did not take Greg Maddux (took Bonds first in '94; Maddux went second).
Anticipates reclaiming title in 1997 for the first time since dominating playoffs in League's first two seasons. A combination of Brady Anderson, Griffey, Salmon, and Buhner seem to always be in Nimmer's outfield. Only manager not to win title with Jay Buhner on his roster (1996).
Expected to adopt new strategy after his predominantly offensive rosters have left him without a ring in League's first five seasons. Experimented with relief-heavy pitching corps in '96 and finished last in ERA. Coached Rafael Palmeiro to stolen base crown in '94 which led to stolen base rules being significantly altered.
Earned instant respect with strong showing based on old-fashioned baseball know-how. Believed to contend if he can avoid the "Jay Bell straight steals" and "Bonds batting ninth" moments that occasionally plagued him in 1996. "Randy Johnson Assault Lineup" produced one win and a forgettable 2-hit, 18 strikeout game.
Gained measure of respect in 1995 C with over .500 finish. League "crazy man" could try any and all strategies over the course of a season, including the 2-out sacrifice bunt, which proves a little APBA knowledge can go a little way. In case you didn't know, this "minor league knuckleballing phenom" struck out Todd Hundley in high school.
Leads promising crop of rookie managers. Acclaimed for bringing APBA to the northern suburbs in the seventies. Board game enthusiast knows little of the master game or computer version, but believes the 1976 Reds are a great team no matter how the game is played. Wins the "Most Excited About the 1997 Summer League" award for his calling Chris 11 times a day to talk Summer League. Nephew of Steve Dillard.
Rookie follows the NIU connection into the league. Little is known in league circles about this Island Lake prodigy except that he is a big fan of the Twins. Brat Pack member has already announced John Lindsey and Jeff Gertz are in his World Series starting rotation.
Third members of Hanson Brothers to join the league. Hails from the Wauconda suburbs. Predicts a championship, but still not sure what APBA is. Tallest owner?
Grain of Salt Advice from S.P. Swen Nater
It's a given the fabled '76 Reds could whip any team assembled. With that in mind, I offer a look at who's available in the upcoming draft in relationship to the Big Red Machine.
C Johnny Bench -- Pudge Rodriguez wins an SP award for his Bench-like glove work. With the SL's tendency to stress the stolen base, it appears only Pudge and Chuck J can quiet a ground attack unless rule changes take affect. Last year F's and E's, who steal between 10 and 20 times a season, were among the SL leaders. Speculation is the 200% rule (limiting a players SL attempts to a generous 200% of his actual steal attempts) will take affect, meaning Kenny Lofton will max out at 184 attempts if Jim Frank selects him.
1B-3B Tony Perez and Dan Driessen -- Although they aren't Pie Traynor, Andres Galarraga and Edgar Martinez look like good alternatives to the GM without much affection for the available thirdbasemen. While their 3 defensive ratings at third wouldn't seem to hurt too much, APBA insiders will caution you about this strategy. APBA actually gives thirdbasemen and thirdbasemen only a specific error rating. If you can live with an .875 fielding percentage at the hot corner, which is what Edgar has through 100 games in the '97 Continuous League, go to town! If you cannot, look at Jeff King or Scott Brosius. ...Of course, Edgar did lead the '96 Continuous League in fielding as a 3...
Joe Morgan -- The all-time best leadoff man to bat 3rd, Joe's power/speed/on base% is comparable to, most notably, Barry Bonds and Gary Sheffield. The dilemma with these stars once you select them is the same as Sparky's with Joe; you can't score without someone on unless you hit a solo home run. No one is better at setting the table than these guys, but in the leadoff spot, they will clear an empty table much too often with solo home runs, home runs that could be two- or three-run shots if they batted in the middle of the order. Come to think of it, this is a decision most managers hope they get to make!
Pete Rose -- Tony Gwynn seems to win the Pete Rose-alike contest every Summer League; lotsa singles, not much else. Where Tony is unlike the alltime hit leader is in the playoffs; while Pete rose to the occasion, Gwynn is a three-time bridesmaid with the Pipe Dreams, Wonder Worms and with Oz in '96. Gwynn's worth, tainted by his reputation as the league's "most worthless .300 hitter," has been further tarnished as he slipped from a 3 outfielder to a 2. Despite all of this, I've a hunch someone will bet on Gwynn in '97.
OF George Foster -- Who is the player just a year away, a la Foster in '76, you ask? Well, it doesn't make a difference in the Summer League, but Foster candidates include Bobby Higginson, Manny Ramirez, Rusty Greer and Ryan Klesko. A year from now, any one of this bunch could get a whole SL Journal devoted to them. Of course, Sabrmetricians would argue Foster was not "one year away," pointing out that he led the '76 NL in RBI, but in the big picture, Foster is remembered for his 52 homers in '77. Save your letters to the editor, you zealots.
OF Ken Griffey -- A .336 hitter in a pitching-heavy 1976, Senior approached stardom. Inconsistency and age caught up with him faster than stardom, so Griff's place in baseball history is that of fathering a stud. Junior is MLB's best player these days and if he stunk the rest of his career, he'd still be a first ballot hall of famer. A first round selection in the SL draft in '94 and '95 who again merits early consideration, Junior would be in a category unto himself if not for career-years from former Oriole chums Brady Anderson and Steve Finley.
CF Cesar Geronimo -- Speaking of centerfielders Brady, Finley, and Junior, I ask the question what is this season's centerfielder rule? While the SL's Continuous League cousin has adopted a realistic plan to account for who can roam in center, I am not yet sure if the SL will follow suit. The Continuous League rule says a CF can play the amount of games in center that he actually played there last year. Since Matt Mieske got in 9 games in center, he could be a viable backup in the '97 SL. Under the '96 SL rules, those few games mean he could not play any games in center. Will this rule get adopted? Or will good-field, no-hit Geronimo clones Kimera Bartee, Chucky Carr, and Darren Lewis take up space on SL rosters?
SS Davy Concepcion -- Is Omar Vizquel the second coming of ole Davy Concepcion? Both have/had a dynamite glove, medium high averages, 50 walks and 40 extra-base hits a year, good speed, good steal. Juice Vizquel has two rings from Xanadu and Evanston, Davy has his '75 and '76 rings. Of course, in a couple of years, we may reprint this article substituting Vizquel's name with Edgar Renterria's or Derek Jeter's or Nomar Garciaparra's.
Starting Pitchers -- Captain Hook cared little about yanking a starter, so do we really need to analyze these jokers? If Sparky were alive today, he'd tell ya, in a nine-team league, after an MLB season of awful starting pitching, this crop is as thin as Beanpole Levine.
Relief pitchers -- I, of course, urge you to select Pedro Borbon, who got shafted with only a 14* rating. Word is one owner is making waves about changing the tried and true relief rule of a maximum of 2 innings per appearance, 3 if the game goes to extra-innings. His idea is to limit the role of 1/3 guys like Larry Casian and Tony Fossas. I believe this is much less important than the thought of a manager carrying just three (or maybe as few as two!) relievers on his roster, which Commissioner Ken is doing in the Continuous League. When a pitcher gets shelled early, the offending manager can take him out and realistically pitch his last reliever, say a Mariano Rivera, 4 to 5 innings or 10 if the game goes extra-innings. Saying he is giving his starters 1950s-like innings, Ken contends he should be allowed to carry a small 1950s-like bullpen. That smoke-screen aside, this is as big as any rule change issue that is on the Executive Committee docket.
...And if I neglected to mention him, I'm thinking John Olerud would be quite an outstanding pick if he's still there in the first round. The sweet-swinging slugger woulda led the '76 Reds to the first 162-0 regular season. Keep that in mind come May 31st... Happy drafting!
I would like to thank the league for inviting me to participate in the upcoming summer season. While I have been in APBA retirement for close to 10 years now, I enter this season enthused and rested; hoping the game has not passed me by. I look forward to the challenge of crafting a competitive team to battle new enemies and a few old, old foes.
In a way, this upcoming moment in time represents a quest for me. For it was my uncle, Joe Stanish, who introduced me to tabletop baseball in 1975. I in turn would go on to introduce it to the masses like me who not only enjoyed playing baseball but also delighted in drafting and managing real ballplayers and abilities using the best available: APBA.
Looking back, those early years were exciting. We couldn't wait for the arrival of a new season's card stock so we could draft and start playing a new summer league. As I recall, we all had our moment in the sun as individually assembled teams would offer no such promise as another assembled team and manager would take the flag.
This summer, I look to reclaim my divine right as the heir legacy to Joe Stanish's wisdom, principles, and guidance in winning the championship. Reawakening all my learned and inherited skills about the game after they have slept in consecutive summer slumber, my team will take its name from a city that also harks back to its glorious past and the spirit of those individuals which provided its heart and soul; the Cicero Bohemians.
As the Cicero Bohemians general manager and manager, I look forward to meeting you all as we individually prepare in drafting our teams. I urge you all to carefully ponder the "what ifs" and opportunity costs drafting a particular player creates. Draft day should be thought of as the most important "game" of the season, for while it does not count as a win or loss, your decisions will set a tone for how your team performs during our summer season. Mistakes on draft day will magnify as the season plays out and will determine whether your club finishes in the first division or down in the cellar. The Cicero Bohemians look forward to being one of this summer's elite teams. How about yours?
Hey! Who are these guys? Joe Hauser and Tom Noble. Cannon fodder, I guess. Someone has to finish in last. Hey, last year there was an extreme underestimation of rookie owner John Bryant's abilities. Some owners were caught high-fiving after the draw of divisions--and then proceeding to sweat out the entire season (Of course, we don't want to talk about sweating out entire sesons. Yikes!!) Long time struggling franchise Marlboro is gone. Without a franchise, the Marlboro odds for winning the pennant have actually improved from last year. A credit to long time owner Dan Casper. Saskatchewan fired themselves and went back to the Great White North. Asked why he fired himself, liason owner Tommy Maloney seriously replied, "Habit. Oh, I'm just kidding, actually I thought I could win something since it's my 100th time being fired."
Called upon from years past are Jim Frank and Steve Swinea. Aggressive managing is the of Jim Frank (over one hundred possible quotes here--sorry, no room). Steve returning from a 12 year tour of Europe--if memory serves me correctly, Keith was only 8 the last time he faced Steve in a head to head contest.
Crawling on board are the young guns--Keystone Kegger lackeys and minions--welcome aboard mates. You do realize what you are up against. Well, you know the Nimmer--enough said. Don't worry, it is equal opportunity around here.
P.S. Please ignore the following; C'mon. That's Bulls___! F___in' Scrub Homer!
(only excerpts of nimmerspeak have been reprinted)
Realism. It is the basis for all the rules that have been established. It is the driving force behind all discussion regarding the 1997 Summer League rules. But what tangible purpose does realism really serve in our league.
The Summer League has stood for moments of excitement--euphoria, mystery, and occasional rage--in its five enjoyable seasons. The league pits manager A's strategy versus manager Z's. It's the league where a devastating lineup takes their hacks off baseball's best staff. Speed on the bases is countered by three loaded cannons in the outfield. The glory of this league is finding out who will flinch first when a base stealer eyes third base in a 2-2 game with one out in the top of the ninth, up against a catcher with a decent arm, but impeded by a right-handed hitter in the batter's box, who is down 0-1 in the count.
So why does everyone continue to desire a crackdown on excitement? Who cares if it's John Vander Wal or Tony Gwynn leading the league in hitting? Why complain if Albert Belle captures the stolen base crown? You had the same opportunity to draft Belle or Vander Wal! They are just names and statistics on a computer. Is the game more meaningful because I have used Brian Jordan as my part-time centerfielder instead of Mr. Excitement Jose Canseco? Oh, correction, according to league rules as of last season, Mr. Jordan and his MLB 16 games in center would not allow him to play any games in center.
To all of you who are worried about a competitive imbalance and want to make it so that to make a late-inning defensive replacement, a manager has to get it ratified by a 2/3 majority, I urge you to calm your arguments while I point out some facts. Jim Eisenreich and Robby Alomar's stealing and Pudge Rodriguez's superior throwing arm did not win the title for Evanston. Yes, they were contributing factors, but a combination of Chris Klein's strategy, Mike Piazza's heroic hitting, solid team defense, and an impenatrable 5-man relief corps provided the difference for the boys of Vedder. THE 1996 SUMMER LEAGUE WAS THE CLOSEST YET OF 5 TOOTH AND NAIL REPLAYS! LET'S STOP TINKERING IN THE NAME OF REALISM AND JUST PLAY BALL!