Sunday, June 14, 2020

A dramatically stained introduction to the MicroLeague Baseball posts

The years and spills have not been kind to this piece of my personal ephemera from the late 1980s. It's a dot matrix printout of a boxscore from a game of MicroLeague Baseball on the Commodore 64.

As you can see through the stains, this was a historic (imaginary) moment, because Roger Clemens of my Wallingford Smashers pitched a perfect game against the famed 1963 Los Angeles Dodgers.

MicroLeague Baseball was the computer game I played the most from 1987 to 1990. It's amazing how far electronic/computer baseball games came in less than a decade. I had 1979's Epoch Digit-Com 9 Baseball (below, left), which was far less common than Mattel's smaller handheld electronic game. The Epoch game featured a variety of pitches and the ability to play one-player or two-player games. And it had very distinctive audio, which I was reminded of in this YouTube video. In the first half of the 1980s, I also played a lot of Intellivision's Major League Baseball and the tabletop Statis Pro Baseball, which involved endlessly sorting piles of player cards and action cards and consulting many different outcome charts, just like J. Henry Waugh.

Then MicroLeague Baseball came along. It was released in 1984, but I didn't buy it until 1986 or early 1987. It was a strategy game. You didn't need to be great with a joystick or mash a button. Outcomes, much like Statis Pro Baseball, were determined by statistical probabilities based on players' abilities. And it was easy to simulate whatever you wanted, across all of baseball history. The 1927 New York Yankees could face the 1975 Cincinnati Reds, for example. (I staged many eight-team bracketed tournaments, and the 1975 Reds almost always came out on top.)

Then it got really fun with a MicroLeague Baseball accessory, the General Manager-Owner Disk. (My friend Matt and I called it the Jam-Owner Disk.) It allowed you to create your own teams and players and edit together rosters using players from across baseball history. And thus the Wallingford Smashers were born. The Smashers were a shameless powerhouse collection of baseball's best players from the mid 1980s. As you can see above, the Smashers' lineup for this historic game featured:

CF Kirby Puckett (RIP)
SS Tony Fernandez (RIP)
3B Wade Boggs
1B Don Mattingly
CF Rickey Henderson
2B Danny Tartabull
LF Ruben Sierra
C Ron Hassey

A couple of wonky notes: Matt and I went strictly by the information on games played by position published weekly in USA Today, back when that was the bible for baseball statistics. If you played a single game at a position, you became eligible to play that position in MicroLeague Baseball. Tartabull played 31 games at second base for the 1986 Seattle Mariners. So that, combined with his powerful bat, earned him the job of second baseman for the Smashers.1 Also, you might be wondering, Ron Hassey?!? When there were so many other great catchers of this era? But Hassey, for those who remember, had very good OPS seasons in 1985 and 1986, making him extremely valuable within the statistics-driven MicroLeague Baseball engine. And the game didn't care if the player had a small sample size of at-bats. So, two great MicroLeague players during this time were 1986 Jeff Stone and 1987 Sam Horn. Horn was especially legendary for his (unrealized) potential, and there is now a Boston Red Sox fan website named after him.

It is also clear that, in setting the lineups for this game, I gave Clemens some extra help toward his perfecto by removing the 1963 Dodgers' three best hitters — Frank Howard, Tommy Davis and Ron Fairly — from the starting lineup. That wasn't very sporting of me. But a perfect game is still a perfect game. The boxscore is not, however, perfect. Was the final score 4-0, 5-0 or 6-0? Sadly, there is evidence for all three of those possibilities.

More on MicroLeague Baseball to come!

Darkest Phillies Timeline Footnote
1. A decade later, the joke was us Philadelphia Phillies fans. Tartabull signed a $2 million contract to bat cleanup for the 1997 Phillies and promptly went 0-for-7 before suffering a season-ending foot injury.

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