Negro Leagues

This past Tuesday night we staged our first Strat-O-Matic Negro League All-Stars Series.  In the end, I took the series from Cameron 3 games to 2, but it was the entire experience that we are so excited about.  Our intention is to stage these Best of Five series numerous times throughout the year, with a big showdown in the post season.

Negro League Strat-O-Matic | Baseballisms.comFor whatever reason neither Cameron (@CoolPapaC) nor I had ever played Strat-O-Matic before Tuesday night.  We couldn’t decide if in our youths it was other sports, lack of patience, or our peers that kept us away from the game. It took an article from the great Joe Posnanski to get us thinking about what we had missed, and to spark an idea about playing and documenting these series.

The article talks about the painstaking work that the researchers at Strat-O-Matic went through in order to create the pitcher and hitter cards required to stage a ballgame.   There are 103 Negro League player cards developed for this game, and we decided immediately that this was the version that we wanted to play.

Our decision was based upon the fact that we had very little personal reference for many of the stars of the Negro Leagues.  We felt that this would be a great way to get to know them as players, and to expand our appreciation of our National Pastime as fans.  Of course, we are well aware of Josh Gibson, Buck O’Neill, Satchel Paige, etc. and of course Cameron is a big fan of Cool Papa Bell, but we felt that there was an important part of baseball history that we could explore by generating a rooting interest in these players.  Through the playing of Strat-O-Matic, we believe that we could get a good first hand understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of these players, as if we were seeing them play at our local ballpark. Through diligence in compiling the information about these players, and as I think Strat-O-Matic fans will attest, the simple yet complex dice and card interactions provides a high caliber recreation of a player’s capabilities.

We were often stunned as the act of playing would closely resemble the type of performance that was written about in the League player biographies.

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The opening paragraph of Willie’s Boys: The 1948 Birmingham Black Barons, The Last Negro League World Series, and the Making of a Baseball Legend is of Carl Hubbell acting as a scout for the New York Giants, watching a young Willie Mays.  Hubbell watches as a ball in the gap is quickly cut off by Mays, who then turns and fires to second to keep the runner from stretching a single.  On this episode of Cover the Bases, author John Klima tells of his own experiences in scouting big league prospects, and of the player acquisition process in the waning days of the Negro Leagues.

Willies Boys | John Klima | Baseballisms.comJohn is the owner of Baseball which provides advanced coverage of major league caliber players, utilizing technologies such as video, advanced scouting techniques and analysis.  John was able to draw upon some critical assistance from some legendary names in the scouting profession such as George Gennovese, Bob Zuck, and Spider Jorgensen to get his career in scouting under way.

Baseball focuses on what he calls projection scouting, looking at players for what they may be able to produce at higher levels of ball, and not just reporting what they have accomplished in their short careers to this point.

At Baseballisms, we hope that the book about the world of scouting that Lee Lowenfish hinted at in a recent Cover the Bases episode, comes to fruition.  This cross between art and science is a fascinating aspect of the game that can often be overlooked.

John states that the signing of Willie Mays was the “greatest scouting story ever told”.  It was a challenge in those days for teams to find and sign players, made even more challenging with the discriminatory practices of the times.  Many teams had seen and heard of Mays, but it was the New York Giants who were able to pull the correct strings and talk to the correct people around Willie to make the signing happen.

The Birmingham Black Barons were rumored to have had up to twelve players on that team who could have been playing in the major leagues.  Four of the sixteen teammates actually did make it to the bigs, as well as the ballboy for that team.  It took more than just talent for the Negro League players to actually get through the rigors of getting signed and playing in the Majors.

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