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JohnG71097

John Burgeson Writes About Baseball, Cleveland Indians Style

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1946 - 1948

"Robert William Andrew Feller, magnificent and incredible, today celebrated a date with destiny."

 

More than forty years have passed since those words appeared on the front page of the Youngstown Vindicator. The date was May 1st, 1946; on April 30th the mighty Bob Feller had pitched the second no-hitter of his brilliant career. I was a sprout of fifteen; my pesky little brother, Paul, an uncomprehending child of eight, whose throwing arm was giving new meaning to the term "wildness." 1946 was the year I explained to Paul the game of baseball, pointing out to him the game's importance in God's grand eternal plan. And how the Indians would soon, surely very soon, win the pennant, and be the World Champions of the only sport that mattered. Over the years, I explained a lot of things to little brother; in this case there was success!

 

I had seen Feller pitch before, in the late 1930s, in Cleveland's old League Park. After the Tribe's 2nd place finish in 1940, the team had fallen on tough times during the war years. But the boys were home now, Feller, Hegan, Keltner, Lemon, Robinson, Edwards, Conway, and Mack, and everyone knew that Cleveland's day was imminent! It was to take two more years. In 1946 they would finish a dismal 6th, in 1947 a more respectable 4th. Owner Bill Veeck brought up the first Cleveland black player, Larry Doby, that year, and the fans of Cleveland responded by setting new attendance records. Player/manager Lou Boudreau, unique in the major leagues, was drawing a mighty team together.

 

For northeastern Ohio, 1948 was the zenith of the 20th century. The cold war was still just name calling, the U.S.A. was without world equal. And now, oh joy! This was to be the Indians' year. The Yankees, the hated, feared, detested, despised New York Yankees, would finally be vanquished!

 

Yankee-hating was an art form in those days in northeastern Ohio. Paul and I were burying the hostilities of boyhood in Indian "rooting" and Yankee "bashing." We admired the New York players immensely as individuals; loathed them collectively; never asked ourselves "why?" Still don't. Tradition.

 

A year earlier, Veeck had moved the Tribe permanently from League Park into the gargantuan caverns of Cleveland's Municipal Stadium. He had made a vow to fill that enormous memorial to 1928 pre-crash-optimism by bringing home an American League pennant. Now there were cynics in those days, as there are today, who jeered. But most of us, particularly those who read the sports pages of the Vindicator and the Cleveland Plain Dealer, had no doubt of ultimate success. Attendance peaked in 1947; in 1948 it peaked again, as 2,260,627 fans spun the turnstiles, not a few of them being our long suffering father and his two boys. It was the year of Joe Earley (remember him?), pitcher Don Black's cerebral hemorrhage at the plate, manager Boudreau's .355 MVP season, and the entry into big league ball of "rookie" Satchel Paige, then a youthful 41! It was the year the tribe traded their power hitter, Pat Seery, along with pitcher Al Gettel, to Chicago for Bob Kennedy. Bob hit .301 for us that year, while "big Pat" claimed only the league strikeout title and Gettel finished 8 and 10 on an 8th place club.

 

1948 was the year of war hero Gene Bearden, 20 and 7, and the year Bob Lemon completed his development from a fair outfielder to a great pitcher, 20 and 14. It was the year Bob Feller lost an incredible number of 1 run ball games, yet finished 19 and 15. The rest of the pitching staff, Zoldak, Muncrief, Black as secondary starters, Klieman and Christopher as ace relievers, would have been mainstays on any other team. A new guy, Mike Garcia, not yet "ready for prime time," was showing promise for the future. And Paige of course, called up late in the season after Black's injury. Dad took Paul and me to see him pitch in a night game on August 20. It was there that "Ole Satch," with his dazzlingly brilliant "hesitation pitch," set down Bill Wight and the White Sox with three hits, 1-0, on his way to a season 6-1 record. Attendance that night, 78,382, set records for the stadium and for any night game anywhere. It took hours (it seemed) to exit the park, and it was cock-crow by the time we reached home the next morning!

 

Well, the season ended with Boston eliminating the Yankees on the final day to tie the Tribe for first place. The next day, we trounced the Red Sox, 8-3, in a single game playoff on Bearden's five-hitter and Boudreau's batting heroics. The Indians went on to take the Series from Spahn, Sain, (and no two days of rain) and the rest of the Boston Braves in six games. In our high school, we even listened to one of the games during algebra class -- unheard of!

 

Oh yes -- do you remember Joe Earley? You don't? No -- he was not the same as Tom Earley, who pitched from 1938 to 1945 for the Braves. Nor Jake Early, a catcher of the same era for Washington! Yet, Joe was a very important person to the Cleveland ball club in 1948! You might even say -- the most important person!

 

It was mid summer in Cleveland, and Bill Veeck (bless his soul) was promoting baseball like no one had ever had before! Fireworks, free nylons, baby-sitting services during the game; Bill had a great imagination! Among his promotions, he conceived "Fan appreciation night." Joe Earley was the lucky (random) selectee from the stands. Joe stood there, at home plate, representing all of us. We were fans of the best team in the world. The 1948 Cleveland Indians. The champions. I'll take them over any other team -- forever.

 

1954

 

If 1948 was the zenith of the fortunes of the Cleveland Indians, surely the fall of 1954 was their nadir!

 

After the euphoric pennant year of 1948, the Tribe reverted to its accustomed role of groomsman, finishing 3rd, 4th, 2nd, 2nd and 2nd as the hated Yankees won five straight league championships. In those years, however, a revitalized and formidable Cleveland pitching staff emerged, arguably the best ever assembled at any time. In 1954, with the addition of two outstanding relievers, Don Mossi and Ray Narleski, the club was poised for a repeat of the glorious days of '48.

 

Gene Bearden had developed wildness, and was gone. Paige had retired, as had many the others from 1948. But Bob Lemon was in top form and would have his best year, 23 and 7. Bob Feller, too, was still a threat; at age 35 he would go 13 and 3. Mike Garcia, the "Bear," 19 and 8, "Burly Early" Wynn, acquired from Washington some years earlier, 23 and 11, and Art Houtteman, 15 and 8 with the Narleski-Mossi "you bag em, we'll sack em" mop up team (combined 2.07 ERA), and the ex-Detroit ace, Hal Newhouser (7-2, 2.49 ERA), made the 1954 race for the American League pennant a runaway. Bobby Avila, second base, .341, and Al Rosen, third base, .300, provided enough punch on an otherwise light hitting team (overall .262, 4th in the league) to carry Cleveland to a record setting 111 victories, eight games up on the "bad guys" of New York.

 

Life had been simpler in 1948, when the Tribe had last won. Now, six years later, brother Paul was in high school, a junior, while I languished in graduate school in Tallahassee, Florida, 1500 miles from all the action. To share the upcoming festivities, the best we could do was to listen "together" to the radio (a pre-TV entertainment medium).

 

On each of those four dark October days, I holed up in my one room apartment, radio tuned to distant Atlanta, the nearest city to carry the games in that then uncivilized land, with tape recorder set to catch the highlights.

 

Alas, there were few such. I still have those tapes. I have never listened to them. Willie Mays (how could you dislike him?) did us in defensively; Dusty Rhodes offensively. Four straight, and I slunk back to physics classes, hardly noticing at all when mighty Bob Feller retired two years later. It was over! One must go on. My age of innocence was past, and I realized the universe was not a friendly place!

 

What really happened in the 1954 Series? It is easy to point out that if two equal teams meet, one of them may expect to win four straight 6.25% (1/16) of the time. But the Indians were statistically the better team! Years later, I was able to work on this question.

 

1961-1962

 

How could the 1954 Cleveland Indians, winners of 111 regular season games, with the best pitching staff ever assembled in modern times (arguable, perhaps, but grant me the point), lose four straight games in the 1954 World Series against a good, but hardly outstanding, New York Giants team?

 

The question had bothered me for years. Sure, the odds were 1 in 16 if the two teams were equal, but they were not! I had graduated from college, worked as a physicist for Uncle Sam for a couple of years; in 1961 had found my life work in computers, an IBM systems engineer in Akron, Ohio. Brother Paul and I had completed, over many years, no fewer than fourteen "seasons" of APBA, marbleboard and All Star baseball, all games meant as simulations of the real thing via dice, rolling balls and spinners. "Why not," I mused, "enlist the power of the computer in a similar manner?"

 

That year I began to design "BBC," a computer program for the IBM 1620. The 1620 is an odd machine by today's standards, it weighed 700 pounds, was the size of a grand piano, cost over $100,000 (in 1961 dollars!), had but 20,000 positions of memory, a 10 cps typewriter and paper tape input/output. No display screen, just a blinking lights. The internal speed was about 10% that of a modern PC. Leading edge technology in the early 60s.

 

It took about a year, working in my spare time, writing in machine language, to write the program. I ran simulated games; Paul read them all, checked for inconsistencies, highly improbable results, etc. In 1962, the program was added to the IBM 1620 public library and was used as a demonstration at trade shows, open houses and the like. It was ordered by approximately 50% of all IBM 1620 customers and was a discussion topic at several user group meetings.

 

A typical program output is attached to this paper as Appendix A. All games were randomized at program start by keying a random number generator off the variability of human startup time.

 

Architecturally, the simulation was far from real life. There were constraints dictated by both the machine's limited memory and our programming skills. All pitchers were given equal ability. An above average pitcher was simulated by making arbitrary reductions to the batting averages of the opposing team. Every game was played to completion by eighteen players, no substitutions. Errors and walks were evenly distributed, as were strikeouts. The parameters that did vary by batter were batting average, 2b, 3b and HR ratios. Base runners advanced one or two bases on a single; two or three bases on a double on a random basis. Extra innings were accommodated, but the code was too innocent to stop play when the home team went ahead in the 9th inning or later!

 

Even with this very simple approach to the game, we saw a number of interesting patterns develop. "Streaks" took place, where great batters did poorly, or poor batters did very well. We developed a sub-model which played an entire game, sans output except for totals, in 12 seconds, and determined:

 

a. Given two identical teams, a four game "streak" for one team took place about 6% of the time. (Math predicts this, of course; this was to test the model).

 

b. Given two teams, identical except for a 6% difference in batting average, the four game streak still was not uncommon. The Giants were a 5% better batting team, .424 vs. .403 S.A.; Cleveland was 11% better (2.78 ERA vs. 3.09) in pitching; hence the 6% difference we used. It was all "very scientific."

 

c. A third pattern we found was more interesting. We set up two teams, each with an equal batting/slugging average. Team A was composed of nine identical players, each with that same average; team B was a more normal mix of good and poor hitters. We played hundreds of games in this mode; the results consistently showed the balanced team winning 60% of the time. So much for your "super stars!"

 

In 1963, a Pittsburgh disk jockey, KDKA's Rege Cordic, turned the idea into a radio show, which aired in Western Pennsylvania and, later, in California. The show was short-lived, as the newness of computer technology wore off.

 

With the passing of the 1620 in favor of more modern machinery, the program itself faded into obscurity. I still have the program, in both paper tape and punched card versions, but nowhere to run it!

 

1988

 

In 1981, the IBM PC was announced, legitimizing an already vital and growing personal computer industry. By the end of 1990, according to a Microsoft spokesman at COMDEX 89, forty million of these machines, and compatibles, will have been installed, worldwide, besides many millions of non-IBM compatibles.

 

Baseball simulations for the PC are to be found in abundance. Almost all these employ graphic output and demand user interaction throughout the game. There are two, however, which do not do this; which allow play to proceed after setup completely controlled by the machine, as the user watches the game(s) unfold.

 

SIMBASE is one such. SIMBASE is available from Public Brand Software, Box 51315, Indianapolis, IN 46251 as disk number HS25D, $5.00 plus shipping. This program allows one to pit any two teams against one another, running hundreds of simulated games (at about two seconds each) to assess their relative strengths. Like BBC, it only handles 18 players, no substitutions; unlike BBC, however, it does handle variations in pitching strengths. The author, a Canadian, promises future enhancements.

 

RADIO BASEBALL is a more interesting simulator. The vendor is Electronic Arts, 1820 Gateway Drive, San Mateo, CA 94404. (415) 571-7171. RB is a very substantial improvement over BBC. Written by two young programmers who had similar goals in mind as we did thirty years ago, the program is nearly everything a baseball enthusiast can want. The vendor recently brought out EARL WEAVER BASEBALL, claimed to be an update. EWB, however, lacks the "radio announcer" orientation of RB; it employs graphics extensively, and runs much slower. It does use more player attributes than RB, and displays the game continuously as it might appear on a very low resolution TV set, split screen, field on the left, pitcher/batter on the right. The players are "stick figures," the ball is a dot, and after a game or two, I found myself tiring of it.

 

RB is a very real-life simulator. Pitching capabilities are used. Pitchers tire, and are replaced. Pinch hitters and pinch runners are used. Players are hurt (seldom) and sometimes replaced in the middle of a game. There are rhubarbs, and an occasional ejection. Extensive statistics are kept for each game, and condensed into "season" totals. Four all star teams are provided with the game, but I find the eight "regular" teams provided the most fun to exercise. These are:

 

1. The 1927 Yankees. Ruth, Gehrig, Hoyt. Powerful!

2. The 1934 Cards. The Dean brothers live again!

3. The 1948 Indians. My favorite, of course.

4. The 1953 Yankees. A team I love to hate. Great players.

5. The 1955 Dodgers. Arguably the best Brooklyn team ever.

6. The 1960 Pirates. Remember the great 1960 Series?

7. The 1967 Cards. Almost as great as the 1934 team.

8. The 1968 Tigers. McLain is almost unbeatable.

With RADIO BASEBALL, one can play human vs. human, or human vs. computer, or computer vs. computer. Using a combination of these, I have run two complete 616 game seasons between these eight teams. In the first, the Tribe, managed by me, won by two games, Brooklyn finished second. In the second season, I brought back Mel Harder as a relief pitcher (he retired after 1947) to replace Don Black; this gave them better pitching and they won the season by seven games.

The patterns were interesting. In season one, Jack Rothrock, a .284 hitter for the 1934 Cardinals hit .354 to take the batting crown! Most players performed about at their expectation levels; Rothrock dropped back to "normal" in season two!

 

RADIO BASEBALL isn't perfect, however. Among its deficiencies:

 

1. It's copy-protected. An irritant; not serious.

 

2. The player data is in coded fields of data. It's very hard to bring in a new player. I've constructed a team which represents the 1954 Indians, but it is imperfect.

 

3. The program simulates only one game at a time, requiring user input to start a new one. Long simulation sequences can't be done. Each game requires a minimum of six user inputs, and these cannot be automated.

 

Now I'm considering building BBC/90, an updated version of the 1620 BBC program. It's just a thought, for it's been 25 years or more since I've done any serious coding. I do have a set of program objectives and architecture laid out; happy to share them with anyone interested; perhaps you would be interested in doing the programming? And being the author? And winning much fame (and little or no fortune) among the baseball bigots of America (BBA)?

 

1999

 

What will the century's end bring us in computerized baseball? What grand games will we be playing in the "oughts" (2000-2009)?

 

Already, computers can talk. It should be possible, without major surgery, to take the output of RADIO BASEBALL, or of BBC/90, if it is ever done, and pipe it to voice output, recreating the glory days of baseball broadcasting over radio. EARL WEAVER BASEBALL has rudimentary audible output (player announcements) on some PC systems.

 

Voice input is highly probable in the next ten years. Watch the play proceed, calling the plays as the manager. Argue with the umpire! Maybe even get yourself ejected!

 

PC graphics keep improving, and processor speed with it to match the demands of high definition images. 1999 may be a bit early for this, but I can visualize the play developing before you on a wide screen high definition TV set using images which are, at least in part, reasonable representations of the original players. To some extent, a casual onlooker will not know if he is watching a real game or a simulation! A very rough version of this is already available on some PC games, EARL WEAVER BASEBALL among them.

 

The "quantum leap" (ugh, as an ex-physicist, I hate that term) forward will take place later, say about the year 2010, when you, the user, can "get in the game." Play a position, swing a bat, pitch to Babe Ruth (watch out!), and in all (vicarious) respects be one of your great team of history.

 

I've been in the computer business over three decades. What I've described above is most certainly coming. In my lifetime. I'm looking forward to someday "playing" for my dream team, the 1948 Indians. My biggest problem will be determining just whose place I will take. Well, I have a few more years to think about it!

 

John W. Burgeson, 2/14/90

 

http://www.burgy.50megs.com/tribe.htm

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