Tuesday, April 29, 2014

A Brief History of Russball--Part 4

I'm only three days away from the big Las Vegas reunion and Russball marathon (36 games in two-plus days), and there's a joker in the deck. I have been prescribed prednisone for the next week or so, and I'm advised that this drug can make you feel (presumably at different times) "invincible" or "suicidal." Well, so can an average Russball season. "Every win a miracle, every loss a blow" is a formula for alternating elation and despair. So how will they know if it's the prednisone?

It is all too ironic that I'll be on steroids during a dice baseball season. In honor of that aberration, I am activating Roger Clemens (who was voted out of the league a couple of months ago), and will be making cards for Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, et al. (That is, I threatened to. Stew replied, "You are joking, right? Barry Bonds isn't allowed in my house until he throws out Sid Bream.")

Before I head west (old man), I do want to write something about the actual on-the-table history of Russball. I've told you all about why we kept playing, how the game originated and evolved, and the formats we used. But I've written very little about how the seasons actually went. So as part of my preparation for Thursday night's draft (and Stew has already informed me that he spent the entire weekend preparing), I'm going to take a closer look at who did what over the course of our 24 regular Russball seasons.

In the late 1990s, I compiled a very thick looseleaf notebook for each of us. Essentially it's an encyclopedia of Russball, including the standings and league leaders for each season, logs of shutouts, double-figure strikeout outings, stolen bases, and pinch-hitting, and an extensive record book containing individual and team records for an array of batting and pitching categories. Here are some of the managerial highlights:

  • Tim has the best overall record at 441-423. I went 383-373, followed by George at 409-419 and Stew at 423-441.
  • George won the most pennants with eight (plus the last reunion in 1998), followed by Tim and Stew with six apiece and me with four.
  • The best record was 26-10, by George's Dirt Sox in our inaugural season and my Gabe Sox two years later. The worst record was 9-27, also shared by George's Corsairs and Stew's Blue Chippers (also in that first season).
  • I presented each manager with a certificate for winning the "Manager of the Year" Award, as each of us dominated one calendar year. George was the first winner, taking two of the three seasons in 1989. In 1990, Tim ran roughshod over us, winning four of five seasons, with the Carson Show, the Badgers, the Gothams, the Bandits, and the Timberwolves. In 1992, Stew was the king with three straight pennants, winning with the Moody Stews (he's a fantastic Moody Blues impersonator on the karaoke circuit), Alexanders (his son Alex was born late in 1991), and Baskin A's. My turn came in 1993, when I won two of three campaigns with the Cards and the Reds.
Next up, some league leader highlights and one-season records:
  • Ted Simmons is the only three-time batting champ, with averages of .366, .425, and .392. Tony Oliva and Kirby Puckett also had .400 seasons, while the lowest average to win a title was Pete Rose's .326.
  • Hank Aaron and Mike Schmidt top Russball with seven home run crowns apiece, with Aaron holding the one-season record with 16. 
  • Aaron and Willie Mays have won half the RBI crowns, Aaron with seven and Mays five. Mays holds the record with 39 (in 36 games), while 38 has been achieved four times--twice by Mays and twice by Mickey Mantle. 
  • With no limits on stolen bases, it usually takes 25-35 to win the title, and Joe Morgan holds the record with 41, topping Rickey Henderson's mark of 39.
  • As I've noted, Mantle has had a lot of bad seasons, but when he's hot, he produces. He told the record by scoring 40 runs in a season, though Mays has the most runs titles with nine.
  • The hits title is always one of the most hotly contested. The usual candidates have prevailed, with Wade Boggs leading the league six times and several guys winning three titles: Roberto Clemente, Rod Carew, and Kirby Puckett.Two-time winners include Pete Rose, Willie Mays, Tony Gwynn, and Hank Aaron.
  • Starting pitchers are limited to nine starts per season, making it quite impressive that Warren Spahn and Nolan Ryan are the only seven-game winners (Steve Carlton and Gaylord Perry also won seven times in the lone 48-game season). Tom Seaver and Juan Marichal have each led the league seven times.
  • Usage of relievers is unlimited (and their wins are a separate money category), making it not-so-astonishing that Dan Quisenberry won nine games in the long season, while Bruce Sutter has won eight games twice. 
  • As a result, relievers have led the league in innings pitched in 11 of the 24 seasons. Sandy Koufax has led five times, the top figure, but Bob Gibson put up an amazing record of 88 2/3 innings in nine starts one year. He completed eight starts, matching Koufax's earlier record.
  • Gibson also set the strikeout record that season with 102, beating Bruce Sutter's record by one. Gibson also led the league with 107 Ks (in a dozen starts) in the 48-game season.
  • Starters and relievers have split the ERA titles (36 inning minimum), with another even split between ERAs under and over 2. Tom Seaver leads with three ERA titles, while Dennis Eckersley and Tug McGraw share the all-time low figure of 1.45, just edging out Nolan Ryan's 1.46.
  • Losses can pile up quickly in Russball as well, though nobody has touched Goose Gossage's record of nine in a season. Sparky Lyle lost eight once, while Don Drysdale is the only starter to lose seven times in nine starts.
  • Oh yeah, Nolan Ryan has led the league in walks allowed 11 times, including six in a row. Shocking!
Looking through the career pinch-hitting and stolen base figures, plus other batting miscellany, I found these interesting items:
  • Russball is deep in outfielders and first basemen, and they hold most of the top pinch-hitting marks. Cecil Cooper has 96 hits (with a .291 average), followed by Keith Hernandez's 87 (and a .335 average). Two left-handed members of MLB's 500-homer club are tied with 16 pinch-hit homers in Russball: Willie McCovey and Reggie Jackson, with Willie Stargell next with 12. But the top RBI figure belongs to Al Oliver, with 73 in 317 at-bats (and a .293 average). 
  • Rod Carew has the most four-hit games with 21, followed by Pete Rose with 20, Wade Boggs with 18, and George Brett with 17. Boggs also has the most three-hit games with 94, while Roberto Clemente is second with 82.
  • Hank Aaron and Johnny Bench share the record with four grand slams, with Aaron doing it three times in one season for my Ducks.
  • Rickey Henderson tops Russball with 575 stolen bases, followed by Lou Brock with 545, Joe Morgan with 508, Maury Wills with 482, and Tim Raines with 393.
  • Frank Robinson has been hit by a pitch 64 times, way ahead of runner-up Ernie Banks' 27.
Moving right along, here are some assorted pitching achievements:
  • Don Drysdale has a big lead in hitting batters with 77, nearly as many as the next two guys combined (Sandy Koufax and Tom Seaver). I don't know how many times Drysdale hit Robinson, but I can tell you I spent half my childhood listening to Reds games on the radio, and Robinson never batted against Drysdale without being hit or at least knocked down.
  • Both Koufax and Nolan Ryan have 49 double-digit strikeout games, five more than Seaver. But Bob Gibson has the top mark for striking out all three batters in an inning: 23 times. 
  • Three relievers have struck out 12 batters in a game: Bruce Sutter, Dick Radatz, and Goose Gossage. On 13 occasions, a reliever has struck out 10+ hitters, seven of them by Radatz.
  • The record by a starter is 19, by Ryan of course, with 16 reached five times and 15 four times. 
  • Don Drysdale holds the record of 25 consecutive batters retired, one more than Warren Spahn, and three more than Spahn and Juan Marichal.
  • There have been four complete-game one-hitters, two by Ryan and one each by Seaver and Marichal. Twice the hit was the first batter of the game, and the other times the hit came in the second inning. Ryan has 18 shutouts, followed by Seaver's 14 and Steve Carlton's 13. 
Okay, how about some single-game batting records next:
  • Two times we've seen six hits in a game, first by Hank Aaron and later by George Brett. George was managing Brett when he did it, and George wanted to make it extra special, so he tried to get Brett to steal around the bases after a single for his sixth hit. He did it, too.
  • We've had five sluggers with three home runs, include twice by Willie Mays and once each by Johnny Bench, Joe Torre, and Kirby Puckett. Puckett's were all three-run blasts, giving him the Russball record with nine RBI in a game. Hank Aaron has driven in seven runs twice, and Torre once.
  • Tony Gwynn and Ryne Sandberg are the two players who have hit for the cycle.
  • Paul Molitor holds the record with nine straight hits.
  • Joe Morgan once stole seven bases in a game, and both Rickey Henderson and Maury Wills stole six in a game.
Finally, I'll give you some of the one-game records by a team. Some of these are truly prodigious.
  • Three teams have scored 17 runs in a game: the Storm, Thumpers, and K's.
  • But my Grizzlies did something even more impressive, setting the record with a 12-run inning (in the tenth inning!). They also set the record with a dozen hits in that inning, including five in a row TWICE by Joe Morgan, Wade Boggs, Frank Robinson, Don Mattingly, and Dave Winfield.
  • It was another of my teams, the Ducks, who set the mark with nine consecutive hits. Both the Uncles and Neon Sox had 23 hits in one game. 
  • Tim's Thumpers are also the only team with four home runs in an inning: first Keith Hernandez, and later consecutive round-trippers by Mickey Mantle, Kirby Puckett, and Tony Fernandez.
  • They also stand as one of four teams with 11 extra-base hits in a game, joiend by the Deacons, Gothams, and Snakes. 
  • The Campers and Desperados share the record with six home runs in a game.
  • We've had four 16-inning games in Russball and three 15-inning games.
That will give you some idea of what appeals to us about the game itself. It is full of great players--the superstars we've watched all our lives and the mere stars--doing great things. I'm proud that I created the cards that allowed the cream to rise to the top so often, though of course they've had their flops as well. Baseball is a zero sum game, and for every immortal who bashes a grand slam, there's another Hall of Famer with a rising ERA. That's why we're all so eager for Thursday's draft, to see it all unfold again in the intensity of 36 games in 54 hours. When we're done, I'll let you know how it turned out. Thanks for joining us..

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