Posted at 4:17 PM on April 1, 2005
by Bob Collins
To every season there is a thing. When you're the father of teenagers, it involves them disappearing into their rooms when they're 14, reappearing when they're 17 long enough to tell you what college they intend to attend. As a father, it drives me nuts. There's fresh air and exercise to get. These days, my kids spend most of their free time in front of their computers playing Warcraft or some other computer fantasy game, a fact I shield from the neighbors.
From time to time, however, I remind myself that I did the same thing. I'd return home from school, head for the room and play games the likes of which I hid from my own friends. I was in my own fantasyland, spurred on by ads in the old Baseball Digest. You Are Manager! one such ad from a company called BLM (Big League Manager) screamed.
All of these games used some form of a spinner or dice, and some sort of "ratings" based on the last completed Major League Baseball season. You'd set the lineups and play a game, managing both teams, employing whatever strategy you wish Sam Mele, or Johnny Pesky, or Alvin Dark had. You singlehandedly -- if you were me -- were able to manage the '69 Cleveland Indians (62-99) to an American League title. One neat thing about dice and spinners. If you don't like the results, you can pretend you didn't really roll and try again until Duke Sims really did get that bottom-of-the-ninth, game-winning hit.
The first game I brought into my New England home was from a company in Minnesota, as it turned out . Negamco, which I think stood for the Nemadji Game Company, produced a bare-bones game and was too cheap to pay licensing fees. So on the charts, they'd put blank spaces where a name would be , next to his real-life stats. _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ (.257 11 HR just had to be Jose Cardenal.
But there were really only two great games then. Strat-O-Matic and APBA. I saved up my lunch money and finally bought APBA, and every afternoon spread all of its many charts and cards across my bed.
Every year, I'd buy new ratings and cards to reflect the just-completed season. And every year's end, I'd lovingly put them away, to be sold at some later date for a large sum (I notice that 1969 card set that I paid $14 for is now going for $19 on E-Bay).
This went on for years; through college , into my 30s and 40s. I even ran a Web site for APBA fans until a few years ago. Curt Schilling, who still plays APBA apparently, sent me a note telling me how much he enjoyed the Web site in the off-season. I wish I'd saved his e-mail address.
Somewhere along the line, the boards-and-dice turned into computer programs from the same companies. They played easily and the Internet made it possible to play head-to-head against others, develop friendships, and challenge the very baseball beliefs that make us who we are when we're not who we are.
A few months ago, I put all the APBA stuff away for the last time, ending 40 years of playing. I dropped out of some leagues I was in. Time had become too precious to waste playing games, especially when the demands of work were increasing, the house was getting harder to take care of and there just seemed to be less time than when I was 10.
A spring dawns and the dice are silent. These games and these companies thrived on my generation and more of us are putting them away.
This can't be a good thing.