If he were still alive, my father would have turned 95 Tuesday.
Anyone who has read my columns for a long time knows he was a massive baseball fan. That was his game. He grew up playing in southeastern Tennessee, just as his father did.
My father left an impression on all he met. What do you expect from someone who shared a birthday with Babe Ruth, Ronald Reagan, Bob Marley and Axl Rose?
My dad was a huge Chattanooga Lookouts fan and he followed them until he moved to St. Louis. His major league team was the Minnesota Twins as they had been the Lookouts’ affiliate when they still were the Washington Senators. He liked the Cardinals and used to try and irritate us by watching the Atlanta Braves or Chicago Cubs on cable.
I can remember watching Kerry Wood’s 20-strikeout game with him and the last conversation we had was about him seeing Rogers Hornsby hit a home run while managing the Lookouts.
In his later years, he enjoyed watching baseball simulations on the computer. Back in the early ’90s, when current East Central College President Jon Bauer worked here, we started a baseball simulation league. In fact, if you see Jon, ask him about the greatest catcher of all-time. That’s how Legends of Baseball was born.
It was e-sports before anyone even thought of a name for the gaming craze, although this is completely strategy and not arcade play.
When prompted by John Neier, the sports editor, Bauer pushed Johnny Bench for the honor. I informed him that Mickey Cochrane had been the selection during the 100-year celebration in 1976 (Bench was still in the prime of his career at the time). We ended up choosing teams and playing a series of home-and-home games in each of the ballparks on Tony La Russa Ultimate Baseball II. The respective catchers in the argument were placed onto different teams.
I don’t think we ever proved who was the better catcher, but enough people took notice that others asked to be involved if we did it again. The next season had four teams and my friend Nic Antoine took it over after that.
The league grew under his watch, first to eight and then 10 teams. When Nic joined SABR (Society for American Baseball Research), the league really took off with representatives from all over the world.
The league currently has 28 teams and is run by Tom Austin of California (state). The 40-round draft for this year’s league officially started Monday. My team is in it again with Antoine and Jim Fetsch as co-owners. Jim is a longtime umpire from St. Louis and he enjoys being able to umpire games in these parts. I know Rotary Recreational Complex - Ronsick Field is one of his favorite venues.
Historically, there always have been teams from this area in the league. Dan Rettke has his Clover Bottom Barnstormers in the league and they won the title a few years back. Bauer, Craig Vonder Haar and Todd Shanks have been others to field teams in the league. I can remember one year when Craig traded the previously mentioned Hornsby to Todd for a box of golf balls.
When the team started, I kept the name simple — St. Louis Stars. Only years later did I learn there actually was a storied team with the same name. The St. Louis Stars were one of the best teams of the Negro National League from the middle 1920s until the league folded after 1931. The Stars played where Harris-Stowe State University now plays games and included Hall of Fame players Cool Papa Bell, Willie Wells and Mule Suttles.
We started with the Stadium Draft as each team will have a home field. Picking near the bottom, the Stars went with Robison Field (also known as New Sportsman’s Park, League Park and Cardinal Field) home of the St. Louis Browns, Perfectos and Cardinals from 1893 until 1920.
The original version, built under Chris Von der Ahe, included an amusement park, a beer garden, a race track, a water flume and artificial lake (for skating in the winter). Von der Ahe was ahead of the curve and probably would enjoy the amenities of the new stadiums today. Beaumont High School was built on the site after the team left.
With a home park secured and the draft started, the Stars selected their cornerstone for the 2018 season.
Shortstop Honus Wagner, one of the all-time greatest batters, was an easy pick. Using Diamond Mind Baseball software, Wagner hit .386 last season for the Truckee Tornados. It’s not his first run with the Stars, but hopefully he can perform at his usual level again.
With 28 teams in the league this year, an extensive statistical history on all players who have been in the league, it will be a challenge to fill out the remaining 39 spots. Many of the best-known players, such as Ruth, Gehrig and Cobb are gone. But, so are guys you’ve never heard of like Terry Turner and Jerry Nops. There are Negro Leagues players in the draft as well and Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Bullet Rogan, Bill Foster and Oscar Charleston were among those snagged in the opening round.
With most of the owners being in the league for years, it’s going to be a challenge to put together a good team. Anything better than last year’s 51 wins will be a positive.
If you’re interested in following along with the league, the website is http://www.austinengineering.biz. It should be a very interesting season.