My tenure as CBW of the Louisiana Blaze has not been marked, shall we say, by great success.
About a month ago I wrote about the Out of the Park baseball simulation game, and about taking over a club in one of the online leagues. Well, here’s a quick rundown of recent Blaze history.
My first season. I assumed control of the club on about the 20th of June, with the team in first place, and five games over .500. Knowing better than to mess with a good thing, I put her in auto-pilot, pretty much, and we finished in second place, 87-75, and in the playoffs, where we were ignominiously knocked out in the first round. All plaudits for that fine season rightfully belong to previous ownership.
An immediate glaring weakness was at catcher, manned by the aging veteran Hector Silva. Silva was 34 years old, and, while still capable defensively, his bat was anemic and his legs failing. His backup was Jose Coreto, a younger version of Silva. So in the post-season amateur draft I used my first pick on a young high school catcher, a young lad by the name of Rambo Jones, middling defensively, but with a lot of home run potential. As my pitching staff seemed to be capably anchored by Ledford, Wright, Bradley, and Stewart, I sought bats in the draft. Outfielder Dusty Thompson in round two. First baseman Baltahzar Quinn in the third. I could not resist relief pitcher Wesley Starks in the fourth round, but then concluded the draft with shortstop Rick Henricks in the fifth. All of these future stars were packed off to the low minors.
We went into ’51 looking forward to another successful year. We moved out of the crumbling, financially unsustainable BlazeDome, and into a new (actually refurbished) outdoor field, Pelican Park, in New Orleans. Real grass and Louisiana sun. However, despite the fresh air and the sunshine, the ’51 season was an unmitigated disaster. The bottom dropped out of the barrel, the pitching collapsed, the hitting was anemic. We finished in 6th place, 63-99, 30 games out of first. On offense, we went from 638 runs scored in ’50 to 574 in ’51; our team ERA jumped from 3.31 to 4.35. The grass at Pelican Park came down with some sort of slime mold, which disgusted everyone, and the “plumbing” in the clubhouse is an issue with the city health inspector. It ‘s no wonder we lost. More importantly, who to blame? Probably the new owner. And how to fix it?
Pitching was the obvious place to start, and in the subsequent draft I selected starting pitcher Dale Smokervich in the first round, starter Jeff Maddox in the second, closer Elvis Cakedy in the third, and starter Leonardo Merrill in the fifth. In the fourth round I snuck in a young shortstop, Moses Good. I’m finding that the high quality talent disappears pretty quickly in the draft. In the early first round you can get an impact player. After that, you are hoping for good fortune to smile upon you.
For the ’52 season, I only tweaked the lineup a bit. Surely the pitching wasn’t, couldn’t possibly be as bad as it had been in ’51? Sometimes that happens. A year gone wrong. A bump in the road. Minor adjustments were called for, but certainly not wholesale changes. Juan Valentin, my light hitting shortstop who contributed 30+ errors in ’51, found a spot on the bench. Nelson Maldonado, who had been playing third base, moved over to short, and Kel Blackwell started at third. Not much of a fielder, but some pop in his bat. Masuhiro Yoshida starts the season at first base, after being called up from AAA in the second half of ’51, and hitting .312. The once threatening Cheol-han Kim (.274, 36, 135 back in 2048) also found space on the bench, after another disappointing season (.221, 13, 50). In his place, young Jose Moreno, often injured, but somehow healthy to start ’52.
Well, ’52 was an improvement, though critics say we played over our heads. We were picked to finish last, but instead climbed up to the heady heights of fifth place, going 73 – 89, and indeed staying in contention till about halfway through the season, thanks largely to young Yoshida, who improved upon his ’51 effort, hitting .332, with 18 HR and 98 rbi. He carried the club in ’52, but one player can only do so much, and, the pitching being unreliable, the team faded in the second half. We scored 612 runs in ’52, up a bit (38) from 574 in ’51, and we allowed 734, slightly less (29) than the 763 of the previous year.
Improved, but with largely the same problems as in ’51. There were some highlights in the Minor Leagues; Dale Smokervich moved quickly through A and AA level ball, with an 18-5 overall record. He’ll be starting ’53 at AAA Baton Rouge, and maybe finish the season in the majors? I like this Smokervich kid.
In the draft I went for pitching again. The best pitcher available when my first pick came up was a relief pitcher, a Yale man, Unethical Chad McCall, but I may make him a starter. My second pick was a starter, Bucky Glumak, my third pick was a starter, Izzy “the snake” Camorra, and my fourth pick was Dexter Watts, a relief pitcher. My last pick was a young switch-hitting third baseman, Guy Bounds. A slick fielding long shot.
And now the 2053 season is winding down. It’s the dog days of August, and the Blaze are out of the race, 47-72. Our ERA is 4.25, compared to 4.05 last year. Our batting average is .241, compared to .251 last year. We take a step back. Pitching, batting, both inconsistent. We’re waiting for the young horses to come up.
Young Horse Dale Smokervich got hurt at AAA. He had a 6-3 record with a 3.20 ERA when he tore his labrum and went down for the season. Ouch. But the doctors say he’ll make a full recovery, and meanwhile Bucky Glumak and Unethical Chad McCall have done well, and have just been moved up to AA ball in Shreveport. I’m slowly replacing the older hands in the minors with younger kids with potential, and all my teams in the minors are leading their divisions. (A minor victory.)
I brought up young Robert Riley to the big club, even though he’s a first baseman; I’m playing him at second and in left, and he’s hitting .297. I wish I had more options with him in the field. Yoshida has been slumping the last couple of weeks, but is still hitting .310.
One pleasant surprise has been John White, my left fielder, who has been hitting home runs again, 17 so far, and leading the teams in RBIs with 73. But the biggest surprise has been at catcher, where young Tomas Valdez, who I picked up as an undrafted free agent back in ’50 (my first free agent signing) has surprised everyone and made it up to the big leagues. I started him off in Rookie ball in ’50, and he hit a surprising .390. I bumped him up to AA Shreveport, and he hit .301, and at AAA he hit .347, then .247, then .343 this season, when I brought him up to the big show. He’s hitting .262 in the majors so far. It’s early. But it’s a glimmer of hope. Which is what Blaze fans need..
I am looking forward to the coming draft. I still need starting pitching, but I feel much better about my prospects now. If everyone can stay healthy. And develop according to plan. And not get hurt. Then maybe we can contend in a couple of years.