Matty Alou

When I was in kindergarten, all three of the Alou brothers (Felipe, Matty, and Jésus) were playing baseball for the Giants.  They even pulled the stunt of using the trio in the same game a couple of times in 1963.  By the time I started trading baseball cards, the Giants had dealt Felipe to the Braves and Matty to my Pirates.

Matty was a classic centerfielder and lead-off guy in the time of my youth.  No power to speak of, a rag for an arm, but enough speed to be the ‘obvious’ player to pencil-in first in a decade when the importance of on-base % had not yet been fully established.  It was the early 1970s when I started playing Strat-O-Matic with Jerry Norton and the Ahlgren brothers; the Pirates were always one of my clubs, and like most fans back then I took batting average to be the measure of a man.  Looking at the back of Matty’s baseball card in 1970, the first year of our neighborhood league, you would see he topped the NL in hitting in 1966, the first of a string of four seasons that he batted at least .330.

For some reason, the greatness of Matty Alou is a faded memory.  I think it was because he never produced enough runs to make our league All-Star teams — try as I might to lobby for him based on that high average, there would always be a few guys that put up stronger numbers.  Another important flaw was the poor +2 throwing arm.  In today's computer game an outfielder’s arm (good or bad) is sort of hidden within the software, but in the old tabletop game you would often add it into the chance for a runner to take an extra base on a single.  So I’d audibly groan when a single was hit to Alou out in center, because his rating was such a sharp contrast to the great arms of Clemente (-5) in RF and Stargell (-4) in LF.  

Over the years Strat-O-Matic has added quite a few features to its game.  If memory serves, what we now call the “basic” side of the card was the only one back in 1970, and after that the platoon differences took root on the “advanced” flip side.  Later would come other enhancements, such as Closer and Clutch ratings.  All of these have been back-fitted to the 1968 re-issue, and in this particular year one sees Matty Alou (.332/0/52)  as a true asset in center.  His arm’s hidden from view, but there’s no hiding that he's a good “clutch” hitter (assuming you use the card-display option).    

The Ames Little Cyclones franchise is my favorite, but it definitely has a problem when a game is on the line.  They have the dubious honor of currently leading the league in choke moments, so Matty's .322 clutch rating stands stall on a roster with no one else above .280 in the category. Those flanking Alou in the outfield  include a trio of hall-of-famers, but in this area their cards are a disappointment:  in this particular year neither 33-yo Roberto Clemente (.291/18/57), Willie Stargell (.237/24/67), Frank Robinson (.268/15/52), Manny Mota (.281/1/33), nor 24-yo Curt Blefary (.200/15/39) would top .250 in clutch moments.

At catcher, the regular,  Jerry May (.219/1/33), pretty much chokes all of the time, but at least has a good glove and a -1 arm.  You might also remember another Pirate backstop, Milt May, but a Google search reveals he is no relation to Jerry but is the son of a different ballplayer, Pinky May, from the late 30s.  The primary backup is Andy Etchebarren (.233/5/20), and in a pinch Blefary can also strap on the tools of ignorance.

Boog Powell (.249/22/85) and Donn Clendenon (.257/17/87) form a nice left-right platoon at first.  Three of the middle infielders are right-handed with good defence and mediocre bats: Bill Mazeroski (.251/3/42), Davey Johnson (.242/9/56), and Gene Alley (.245/4/39).  They will man 2nd and SS most days.  A bit more offensive-minded is a switch-hitter, Don Buford (.282/15/46), who is a better defender in LF than at 2B, and the speedy 23-yo Freddie Patek (18 SB in 208 ABs).  Owning the hot corner is Brooks Robinson (.251/17/75), whose glove-work is still hall-worthy even though his bat has declined a bit.  Take note that I did not need Google’s help remembering that Brooks and Frank are not brothers.

The team’s primary DH is 35-yo Maury Wills (.278/0/31), still a ‘AA’ speed demon but frankly this club could use another big stick to play here.  The Little Cyclones are short on both clutch hitters and power hitters, so even with four hitters bound for Cooperstown this club will only go as far as the pitching takes it.

Several interesting hitters with the sorting requirement of 360+ ABs and/or a WAR of 0.5+ didn’t make Ames' 30-man roster: 24-yo SS Mark Belanger (.208/2/21), 24-yo CF Paul Blair (.211/7/38), 33-yo RF Fred Valentine (.214/5/12), RF Curt Motton (.198/8/25), and RF Dave May (.191/0/7).  It was especially hard to cut Blair, probably the best defensive CF in this period, but I opted to give Blefary that last spot on the bench (thinking a third catcher would come in handy).

With this report, we wrap up Week 2 of our 1968 season.

Here are the historical ballpark ratings for Baltimore and Pittsburgh (note all IBC parks are 9’s across the board):

Ballpark Effect     Baltimore   Pittsburgh
Lefty Singles         17           14  
Righty Singles         9           14
Lefty Homers           7            4
Righty Homers          7            1

© John Kisner 2019