Mike Andrews (ICR)

Today we are waiting to hear back on an offer to buy a house in anticipation of retiring to Colorado in a few years.  Aside from a somewhat brief interregnum in Ohio, I’ve lived in Iowa my entire life.  The thought of moving is troubling, but my anxieties are eased a bit by today’s temp of 11 degrees.  A sunnier clime would have its advantages this time of year!

A new house, like a new stadium, is a pretty big deal.  My last move was just the couple of miles from 40th Place to Bellaire Avenue, but even a short leap like that changes your world — new gas station for the Chevrolet, new grocery store for the apple pie and ice cream, and so on.  They are all the same in many important ways, but we revel in the differences that make each a special place.  

The stadium I know best is Principal Park here in Des Moines, home to the AAA Iowa Cubs.  You can usually score a free parking spot if you don’t mind a short walk, and can usually spot a few familiar prospects or suspects on the lineup cards.  Old guys like me still think of the stadium as Sec Taylor, as it was called before a big remodel in 1992.  I suppose the oldest ticket-buyers still call it Pioneer Memorial, as it was known when it opened in 1947.  Sometimes a major league club rehabs an existing park like this — the Royals, for instance, did a big remodel but The K still looks much the same as I remember from my first visit in 1975.  It’s a bigger deal when you build new from the ground up, as the White Sox did when they crossed 35th Street.  Jenny and I watched a Sox game in 1991, and it was both special and surreal to see Old and New Comiskey standing so close.  Our return trips since then have all been vicarious; with kids it became impossible to continue making this an annual trip.

Regardless of the stadium, my favorite place to sit is on the firstbase side, as close to home as possible.  One great advantage of AAA baseball is that I can usually sit twenty rows from the action and pay about $20 for a pair of tickets.  My biggest sticker shock at a major league game was paying that much to sit in the outfield at Camden Yards back in May of 1992.  This was a weird/wonderful day.  In the afternoon I went to my first Orioles game with my brother-in-law Bob, and then late that night we got the call from one of Jenny’s friends letting us know a baby (our Mollie) might be available for adoption.  A new bucket-list item just springs to mind: we should plan a trip to Baltimore with Mollie and Eric.

The IBC team closest to my geographical heart is the Iowa City Regals, named for the high school I attended.  Although it was tempting to stick my favorite pairing in my favorite town, I stood by the rubric and so my old home town is stuck with the Red Sox and Phillies. It’s not all bad; I can still spell Yastrzemski from scoring all those Strat games back in junior high (Boston was one of my four teams), and Hawk Harrelson was part of my favorite broadcast team when he was paired with Tom Paciorek (who ended the '68 season in A-ball).  They are two of the best Regals.

Hawk & Yaz

Yaz won the triple crown in ’67, and while his 1968 stat line is pretty pedestrian by that standard it’s still plenty good: .301 with 23 homers, 119 walks, and a ‘1’ in LF.  Ken Harrelson (.275/35/109 and 69 walks) isn’t nearly as deft a fielder, but he still plays RF so an even worse outfielder, Dick Allen (.263/33/90 and 74 walks) can be tucked away in the DH slot.  Out in center is 23-yo Reggie Smith (.265/15/69 with 64 walks), who is a solid ‘2’ with a cannon (-4) arm.  Three Phillies are the backups: Johnny Callison (.244/14/40), Tony Gonzalez (.264/3/38) and Don Lock (.210/8/34).  The Davenport Knights have the league’s best outfield, but this one is almost as good.

The infield does not have much power, but has a few bright spots.  The starter at first, 24-yo Johnny Briggs (.254/7/31), has on-base % in the .360s but only 338 ABs. Spelling him is a superior fielder, 34-yo Bill White (.239/9/40), but unfortunately both men hit left-handed so there are no platoon advantages to explore.  At second is 24-yo Mike Andrews (.271/7/45), the team’s best infielder, another high on-base guy. Less note-worthy are the shortstops, Rico Petrocelli (.234/12/46) and Roberto Pena (.260/1/38). Unfortunately, Petro is a year away from his explosive 40-homer campaign, and neither of them is very handy with the leather.  More infield depth is provided by Cookie Rojas (.232/9/48), whose modest value to this franchise is greatly enhanced by being the team’s third catcher.  He is among a notable wave of Cubans that came north in the 1950s to play ball.

Mike Andrews was a budding star.  He would soon add power to his game, reeling a modest string of three years with double-digit homers.  But in 1972, at age 28, he floundered a bit for the first time, hitting just .220/7/50, and a year later played his last major league game.  A combination of injuries, Steve Sax Disease, and mistreatment by Charley Finley ended a career still theoretically in its prime.  Baseball players come and go; they are rarely more than a trade or phenom away from the bench and oblivion.  And the nature of playing second, where a hard slide can break both bodies and DPs, seems to add to the normal injury risks of sports.  

Foy

One of the more interesting positions on this team is third base.  Joe Foy (whose short name must have come as a relief to fans after writing ‘Yastrzemski' on their lineup cards) is my favorite.  Last time I mentioned military service as a factor in the background of some players; the period’s escalating drug abuse (alledgedly) impacted Joe Foy’s career.  Apparently he was so high in a game late in his short career that he kept saying “hit it to me, hit it to me” well after the batter hit a grounder right past him.  His 1968 season was a mixed bag: a ‘4’ in the field who hit just .225 with 10 homers, but the 84 walks and 26 steals are nice.  Tony Taylor (.250/3/38 and 22 steals) isn’t any better at the plate, but the Cuban has a much better glove. 

Saving worst for last, alas the Iowa City catchers are of the no-hit, bad-throw variety.  Clay Dalrymple (.207/3/26) and 39-yo Elston Howard (.241/5/18) do form a left-right platoon, but with only 444 ABs between them the team is forced to put Cookie behind the plate now and then.  Note the strangeness of the great Yankee, Elston Howard, playing with the Red Sox in this, his final campaign.

Close readers have already noticed that the starting outfield walks a lot, so it will come as no surprise to learn that the Regals currently lead the IBC in walks.  They are also setting the pace for runs scored,  but the team’s OPS isn’t anything special (4th among the ten clubs) so luck seems to be as important as the walks. 

Below are the historical ballpark ratings for the Red Sox and Phillies (note all CBA parks are 9’s across the board).  Shibe Park was an odd park — that kind of HR split is really unusual!

Ballpark Effect     Boston     Philadelphia
Lefty Singles         12           10  
Righty Singles        12            4
Lefty Homers           9            2
Righty Homers          9           17 

Just one hitter with the sorting requirement of 360+ ABs and/or a WAR of 0.5+ didn’t make Iowa City's 30-man roster:  Jose Tartabull (.281/0/6).  He would have made a decent pinch-hit and pinch-run option, but with just 139 ABs he was an easy cut.  You may also be wondering why a combo team would need to rely upon Cookie Rojas for ABs behind the plate, so I thought I would tell you about the two “tough cuts” behind the plate.  Russ Gibson had 231 ABs, a .567 OPS and a +2 arm; Mike Ryan had 296 ABs, a .434 OPS, and a -2 arm.  Given the arm, Ryan might have been worth keeping — but even in 1968 a .434 OPS is awful (Cookie is merely bad, with an OPS of .554).

Here is a link to the Strat-O-Matic league file after 7 weeks of play, and the current standings:

1968IB-2-8-2019.lzp

5/26/68 Iowa Baseball Confederacy        Won   Lost    Pct     GB
Council Bluffs Falcons (A’s-Giants)      33     11    .750     —
Davenport Knights (Tigers-Cards)         24     18    .571    8.0
Ames Little Cyclones (Orioles-Pirates)   24     19    .558    8.5
Iowa City Regals (Red Sox-Phillies)      22     20    .524   10.0
Sioux City Crusaders (Indians-Reds)      23     21    .523   10.0
Cedar Rapids Saints (Twins-Dodgers)      21     21    .500   11.0
Waterloo Sailors (White Sox-Braves)      20     24    .455   13.0
Des Moines Scarlets (Yankees-Cubs)       20     24    .455   13.0
West Metro Maroons (Angels-Mets)         16     28    .364   17.0
Dubuque Golden Eagles (Senators-Astros)  14     31    .311   19.5

I’ll cover the Iowa City Regals pitchers next time!

© John Kisner 2019