Ron Santo (DMS)

Three doubleheaders were played on the last Sunday in April, and the last of those pitted Iowa City against Des Moines.  Game 2 was an early blowout, but in the bottom of the 9th the Scarlets had one of those classic “it ain’t over ’til it’s over” rallies.  Third-baseman Ron Santo came up with two outs and the bases loaded, his team down by three.  What a moment!  Alas, the drama ended with a pop-fly instead of a grand slam, but it was fun to take a moment and think how much my old friend Jerry Norton — whose favorite player was Santo — would have savored the moment.

I was introduced to Strat-O-Matic by Jerry’s older brother, Tom.  He was just two years older than us, but that’s a pretty enormous age-gap in childhood and I don’t remember him as part of the gang of kids that would have fun in the open area where our backyards met.  By luck or fate, Jerry and I happened to peek into Tom's room one day, where he was the epitomy of teen-sophistication playing Strat-O-Matic at his desk and sipping a Coke poured into a glass tumbler.  A year later, we were playing the game ourselves.  The rest is history.

The late Sixties was a great time to be a Cubs fan, and in the summers the Norton house echoed with the voice of Jack 'Hey-Hey’ Brickhouse, the great Cubs announcer.  I spent a lot of time there, and remember being baffled by Jerry’s “Pizza Man” nickname for Santo.  We didn’t have Google to answer life’s mysteries back then, and I often thought it better to remain silent than ask stupid questions — Jerry’s dad was a college professor, after all, and I liked to ration the times I revealed being a step behind the rest of the room.  Today’s internet is a great leveler, and it turns out that Santo owned a pizza place back in the day.  Nowadays, Santo is known for having played baseball, and played it very well, as a Type-1 diabetic

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After three weeks of play there is no stronger hitter than Pizza Man. Now 28 years-old, his five homers pace the IBC. He’s a key member of Des Moines’ starting infield, an all-Cubs affair with 1’s at 2nd and 3rd — Glenn Beckert (.294/4/37) and Ron Santo (.246/26/98) — and a pair of 2’s at 1st and 3rd — 37-yo Ernie Banks (.246/32/83) and Don Kessinger (.240/1/32).  The back-up infielders are all Yankees, led by the great 36-yo Mickey Mantle (.237/18/54 and 106 walks) who in his final season will be the primary DH.  Horace Clarke (.230/2/26) and Bobby Cox (.229/7/41) will play as little as possible behind Beckert and Santo, but switch-hitting Tom Tresh (.195/11/52 and 97 walks) is a good option both at SS and LF.

The defense behind the plate is also strong: rightly Randy Hundley has a -3 arm and lefty Jake Gibbs a -2.  Too bad neither has an OPS greater than .600, but to repeat the familiar refrain, keep in mind this is 1968.

The Scarlet’s prospects seem good so far, but in the outfield there is a bit of a red flag.  The problem is CF, where the options form a nice L/R platoon, but the bats here are as mediocre as the 3-rated gloves:  Joe Pepitone (.245/15/56) and Adolfo Phillips (.241/13/33).  Better are the corners, featuring Billy Williams (.288/30/98) and 24-yo Roy White (.267/17/62 and 73 walks).  Depth is provided by Bill Robinson (.240/6/40) and Jim Hickman (.223/5/23).  With just 142 at-bats, the good bat of Willie Smith (.275/5/25) is mostly reserved for pinch-hitting. 

One of the truisms of baseball in general, and Strat in particular, is that winners need a strong up-the-middle defense.  The Des Moines Scarlets have this, with the important exception of CF.  Aside from that, this Cubs-Yanks hybrid has meshed together very well.

Some hitters with the sorting requirement of 360+ ABs and/or a WAR of 0.5+ didn’t make Des Moines' 30-man roster.  Two had decent cards but too few ABs, 34-yo outfielder Al Spangler (.271/2/18), and catcher Frank Fernandez (.170/7/30).  A pair of defensively-challenged outfielders, Andy Kosco (.240/15/59) and 33-yo Lou Johnson (.244/1/14), were easier cuts.

Here is a link to the Strat-O-Matic league file after 3 weeks of play, and the current standings:

1968IB-1-21-2019.lzp

4/28/68 Iowa Baseball Confederacy        Won   Lost    Pct     GB
Council Bluffs Falcons (A’s-Giants)      13      4    .765     —
Iowa City Regals (Red Sox-Phillies)      10      7    .588    3.0
Cedar Rapids Saints (Twins-Dodgers)       9      7    .563    3.5
Waterloo Sailors (White Sox-Braves)      10      8    .556    3.5
Des Moines Scarlets (Yankees-Cubs)        8      9    .471    5.0

Davenport Knights (Tigers-Cards)          7      8    .467    5.0
Sioux City Crusaders (Indians-Reds)       7     10    .412    6.0
West Metro Maroons (Angels-Mets)          7     10    .412    6.0
Ames Little Cyclones (Orioles-Pirates)    7     10    .412    6.0

Dubuque Golden Eagles (Senators-Astros)   7     12    .368    7.0

I’ll cover the Des Moines Scarlets hitters next time!

© John Kisner 2019