This is about a pandemic project of mine which combined vintage cards with Statis Pro Baseball, a tabletop baseball simulation which I’ve been a fan of for years.
I know full well that most of my readers are here for the cards, not for the baseball sims, so I’ll have all of the card stuff up front and leave the nerdier gaming aspects for the end.
So it was early in the pandemic…
…And I was looking for new ways to entertain myself. I forget what inspired me, but I pulled my 40+ year old copy of Statis Pro Baseball out of the closet. For those who aren’t familiar with Statis Pro, it’s a tabletop baseball game similar to Strat-O-Matic and APBA. I’ve been a fan since I got my game as a teenager, and I wrote about it a number of years ago.
I started out playing with the seasons I had (1978 and 1989) but I also found some free PDFs of additional seasons online. After messing with these older seasons, I realized was having more fun playing with players I didn’t know and learning about them as I played.
I eventually hit upon an idea involving the 1959 season: I would set up a squad of lesser-known players from 1959 and see what they could do against the better teams of the day.
To help me appreciate the team I was drafting, I’d also collect 1959 Topps cards of the players on my new team… all part of the “learning and appreciating” process.
I started my “league” with the top three teams from the National League – the World Champion Dodgers, the Braves and the Giants – and the top three teams from the American League – the pennant winning “Go-Go” White Sox, the Indians and the Yankees. I added in my Orioles to bring us to 7 teams, and then made it an even eight teams with my new invention, which I ended up calling “The Commons” because one of the criteria I used for drafting players was whether I could pick up their 1959 cards relatively cheaply on COMC. I filled out my roster of 1959 Topps “Commons” for the proverbial “price of a blaster” and nearly tripled the number of 1959s in my collection from 13 to 36.
My new team was drafted from the remaining nine teams and since I enjoy small ball I tried to pick position players who got on base a lot and did not have an huge holes in their game.
Here’s the batting order I use for most of the games:
CF – Bill Tuttle (.300/.369/.413 in 1959)
2B – Johnny Temple (.311/.380/.430, All-Star)
3B – Eddie Yost (.278/.435/.436, league leader in walks & runs)
1B – Ed Bouchee (.285/.375/.449)
LF – Bob Skinner (.280/.357/.399)
RF – Joe Cunningham (.345/.453/.478, All-Star, league leader in OB%)
SS – Don Buddin (.241/.366/.357)
C – Ed Bailey (.264/.370/.393)
The starting rotation is…
Camilo Pascual (2.64 ERA, 1.135 WHIP, All-Star, lead league in CG & shutouts)
Jim Owens (3.21, 1.247)
Don Mossi (3.36, 1.136, 17 game winner)
Frank Lary (3.55, 1.215, lead league with a 2.98 SO/BB ratio)
Mike Fornieles (3.07, 1.293)
Bill Henry (2.68, 1.020)
Elmer Singleton (2.72, 1.209, turned 41 during the season)
Chuck Stobbs (2.98, 1.169)
Pete Burnside (3.77, 1.290)
And on the bench…
Dutch Dotterer (.267/.328/.348)
Carl Sawatski (.293/.392/.480)
Dick Williams (.266/.309/.436, in the HOF as a manager)
Marty Keough (.243/.320/.418, Father of 1970s/1980s pitcher Matt Keough)
Wayne Terwilliger (.267/.335/.361)
Roy McMillan (.264/.345/.447, Gold Glove despite playing in just 79 games)
Vic Wertz (.275/.337/.413)
Rocky Nelson (.291/.379/.457)
Oh, and I almost forgot to mention that I designed a quickie logo and made some custom cards for this team:
I’m telling ya, I was pretty bored.
So, How Good Is This Team?
Going into this project I was hoping the team would be competitive, but I was thinking that a game or two above .500 was a best-case scenario.
The Commons opened at home against the Giants (83-71 in real life), lost the opener but took the next two games.
Next up was a West Coast swing to face the NL champion Dodgers (88-68) and the Giants again. In both series, the Commons took two of three. After the first three series, the team was 6-3… not too shabby.
Next it was on to Chicago to face the White Sox (94-60). Once again, the Commons took two. This team was 8-4 and performing better than I’d ever imagined.
Back home, the Commons faced the Dodgers again, went up against Johnny Podres, Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax… and swept the Bums. Now 12-4, it was no longer a question of whether this team could win.
The Milwaukee Brewers (86-70), behind Warren Spahn and Lew Burdette, took two games in a three-game series and it looked like a long-awaited correction was finally here.
But then the Commons swept a four game series against the Yankees (79-75, something of an off year for them). The Commons’ record stood at 16-6 and the “challenge” began to shift from “Can I win with these guys” to “Can anybody stop these guys?”
So here’s the deal… Nobody is putting up unusual statistics compared to “real life”, but these guys all get on base… It’s unusual for the opposing pitcher, no matter how good, to put up a 1-2-3 inning. You get enough guys on base, you can’t help but score runs and wear out even the most Hall-of-Fame-ingest pitchers… and then the bullpens get feasted on.
The Commons pitching staff is unspectacular but solid, and doesn’t really need to do more than keep the team in the game and give the offense an opportunity.
The Nerdier Statis Pro Part
So if you’re here for the baseball cards and have made it this far, I’ll forgive you if you skip the rest of this post.
The roster of the “Commons” were pulled from the nine unused teams, and in drafting the roster I set up a few rules:
- As mentioned, only players whose cards would be considered commons and which were also included in 1959 Topps (for example, Pumpsie Green got serious consideration for a bench role until I discovered his rookie card didn’t come until 1960)
- I avoided drafting too many players from any particular team… I didn’t want my team to be, say, the 78-76 Pirates with a few players swapped out
- Players would keep the same roles they had in real life. My starting rotation, for example, would have one team’s #1, another team’s #2, and so on. Similarly, my backup catcher wouldn’t be a real-life starter, and all the bench players would be actual bench players.
Bill Tuttle was a perfect example of the type of player I was looking for… Someone who generally gets a “Who dis?” from any present-day fan, plus the closest he got to an award is finishing tied with Vic Power for 23rd in 1959 MVP voting. His 1959 Statis Pro card shows a bunch of reasons to go with him.
Many of the other players are similar… Not a ton of extra-base hits, but few strikeouts and a decent on-base percentage.
Some other details…
Within the game I started thinking of the team as the “St. Louis Commons”, because I created the Commons schedule by starting with the Cardinals’ 1959 schedule and swapping out teams as follows: Replace the Cubs with the White Sox, the Pirates with the Yankees, the Phillies with the Orioles and the Reds with the Indians. I also used the “Pitchers Batting” card for the Cardinals as one I’d use when the Commons sent a pitcher to the plate.
I set up some ground rules copied from more serious Statis Pro gamers I found online. Some are obvious, like you can’t have a reliever pitch several innings and then pitch again the next day. Some aren’t completely obvious, but make sense (like not having a catcher play both ends of a double header)
I’m on a break from this project right now, but I played a bunch of games beyond what I wrote about above, and the team continues to win 2/3 of it’s games. It got a bit much for me and not much of a challenge, so I ended up doing a different project when I was in the mood for Statis Pro… but I’m thinking I’ll get back to it soon.
I’m honestly not sure how much interest this post will get, but I’ve been working on it on and off for… jeez… something like a year now – Although a fair part of that year was waiting for me to pull the trigger on shipping the cards from COMC, and then a couple of months waiting on the shipment.
Hope you enjoyed it.