For the past three years, we've been getting amped up for the baseball season in March with the Time Machine Tournament! We've held tournaments in Kansas City (2014), San Francisco (2015), and Phoenix (2016). We moved this year's tournament to July so as not to conflict with the launch of our golf game, and made it different in a few OTHER ways as well!...
First, instead of choosing from the greatest teams in baseball history, we conducted the tournament with baseball's all-time greatest LOSERS!
Second, our 2017 tournament was set up to crown TWO champions instead of one. Teams that won in the first round competed for the Time Machine Trophy, as presented in previous years. Teams that lost in the first round competed for a different trophy—the "Tin W" Trophy. Or, more specifically, the competition was to AVOID being awarded the Tin W. In this bracket, you had to WIN to get OUT of the tournament, as opposed to the OTHER bracket, where you have to "win to stay in!" In the end, we had one team that hadn't lost, and another that hadn't won—each received appropriate honors!
The fun began around 5:30p Friday (July 7th), with a get-acquainted "tailgate party" at PLAAY HQ. After we chowed down on home-grilled burgers and brats, and had a quick tour of the PLAAY Games production set-up, we split into two groups and broke out the cards and dice...
Our first game event was a pre-PLAAY of this year's MLB All-Star Game with HMB. John Lowe took the AL, Steve Heller and Art Campana co-managed the NL. Charlie Blackmon started the game with a bang, a first-pitch homer off Chris Sale. Not a lot of fireworks after that, though, as both teams paraded their star pitchers inning-by-inning—a total of 18 pitchers saw time on the mound in this game! The AL got a pinch-hit solo dinger from Alonzo (off Greinke) for their only run. Final score: NL 3, AL 1.
Our second group put on our annual pro football kickoff event, the SECOND SEASON College All-Star Game! Erik Holdaway and Brian Preece co-coached the All-Stars, vs. David Santistevan and Lew Witham running the Patriots. We played it like a real pro exhibition game, with New England starters playing the first period, second-stringers second period, and third stringers third period. (The All-Stars, of course, had the option of playing their best players the entire game!) We left it up to the coaches to decide which players would play the fourth period. The Patriots broke to a 10-0 lead, and extended it to 20-7 early in the third quarter. The college kids matched up much better, though, against the Pats third stringers, and eventually tied game 20-20. In the fourth quarter, New England's starters were brought back into the game, and the Pats offense quickly marched down the field to regain the lead for the pro champs. Midway through the fourth, Brady found Gronk on a 23-yard strike for the go-ahead score. The last-chance All-Star drive ended with an "end of game chaos play" that died around midfield. Final score: New England 27, College All-Stars 20. Brady finished the game 16 of 18 for 188 yards, Gronkowski caught five passes for 77 yards. For the All-Stars, Mitch Trubisky completed 14 of 24 for 160 yards, but was sacked five times. Joe Mixon was the All-Stars play-maker, with three carries for 63 yards and another 30 yards on three catches out of the backfield. The pros now lead the series 4-1.
After the conclusion of the football game, we put on a quick golf demo because several of the guys had never seen it played. Six holes at Erin Hills, we cobbled together a quick foursome from the All-Time Greats set: Jack Nicklaus (Brian Preece), Tom Watson (Steve Heller), John Lowe (Fuzzy Zoeller) and Severiano Ballesteros (Keith Avallone). Nicklaus and Zoeller each birdied the first hole to grab an early lead, and Watson birdied the second hole to make it a three-way tie. Ballesteros was, well, Ballesteros: hitting wildly and then salvaging par with great shots out of trouble! The sixth hole held huge drama, with Zoeller and Watson both scoring bogey, and Ballesteros knocking in a clutch birdie putt to force a playoff hole with Nicklaus. Seve birdied that, too to win the playoff!
Our day began at 10am at the Hilton Garden Inn, Highlands Ranch, Breckenridge Room! Which of our Terrible Teams would win the Time Machine Tournament? Time to find out...
We added four teams to the "All-Time Greatest Losers" card set, creating cards for the '54 Athletics and '55 Senators, and adding the expansion Expos and Padres teams from the '69 season card set, bringing the total field to thirteen teams. With ten managers for the event and thirteen teams from which to choose, everyone got a decent selection. All of the "new" teams were snapped up, and the three teams not chosen were all from the ATGL set: the 1935 Braves, 1939 Browns, and 2003 Tigers.
Creating a schedule for a ten-team tournament was a bit challenging, but in the end I really liked the dual-bracket format we came up with. We ranked the thirteen teams from "best" ( a relative term here, for sure) to worst, and then seeded the tournament so that the better teams and poorer teams would play each other in the first round, and making the path somewhat easier for the bottom teams, giving everyone a reasonable shot at earning a trophy. The schedule was set up so that the first round determined which bracket each team played in: first round winners played in the winners bracket, losers played in the losers bracket. As mentioned before, in the winners bracket, it was "Win to Stay In." For the loser's bracket, it was "Win to get OUT!"
You can take at look at the tournament pairings sheet to get an idea of how it was set up. Each of the games was given a letter code to make it easy to place the winner/loser in the next round.
Game A, 1962 New York Mets (#9, Brien Aronov) at 1899 Cleveland Spiders (#10, Steve Heller): Going into the tournament, much discussion was made about whether the Spiders, the worst team in the history of baseball, would win a game. Of course, it helped that they were playing the second-worst team in the history of baseball, the Amazin' Mets! It also helped that they didn't have to go to their awful bullpen for this game. Jack Harper—the Spiders' least-used but best-rated starting pitcher—pitched a complete game for Cleveland, scattering nine hits, while the Mets stranded sixteen runners. The result? A surprise 5-3 Cleveland win!
Game B, 1952 Pittsburgh Pirates (#8, Lew Witham) at 1942 Philadelphia Phillies (#7, Mike Zett): An exciting game that got off to a fast start, with the Pirates' George Strickland blasting a home run on the game's at bat! The Young Bucs (six rookie starters) built a 5-1 lead in the sixth inning, but the pitching fell apart late. The Phillies plated four runs in the eighth inning on the strength of four base hits and three walks to win 8-5.
Game C, 1932 Boston Red Sox (#6, Jason Retallack) at 1969 San Diego Padres (#5, David Santistevan): The Red Sox posted three runs in the second inning, and Ivy Andrews made it stand up for a 4-1 win. Boston had thirteen hits, all singles. Ed Spezio's eighth-inning homer gave the Padres their only run.
Game D, 1954 Philadelphia Athetics (#3, Erik Holdaway) at 1969 Montreal Expos (#4, Brian Preece): It's pretty cool that two terrible teams could put on one of the most epic games of HMB ever played! This slugfest featured eight lead changes and eight home runs, two from Montreal's Coco Laboy, including a walk-off game-winner in the bottom of the tenth inning. Expos win 12-11!
Game E, 1955 Washington Senators (#1, John Lowe) at 1948 Chicago White Sox (#2, Art Campana): The day's only real blowout, with a seven-run fourth inning propelling Chicago to a 13-1 win. The Senators got only one hit off a parade of Sox pitchers (six of them were sent to the mound), while Chicago pummeled Washington pitching for fifteen hits, three of them from Dave Philley.
Game F, '42 Phillies 1, '99 Spiders 0 (11 innings): Maybe the most unlikely pitchers' duel ever, with both Hughes and Hughey going the distance, eleven full innings, no relief. A truly mind-boggling game, with the Phillies pelting hits at a torrid pace and then failing to move them across the plate, which kept the lowly Spiders poised to steal a second improbable win. However, the Cleveland dream died in the eleventh when Warren doubled for Philadelphia and Etten drove him in with a two-out base hit. The Spiders got two of their five base hits with two outs in their half of the eleventh, but Hemphill popped out to end the game. For the game, Philadelphia had 22 baserunners, and scored just ONE run!
Game G, '69 Expos 3, '32 Red Sox 1: The Expos won their first game by out-slugging the A's, but won their second by out-pitching the Red Sox. Montreal's trio of Robertson, Waslewski and Face scattered eight hits and combined for 10 strikeouts, and Rusty Staub's eighth inning two-run homer provided enough offense for the Expos to move on.
Game H, '69 Expos 4, '48 White Sox 2: The White Sox, by virtue of their higher seeding, got the winners' bracket bye. This was a tense, tight game the entire nine innings. Coco Laboy ripped his third homer of the tournament in the second inning, giving the Expos a 2-1 lead, and Montreal stretched it to 4-1 with runs in the third and sixth innings. The Sox had a great chance to get back into it with three base runners in the seventh inning, but failed to score. Wright got the Sox on the board in the eighth with a solo home run, but Chicago went three-up, three-down in the ninth, sending the Expos to the TMT Title Game against the '42 Phillies.
Game J, '69 Expos 10, '42 Phillies 3: Montreal's big bats boomed again, with Staub blasting his second home run of the tourney, and Donn Clendenon belting a pair of them as the Expos rolled to an easy win in the Championship game. For the first time ever, the words could be said, "The Montreal Expos win the title!" Mudcat Grant got the win, giving up just six hits in seven innings before being pulled for Roy Face.
Game K, '52 Pirates 9, '69 Padres 6: Another highly entertaining game between two also-rans. Just as he had done in the first game of the tournament, George Strickland AGAIN led off the game with a solo home run! The Pirates built a 4-0 lead after two innings, but home runs from Ed Spezio (his second of the tourney) and Ollie Brown brought San Diego back to within a run in the sixth inning, 4-3. The bottom fell out for the Padres in the bottom of the seventh, as the Pirates scored five runs with two out—Walls bases-loaded double was the big blow—to exit the tournament with a win.
Game L, '54 Athletics 9, '55 Senators 5: Washington's Schmitz had a shutout going into the fifth, and the Senators scratched out solo runs in the first, second and fifth for a 3-0 lead. But then the A's bats came alive and the Senators bull pen had no answer. Moe Burtschy got the win in relief for Philadelphia, allowing one hit in two innings pitched as the A's won out of the tournament.
Game M, '62 Mets 9, '69 Padres 8: (The Mets got the first-round bye in the losers bracket by virtue of their lower seeding.) The Padres jumped on Al Jackson in the fourth inning, with Ollie Brown and Nate Colbert belting back-to-back homers. Ed Spezio doubled and Chris Cannizaro ripped a third homer, giving San Diego a 6-0 lead and sending Jackson to the showers. But the Padres pitching staff couldn't hold the lead, allowing sixteen hits (five of them for extra bases). Gene Woodling's lead-off homer in the sixth inning gave the Mets their first lead of the game, 7-6. San Diego scratched out a couple runs in the seventh off Mets reliever McKenzie and the Padres looked like they might win out of the tournament, clinging to an 8-7 lead. But Gil Hodges tied the game in the bottom of the eighth racing home on Coleman's double, and Frank Thomas blasted a two-out homer in the bottom of the ninth to send the Mets out of the tournament with a dramatic walk-off win.
Game N, '69 Padres 4, '55 Senators 3: Last chance for a win for these two clubs, and it was a dogfight for sure. The Padres scored three in the second, Sipin's triple scoring Stahl and Kelly and Murrell's base hit knocking in Sipin. They added another run in the fourth to make it 4-0. Washington got a run back in the sixth and two more in the eighth but Padres' reliever Gary Ross shut the Sens down in the ninth, sending the Padres out of the tournament as the final winner and handing Washington the "Tin W" trophy—we wanted everyone to leave the tournament with a "W," even if we had to manufacture one for them, haha!
Because the Time Machine Tournament concluded about an hour early, we had about an hour of down time before needing to head to Coors Field for the Rockies Game. The night before, a number of folks had noticed my copy of the 1970s Parker Brothers game "Pro Draft," a team management game that featured football trading cards. Those of us who had played it as kids reminisced about how much fun we'd had. As I headed out the door Saturday morning, I grabbed the game just in case we had some extra time. So around 3:15, Steve, Erik, Brien and I gathered around the table for Pro Draft! Erik eventually won, followed by Brien, Steve, and—in last place—me. (As I was playing, I remembered that I never really won this game very often as a kid, either!).
As an aside, playing Pro Draft again made me consider whether there might be interest in resurrecting this game, PLAAY-style? My thought is to take the basic concept and broaden the materials so that it could incorporate trading cards of any sport, not just football. Let me know if this sounds like fun.
As 4:00 approached, we split up into a few vehicles and car-pooled it over to the light rail station, for a trip to Coors Field and the Rockies/White Sox game. A light cloud cover kept the temperature down into the upper 70s as afternoon faded and it turned into a perfect night for baseball. Since it was Marvel Super Hero night, everyone got a free Iron Man bobblehead on our way into the stadium! It was a good game, the Rockies coming from behind to tie it late 4-4, before the Sox got a ninth-inning solo home run that would eventually prove to be the game winner. In the bottom of the ninth, Charlie Blackmon got caught looking at a questionable third strike, and manager Bud Black then played the "Argue with the Umpire" card and got tossed from the game. Fun stuff!
We got off the light rail around midnight, and tired as we all were, it was still hard to say good bye! (It always is!) Huge thanks to everyone who was part of the weekend, especially to those who travelled from out of town to be here! I'm already looking forward to next year's tournament! Lew Witham came up with a GREAT idea: hold the tournament in Indianapolis, feature only teams that finished at (or around) .500, and call it "The Indianapolis 500!" Sounds like a plan!!