I wrote a couple weeks ago about my adventures with a computer demo, Baseball Mogul 2012 that allows for great players to be unretired and used in simulation. I wrote of signing a 44-year-old Ted Williams to play for the 1963 New York Mets and how the Splendid Splinter hit about .350, perhaps taking advantage of the short right field porch at the Polo Grounds. Williams isn’t the only comeback player who’s thrived for me. The demo allows users to play six seasons– 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, and 2011– and at almost every level, at least one former great has done serviceable work. It makes me wonder what might have been.
Here are a few players I turned to:
1951: Arky Vaughan was gone too soon, both in baseball and in life. An elite National League shortstop in the late 1930s and early ’40s, he quit in 1943 at 31 following a fight with Brooklyn Dodgers manager Leo Durocher. After sitting out the next three seasons at his ranch in California, Vaughan returned to Brooklyn when Durocher was suspended for the 1947 season. Vaughan played two more years as a reserve before quitting for good in 1948 at 36 (save for one more year in the Pacific Coast League), and I got to wondering how he might have done on the 1951 St. Louis Browns. In an all-retired lineup that also featured Hank Greenberg, Jimmie Foxx, and Mel Ott, Vaughan hit over .300 for me. Maybe his talents could have kept him in baseball longer and from drowning in a freak accident in 1952.
1963: I’ll admit the game isn’t perfect. I’ve used Herb Score a couple of times in assembling 1963 teams, and twice, he’s won more than 20 games for me. One of those times, Score even won a Cy Young Award. Granted, Score was something of a virtuoso when he broke into the majors in 1955, making the American League All Star team his first two years and going 20-9 with a 2.53 ERA in 1956. But he was never really the same pitcher after getting struck by a Gil McDougald line drive in 1957 and by the time Score quit playing in 1962 at 28, he was a little-used has-been. The game disregards this, seemingly offering only Score’s peak abilities.
1975: This was the beginning of the end for the Oakland A’s, with Catfish Hunter gone to the Yankees and Reggie Jackson, Rollie Fingers, and others not long for town, rising salaries the death knell for small market Oakland. My challenge, as I saw it, was to cut payroll to keep the three-time defending World Series champs winning and in the black. To do this, I enlisted Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax. Drysdale, who retired in 1969 at 33, went 10-4 for my ’75 A’s before suffering a season-ending injury. Koufax quit after the 1966 season because of his arthritic left arm, but was supposedly throwing heat at fantasy camps into the 1980s; in my simulation, he went 15-16 with an ERA somewhere over 4.00. My revamped A’s turned a profit but fell short of the AL West-leading 98-64 mark the real ’75 team posted.
1987: I built a Baltimore Orioles team with aging veterans like Fred Lynn, Mike Schmidt, and Nolan Ryan complementing unretired stars Rod Carew, Jim Palmer, and others. Carew quit in 1985, and I figured that as a 42-year-old contact hitter, he might be capable of some good work. He proved something of a disappointment and ended the year, I think, as my pinch hitter. Palmer fared better. While in real-life the Hall of Fame pitcher’s 1991 comeback didn’t last beyond spring training, a 41-year-old Palmer went 15-11 for me in ’87. It’s a wonder he quit in 1984 at 38, just 32 wins shy of 300.
1999: I haven’t played a 1999 team yet, though I’m curious what a 46-year-old George Brett would have left. He was something of an ageless wonder, winning batting titles in three decades, and in 1999 when more than 20 players had OPS scores over 1.000, Brett might have batted .250 as someone’s designated hitter.
2011: I turned to a couple of 46-year-old former All Stars to play for my Kansas City Royals. Jose Canseco didn’t do so hot, not a surprise really, regardless of how many times Canseco has taken to Twitter claiming he could still hack big league pitching. I was more bummed that I had to release my all-time favorite player, Will Clark, who like Canseco had a batting average somewhere in the lower .200s for me. Some things just aren’t meant to be, I guess.