I was speaking with my brother, Kirk, after Saturday’s 4th Annual Greater Michigan APBA Baseball Tournament and I came to a conclusion. After going 3-5 in pool play last year with the 1904 New York Giants and then 6-2 this year with the 1977 New York Yankees, I think tournament success is 50% team, 40% luck, and 10% skill. Many of us like to think that skill is a higher percentage, or even the team you picked, but it really comes down to rolling good numbers. On Saturday, Rob Spatz and I had luck on our side. The only thing that isn’t luck is the FACT that Pastor Rich Zawadzki puts on a great tournament each year.
In pool play, my luck was on display in my first game. After giving up three runs in the top of the first to Pops Spatz’s 1993 Toronto Blue Jays, my Yankees clawed back to make it 3-2 after six innings. Then the Blue Jays added a run in the top of the seventh to take a 4-2 lead. With two outs and the bases loaded from base on balls, I pinch hit for Bucky Dent with George Zeber…66-1…grand slam to take a 6-4 lead. However, the Jays scored three in the top of the eighth on a three-run bomb by Paul Molitor to take a 7-6 lead. But the Yankees weren’t done. In the bottom of the eighth, they got a walk from Lou Piniella, triple from Chris Chambliss, and a sacrifice fly from Graig Nettles to take an 8-7 lead. Ron Guidry held on in the ninth to preserve the victory.
Realize, neither of us had luck the entire tournament. Rob’s 2015 Toronto Blue Jays lost their first three games in pool play, unbelievably getting shutout twice. My ’77 Yankees lost two straight in pool play, managing only two runs in 21 innings. However, we both were on the lucky side of the tiebreakers and advanced to the championship round.
My luck continued in the championship round. In my Elite Eight game, the Yankees were matched up with the 1995 Cleveland Indians. The game started with back to back home runs by Kenny Lofton and Carlos Baerga. It was 2-0 faster than you could say Bronx Zoo. But, Reggie Jackson tied it with a two-run homer in the bottom of the first. The Indians built a 7-3 lead heading into the bottom of the fifth, but Thurman Munson hit a two-run homer in the fifth to cut the lead in half, and then Cliff Johnson launched a two-run bomb in the bottom of the sixth to tie the score. Nothing happened for the next three innings and the game went to extras. Then Willie “Babe” Randolph struck again. With two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the tenth, Randolph went deep for a walk-off Grand Slam. It was his second Grand Slam of the tournament and third home run…pretty good for a guy who only hit four homers the entire 1977 season.
The dice were in the Yankees favor in the Final Four game as well. After falling behind two runs early to the 1987 Detroit Tigers, the Yankees were able to tie the score at two in the top of the eighth. However, should-have-been 1987 MVP Alan Trammell put the Tigers ahead with a solo shot in the bottom of the inning. Down by a run in the top of the ninth, the Yankees rallied, once again, for two runs. Chris Chambliss led off with a triple and was brought home by a Graig Nettles double. Then Mickey Rivers knocked in pinch runner Dave Kingman (F) with a single. Ron Guidry once again held strong in the bottom of the ninth to send the Yankees to the championship game.
In the championship game, the 2015 Blue Jays had a 5-3 lead entering the top of the seventh. Then Thurman Munson cracked a two-run homer to tie the game. Unfortunately for the Yankees, the tie was short lived. In the bottom of the seventh, Troy Tulowitzki and Devon Travis each hit solo home runs to give the Jays a 7-5 advantage. The Yankees were able to push one across in the top of the ninth, but stranded Mickey Rivers at first base to lose the championship 7-6. One more good roll for me and one not so good one for Rob would have done the trick. However, my luck had run out. Nonetheless, it was a great run and a ton of fun. I particularly enjoyed having three family members participating in the tournament, my brother, Kirk; my daughter, Viola; and my nephew, Riley. It was nice to share the experience with them. You never know; I might not ever get so lucky again.
Below are some statistics for the two championship teams and some photos from the day. I’m hoping my 1946 Boston Red Sox will have as good a run as my ‘77 Yankees in next year’s tournament.