by Kevin Burton
Growing up, if you had a sibling, you had a sibling rivalry.
There are a lot of variables here, closeness of ages, gender, talents, interests. But even if it was just competition for the attention/approval of mom and dad, chances are you had a little something simmering at all times, subject to occasional blowups.
Then you grow up, acquire an adult mindset and put all those silly things far behind you, right?
Well maybe not. But here is a peaceable baseball tale from the Burton household to play out this summer and fall. A little background:
Sports Illustrated is still a magazine. It used to be among the very best in the world at both sports and illustrations.
SI crunched the statistics from the 1971 baseball season and created a board game that my brother Steve bought back in the day.
I created a game based on it that I used last year to play a 1970s World Series between the Cincinnati Reds and Kansas City Royals on Page 7. But the magazine’s version is far superior.
The SI game contains color-coded charts for all 24 teams. Yes, only 24 teams existed back in 71. They have captured the offensive and defensive strengths and weaknesses of all the players. The charts look like the play charts that NFL coaches carry and refer to as they prowl the sidelines.
This game was a wonder to me back then!
But boys abandon their baseball dice games while still in childhood, when girls stop being yucky. So that version is long gone. But Steve found the SI game as an adult and got another copy.
This is where the sibling rivalry comes in. I have issued a challenge: a five-game series, with descriptions and accounts to be revealed on Page 7.
Real life scuttled our original plan to have game one coincide with opening day. But we’re talking scheduling again.
What teams did we pick? I chose the Montreal Expos and thought he would choose the California Angels. Why the Angels?
Back then Steve played out a shortened version of an American League season, with eight teams and a 60-game schedule. He chose from some baseball cards to see which team he would manage.
“The Angels?!” he exclaimed after picking a card. So he became the manager of the 1971 Angels.
The thing is, he didn’t remember any of this. That astounds me. I was fascinated by it and became a secondary Angels fan.
So when I asked him if he was picking the Angels for the challenge series he couldn’t understand why I even mentioned the Angels.
My first thought was if he isn’t picking the Angels, I will. But I decided to stick with the Expos.
He of course chose the Cincinnati Reds.
So there is your titanic struggle, brother vs brother, Reds vs Expos.
You’re thinking, The Expos were two years removed from expansion, and they’re going against the Big Red Machine? What a mismatch!
Careful now. This is 1971. This is before those twin national evils, Watergate and the Designated Hitter rule.
It’s also a year before Joe Morgan, Jack Billingham, Cesar Geronimo and others came to the Reds in a big trade with Houston.
The expos were 71-90. The Reds were 79-83. That’s only 7 ½ games difference.
In a best-of-five playoff setting, I can use top starters Bill Stoneman and Steve Renko for four of the five games. That could be enough. And Renko can hit a little.
The worst thing is I only have one left-handed pitcher, Dan McGinn. Gene Mauch who actually managed the 71 Expos was known as Mr. Platoon. I cannot believe he went the whole year with only one left hander.
Anyway, I’m in great position. I’m supposed to lose, I have the Expos. But if I can take out the Big Red Machine with a bunch of castoffs, well that could make me manager of the year, just not manager of this year.
We plan to space the games out so that games four and five, if necessary, will fall in September and October, in time for the actual MLB post-season.
What makes this whole thing realistic is we have both acquired enough of a paunch over the years that now we look like baseball managers.