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Week 1: Ed Kirkpatrick

May 2, 2022

Mark Fidrych’s new imaginary team, the Worcester Birds, has played its first six games and is holding its own, despite some tough breaks and despite the lack of any unmitigated heroics by its ace pitcher/reason for being. Below are thumbnail sketches for each game so far, followed by some more general notes on themes, signs, hallucinations. For each win, I’m going to bold the two stars of the game and see at the end of the year who showed up in that tallying the most. As of right now, Joe Morgan and Eric Soderholm are the early frontrunners with two mentions each, a fair reflection of their play so far, as Morgan leads the league in batting average and steals and Soderholm in RBI. But the story so far, in a strange way, has been Ed Kirkpatrick. That is to say, I’m approaching this whole endeavor with a belief that it is trying to tell me something. And in this first week of simulated games, the message has something to do with Ed Kirkpatrick.

  • G1: L 5-3 (Fidrych 0-1)
    • Early exit for Mark Fidrych, early exit for Thurman Munson (HBP, injured). Randle gets Bird teetering in the first, and Cabell finishes him off in the third.
  • G2: W 9-4
    • Luis Tiant with a solid start. Joe Morgan homers. Kent Tekulve notches a win. Ed Kirkpatrick HBP by Lyle but stays in
  • G3: W 5-3
    • Eric Soderholm homers. Tom Dixon pitches 3.2 1-hit shutout innings before injury. Tekulve notches another win after recording a single out
  • G4: W 13-6
    • Steve Mingori with 4 shutout innings in relief for win; Soderholm grand slam; Kirkpatrick HBP again (by Ken Brett) but stays in, tying the score (he also has 2 hits in the game)
  • G5: L 4-3
    • Another instant exit for Munson (HBP, injured); Bill Lee’s good start wasted; Rodney Scott scores on a Larry Bowa suicide squeeze to tie game in 8th, then Cesar Geronimo botches one, Lee is lifted, and Bob Stanley allows go-ahead hit
  • G6: W 5-4 (Fidrych 1-1)
    • Morgan with 3 hits; Dan Thomas with a huge triple; Fidrych with win after another very rocky first inning but recovery with no earned runs (and 1 unearned) over next 5 innings

OK, before getting to Ed Kirkpatrick, a little on that first game, and on Strat-O-Matic itself, and on the ongoing random gamble of life. To tie all these preamble thoughts to a name and an exasperated interrobang: Enos Cabell?!? That’s the guy, or to be realistic for a second, the series of unique mathematical outcomes, who ultimately ruined Mark Fidrych’s chances of getting off to a magical start to the season. The Bird had already struggled through a rough first inning, but he’d followed that by retiring five guys in a row, and while he ran into another threat in the third, things looked good for him to get out of it when Enos Cabell came to the plate with two outs. Here’s what the matchup looked like in terms of the cards:

To explain how good things looked at this point, it’s probably helpful to know a little about how Strat-O-Matic works. Strat-O-Matic gameplay involves three regular dice and a twenty-sided die. The first of the three regular dice determines the column of the batter or pitcher card to refer to for the result, and the second and third regular dice combine to determine the result in the given column. In the 1977 cards for Mark Fidrych and Enos Cabell above, you can see that there is virtually no possibility for a hit for the situation of a right-hand batter facing a right-handed pitcher if that initial dice roll is a 5, a 6, a 1, or a 2. The results on the pitcher’s card ending in X–e.g., “GB(SS)X”—are probable outs because I loaded my team with gold-glove-level fielders to help the Bird. The result with a > sign next to it (column 2, number 4) is also a probable out, as I placed the Bird in Shea Stadium for personal reasons but also because the ballpark factors are favorable to pitchers: on those > rolls the 20-sided die comes into play and hitters have only a 1 in 20 chance of getting a single at Shea. The rolls with the pound sign beside them (3-11 and 3-12) are “ballpark factor home run” rolls, and those are a little more friendly to the batter at Shea. Lefty batters have a decent chance of homering—they will do so on rolls of 1 through 10 on the 20-sided die, and righty batters will homer on rolls of 1 through 7. And column 3, which appears to have several hits on it, is actually another probable dead zone for Enos Cabell, as the dollar signs in that column indicate that if those apparent hits are landed on when there are two outs and a runner in scoring position, they turn into outs, a reflection of that batter’s 1977 struggles “in the clutch.” (Other players have those dollar signs next to outs, and in those same situations the out turns to a hit.)

So for Cabell, his chances rested mostly on rolling a 3-8, a 3-9, or one of the rolls in the middle of Bird’s one shaky area, column 4. But even in the unlikely event that those rolls came up, it would just further bend the back of Firdrych’s start, not break it. Fidrych will give up some singles here and there, but he keeps the ball in the ballpark, an amazing feat in homer-happy 1977. And with the outstanding defense behind him, that should be enough to keep him in games.

Anyway, Enos Cabell, one of the stars of The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training (he can be seen in the Astros dugout, putting in the thespian effort to point out at the field at Tanner Boyle making his stand), rolled a 3-11 with the first three dice and then got a number between 1 and 7 on the 20-sided die, and the Bird’s chances of a game 1 win were over. I don’t know math enough to tell you precisely how unlikely a result that devastating for the Bird was, but from playing Strat-O-Matic all my life I can tell you it makes me want to punch a hole in the wall, which I did when I was a kid playing Strat-O-Matic alone in my room and the dice kept landing weirdly and against my needy wishes. “Punched a hole in the wall” is a little misleading. I was and am a weakling! The walls of my childhood room were flimsy sheetrock, and it wasn’t so much a hole as a dent. I covered it up with something, possibly moving over the newspaper clipping of the Sunday batting averages that had Lyman Bostock’s name near the top and that I tacked to my wall somewhere because it felt like something I should do.

Which brings us, does Lyman Bostock’s name, to the topic of death. This post is already way too long for me to go very deep into it now, but it will hover over the season of the Worcester Birds. For one thing, nine of the 24 members of the team have, in real life, passed away. Some went early, others were able to hang around a little longer. It looked like Ed Kirkpatrick was going to be among the former; in 1981, he went into a coma after a series of compounding events. He was in a car accident that seemed minor, but then doctors found a blood clot traveling toward his brain and performed surgery, and during that surgery he had a heart attack that put him in a coma for six months. He came out of the coma and lived on until 2010, but he was paralyzed. I don’t know much about his life, but I think that Kirkpatrick, whose nickname was Spanky, naming his wheelchair Sparky was a sign that he showed the same dogged, sparkling resilience after baseball that he showed during his playing days.

And during this Strat-O-Matic afterlife, or so it appears. Kirkpatrick is the lowest-paid member of the Worcester Birds, and he was not expected to play in any of these first six games, but he’s played in all of them. The starting catcher, Thurman Munson, was hit by a pitch and injured for three games in his second at-bat of the season, and then in the first at-bat of his first game back from that injury, he was hit by a pitch and injured again. After this second drilling, a brawl ensued. Right? Your starting catcher and grizzled field general, already burdened by an air of impending tragedy hanging over him, comes back from an injury and is hit in the very same spot where he was injured? Fists are gonna fly. And I just read in Singled Out that Glenn Burke once decked two guys during a wild minor league brawl in Quebec, so I see him flying into the on-field melee to drop, I don’t know, Reggie Smith and Jim Tyrone. I’m starting to see a lot of things. In my usual Strat-O-Matic compulsiveness I don’t take time to imagine the events related to any of the game’s algorithms with any depth, but with the Worcester Birds I’m going to take my time. I’m getting a second chance to see Mark Fidrych, so why wouldn’t I try to slow everything down?

So I see Ed Kirkpatrick, who in 1977 is at the very end of his long career. In between Munson’s first and second injury, Ed Kirkpatrick himself was hit by pitch twice, in both cases injuriously, according to the dice roll and his card, but in the Strat-O-Matic online game there’s an override in which a team catcher can’t be injured if there are no other healthy catchers on the roster. Usually I don’t think too much about this unrealistic immortalizing of the backup catcher, but here, to make it real, maybe because for whatever reason right now I need it to be real, I see Ed Kirkpatrick grimacing in pain, even buckling a little, but then he peers into the dugout and all the players there, non-catchers all, wear a wide-eyed “what do we do now?” look on their faces. Ed Kirkpatrick has no choice. He has to keep going.

He entered the majors at age 17, a phenom. Though he never attained stardom, he played for 16 years at the highest level of his profession. He found ways to make himself useful, playing for 6 teams and logging games at 6 of the 8 positions on the field (all but pitcher and shortstop). In his last season alone, 1977, he played 5 of the 8 positions while bouncing from the Pirates to the Rangers to the Brewers. Keep going until you can’t. That’s the message I’m getting from Ed Kirkpatrick.

When Ed Kirkpatrick was first entering the action for the Birds, in the team’s very first game, there was a scene in the clubhouse that may or may not prove to be central to the team’s message to me. In the top of the third inning, Mark Fidrych had entered that clubhouse after getting the hook. Despite all the high hopes for him this season, and despite a roster and a ballpark designed to help him win games, and despite my need for him to instantly be the same indomitable miracle he was in 1976, he wobbled badly in the first inning and then was finished off altogether in the third by an improbable blast by Enos Cabell. He didn’t have to wait long for company in the clubhouse, as Thurman Munson was hit by a pitch and injured in the bottom of the fourth. At this point in the season the two men would not know each other well, and I imagine that one in particular, Munson, would be suspicious of the other’s ebullient manner on the diamond, so contrary to his own. But I see this: Munson enters a clubhouse that has been torn apart. Dents in the lockers (like the dent in my childhood room’s wall). Chairs and tables overturned. The author of this mayhem in the corner, still breathing hard, still steaming that Enos Cabell somehow flicked out his bat and caught a perfect low and outside fastball just right. Munson, gripping his throbbing wrist, sees Fidrych’s fierce disappointment and for the first time recognizes himself in the pitcher he’s thought of to this point as a weirdo, a flake. This kid wants to win.

“Was a good pitch,” Munson grumbles. “Fucking guy got lucky.”

“Jeez, what happened to you?” Fidrych says.

“Nothing. I’ll be ready for your next start. We’ll get ’em.”

But by Fidrych’s next start Munson had been hit again and shelved, and Ed Kirkpatrick was back behind the plate. Things started out pretty badly for the emergency battery. As seen above, Fidrych has a good Strat-O-Matic card, one with no walks and no home runs, but he does give up some hits, and he’s not great at holding runners on. Add Ed Kirkpatrick’s bargain-basement catcher skills and some tough rolls, and you get a first inning with four singles, three stolen bases, and three runs scored.

But Fidrych hangs in there, and so does Kirkpatrick. Fidrych gets his first win. Kirkpatrick, for his part, sees the team win in each of his four unscheduled starts. It’s a strange, unpredictable world. Each of the players mentioned most frequently in this post, Fidrych, Munson, and Kirkpatrick, have some bad dice rolls looming over them. I guess we all do. So what do you do?

2 comments

  1. “Keep going until you can’t.” Thanks for bringing Ed Kirkpatrick into focus. My last Strat replay was the 1974 Reds. Kirkpatrick played a lot of first base that year. Bob Robertson had problems and Dave Parker wasn’t quite ready yet, so the outfield was Stargell-Oliver-Zisk. It was the last time he went over 200 AB.


  2. My working theory is Ed is the stalwart working man because he has the power for FOUR first names.
    Ed
    Kirk
    Pat
    Rick

    He also has quite a messy signature. I am often amazed at calligraphed baseball sigs are. I align with Eds…..messy…..hastily scrawled. Yet he does manage to get loopy.

    I am thrilled Ed is on your team…..
    Does strat have player attributes like Leadership, greed etc (OOTPB does)
    I would approve if you adjusted his leadership to great and see how that settles bird down.

    His 1975 card was one of first. Just hanging around with a catchers mitt……playing C behind duffy dyer and sanguillen.



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