WORTHINGTON -- There are certain folks in this world who are hugely competitive, and hugely competitive in things that make you shake your head.
Hall of Fame Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach was so competitive in everything, that he challenged the team’s fastest wide receivers to sprint races. Constant losing didn’t deter him. He was convinced he'd win the next time.
In these times where real baseball is a dream rather than a reality, statistical dice baseball games like Strat-O-Matic and APBA are making a resurgence. The companies, which have been around before your grandfather was born, sponsor big tournaments.
There are smaller tournaments everywhere, and leagues. The Star-Tribune recently produced an article featuring a 71-year-old APBA veteran who plays entire seasons, keeping detailed statistics. He’s having a ball of a time, apparently, in the age of stay-at-home orders.
There is an APBA league in Worthington where four baseball fans get together at The Globe newspaper building. Seasons come and go, players come and go, too, but for the last two seasons the foursome has been the same, featuring editor Ryan McGaughey, sports editor Doug Wolter (myself), and part-time sports writers Aaron Hagen and Dominic Burns.
You wouldn’t think four grown-ups would let random dice rolls get the best of them, but it happens. APBA brings out the competitive natures in every baseball fan, and occasionally the results can be both unpredictable and hilarious.
The last season was the fourth for Aaron Hagen. After that fourth season (every player plays a six-game schedule), he had had enough. In every season, Hagen has either finished last or tied for last.
“At some point, I had to figure my luck would turn. It did not. In the latest season, I was winless. Not that I didn't have chances; there was the epic 10-inning loss to Ryan, which he won in walk-off fashion. Not even a lineup that featured Mookie Betts and David Ortiz or a rotation of Justin Verlander and Chris Sale could save me. How one person can continually be so unlucky is a mystery.”
You would think that Hagen, who works at the local Mike Woll Investment Office, would be luckier with numbers. APBA is played with dice, and the roll of the dice corresponds to numbers on individual player cards. Every player has a card designed to produce similar statistics to what they’d compiled in their previous real-life seasons.
Odds say that Hagen might have one bad season, but sooner or later (probably sooner) his luck would change.
He took losing in stride until the 0-6 campaign, which ended in early March. But after making his last out, he said he’d never play APBA again.
But there have been other “who’d a thought” moments in the Globe League, too. There was one player who, in the very first season, salivated over his Joe DiMaggio card. But Joe hit just .220. In another year, somebody owned Barry Bonds’ monster 73-homer card. But Bonds barely batted .100 and hit just one homer. Last season, Burns thought he’d dominate with his ridiculous Mike Trout card. But Trout let him down big-time.
Over the course of a 162-game APBA season, DiMaggio, Bonds and Trout would have come around. But as they say in baseball, anything can happen in a short series.
Which brings us to Ryan McGaughey. Ryan won the recent season with a 5-1 record. He always wins. He can’t be beaten, in fact. Lucky? As strange as Hagen’s misfortune is, McGaughey’s good fortune is just as strange.
Understandably, the other four league members are not impressed.
“I feel like I've become both the New York Yankees and Duke Blue Devils of our APBA league. Yes, it's true that I've been dominating the opposition over the last couple of years, but I'm not the organizer of some sort of evil empire. I'm just lucky, and the others aren’t,” explained the league champion.
Since March, however, Hagen has softened a bit.
“Unfortunately, with everything going on in the world, our next season has been put on hold. Despite declaring, ‘I will never play again’ after going winless, we all knew that wasn’t true. So now, while we wait for life to get back to normal, I’m stuck with the sour taste in my mouth of a winless season. I know my rolling will be better next time. It has to be, right?”
As for McGaughey, APBA has offered a learning opportunity for his 12-year-old son, Zach, who sometimes appeared in-season to roll dice for his dad -- with usually impressive results (is good luck a family trait?)
But finally, in this last season, Zach’s luck seemed to run out.
“It seemed to change his whole opinion of the game,” said Ryan. “I’ve told him, ‘Zach, sometimes you’re lucky, sometimes you're not -- and you’re never Aaron.”