This ran on the old blog in July 2009. It is being reprinted in honor of the 44th anniversary of Roe Skidmore’s moment in the sun.
Back around 1984, when computing was all about fun, I received a baseball game for the family Apple II+.
The game was text-based, except for a window shaped like a baseball field where a small dot representing a baseball would amble into play.
You could always tell when it was headed out of play — i.e., over the fence — because home runs traveled faster than any other kind of batted ball.
(Upon further review, I think the game was Macro League Baseball, which looks familiar, though not 100 percent like what I have in mind. Maybe what I had was an earlier, simpler generation of Macro League Baseball.)
Graphics-based games weren’t much back then. You could move a blocky “player” back and forth across the screen, clicking the button on your joystick or paddle at the appropriate time.
So I preferred my largely text-based game. It came with 20 real-life teams programmed in, with actual players and everything, and you could program in as many additional teams as your geeky pre-teen heart desired.
One of the teams I programmed in was the 1970 Cubs, based pretty much entirely on the legend of Roe Skidmore.
I’d learned about him in Baseball Digest magazine, which interviewed a retired big-leaguer every month for a column called “The Game I’ll Never Forget.”
In a creative masterstroke, they chose one month to interview Skidmore — a career minor-leaguer who only played one game in the big leagues, making a solitary successful pinch-hit appearance in September 1970.
After entering his team into the game — and giving him a roster spot over any number of better-qualified teammates — I discovered how brilliantly Skidmore’s brief career translated to the computer world.
Y’see, the game was pretty firmly based on statistical performance.
If you had a player who hit .250, and he came up four times in a game, he would almost inevitably go 1-for-4 (unless he managed to work a tired pitcher for a walk and went 1-for-3.)
If you started a pitcher who averaged six innings per start in the real world, he would almost always lose his mojo in the seventh inning.
In that world, Roe Skidmore was pure dynamite, because a 1.000 real-world batting average translated into a 1.000 computer-world batting average.
You name it — Walter Johnson with a fastball, Sandy Koufax with a curve — nobody could get Roe Skidmore out.
All he ever hit were singles, since that’s all he ever hit in the real world. I think I got a double out of him once and felt as if I’d received a birthday present.
Still, a guaranteed hit is a guaranteed hit, even if it’s only a single, and it was a nice thing to have at one’s disposal.
There were a few early games when I started him in the field, choking the golden goose for four singles a game.
In a totally uninformed but correct guess, I had entered his data into the game as a first baseman. He never played the field in his only big-league game, and I had no Internet to look him up with in 1984, so I had no idea what he actually did with a glove on his hand.
But by and large, I thought it coolest to keep him in my back pocket until the late innings, sending him up to pinch-hit when I absolutely needed a hit and/or a run.
(Occasionally I’d do something goofy like send him in to pinch-run if I was ahead or behind by a large margin. I wish I could see a statistical roundup of his career under my management. That would be one of the weirder lines anybody’s ever posted.)
I can still remember a couple of games where I called his number in the bottom of the ninth, with a runner in scoring position … and did he come through?
Damn right, he did.
I guess it’s good for a boy to have things he can count on; and in the weird green-tinted cyber-ballparks of 1984, Roe Skidmore was one of baseball’s few truly sure things.
In my own personal Cooperstown, his plaque remains bronzed and resplendent.
And in the world of Macro League Baseball, Ted Williams still watches Roe Skidmore walk down the street and says, “There goes the greatest hitter who ever lived.”