Dice baseball was an offshoot of love for the game
August 7, 2020
Julio Enrique Gotay Sanchez … ever hear of him? According to Wikipedia, Julio Gotay was a “Puerto Rican professional baseball player, a shortstop and second baseman who played all or parts of ten seasons for the St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates, Los Angeles Angels, and Houston Astros of Major League Baseball.” He passed away on July 4, 2008 from prostate cancer at the age of 69.
It fails to mention in his biography that he was the heralded home run champion of the Scanlon Dice Baseball League in 1968. How could a somewhat obscure player, who hit only six home runs in his MLB career, lead the Scanlon circuit in home runs? Please read on.
Baseball was very popular among young boys in Scanlon from the 1950s to 1970s. The Minnesota Twins were a new MLB team to cheer for, with coverage in the local newspapers and games on KDAL 610 AM radio. Sather Park on Washington Avenue even added a new diamond to meet this demand. Kids took their baseball gloves with them everywhere, hooking them on the handlebars of their bicycles. Spare change they earned from delivering newspapers or mowing lawns was spent on Topps MLB baseball cards bought at Knickerbockers Grocery store on 27th Street and Dewey Avenue.
Summer days in Scanlon (suburb of Cloquet) started with baseball games at 9:30 a.m. sharp at Sather Park. You had to hop onto your bike after a little breakfast and before the “I Love Lucy” TV reruns were over to make it to the park on time. All were welcome to play. Depending on how many players would show up, teams were chosen, and the applicable special rules adopted. Left-handed batters could be an issue. Didn’t matter what the temperature was in those days, nobody wore shorts with the fear of sliding on the slightly rough Scanlon diamonds. Games, on the big Sather park field, could last a few hours.
After a short lunch break, the auxiliary baseball games were then played. This could be backyard wiffle or rubber ball, bunt ball, hot box, tennis ball, or even dice baseball. Have you ever heard of it? The game, in various forms, goes back more than a hundred years to the early days of Major League Baseball. All that is required is a pair of dice and maybe a piece of paper and a pencil.
In 1968, me and my buddies (Wennie, Hawk, and Jase) decided to have a full 162-game dice baseball season. So four teams total kept track of team and pitcher wins and losses, and individual player home runs.
Here’s how we played. First, we took our baseball cards and divided the players by all nine positions — pitchers, catchers, first baseman, shortstops, outfielders, and so on. We had to have our official player draft. We might not have had cards of all the players, but we had enough that each of the four teams were virtually All Star lineups. After all, this was the era of Willie Mays, Henry Aaron, Mickey Mantle, Harmon Killebrew, Bob Gibson, Carl Yastrzemski, Roberto Clemente, Juan Marichal, Tony Oliva, Brooks and Frank Robinson … and Julio Gotay.
We each shook the dice and the high number would get the first round choice, second-highest the second, on through the fourth team pick. We would then reverse the picking order for the second round.
Every one of us team “managers” had our favorite players, and that was respected by the other three team leaders. So, nobody took Killebrew but me, Wennie liked Roberto Clemente, Jase was a long time Mickey Mantle fan, and the Hawk always chose Henry Aaron. We all had our solid base players.
Once the teams were selected, each coach would arrange his starting lineup with his baseball cards with players 1-9 front to back. We figured out who was the home team, then the visiting club would start rolling the pair of dice. Just like in regular baseball, games were three outs per inning and nine innings in length unless there was a tie.
When I looked online, there were several dice combinations used, but this is how we played: Home run 1-1; triple 2-1; double 4-3; single 6-1; walk 6-4; on with an error 4-2; sacrifice, if runners on, 2-2, 3-3, 4-4, 6-6; and double play, if runners on, 5-5.
It’s basically luck with who hits the most home runs or which pitcher wins the most games. The leadoff hitter would, by odds, have the most at bats and subsequent chances for homeruns. Wennie had the dubious Julio Gotay, the Astros shortstop, as his leadoff hitter. I can still hear his chant as he rattled the dice in his hand in his pre-shake ritual “All the way with Julio Gotay.” Of course, Gotay won the home run title, beating out my Harmon Killebrew … a true-to-life home run hitter. Jase’s Tom Phoebus of the Orioles (who won a real World Series game and a Rookie of the Year award) won the pitching win crown.
With the coronavirus delaying the start of the Major League Baseball season, I wish I would have written this story earlier. It could have been something to do for bored baseball fans. Young baseball and softball advocates should give it a try. Maybe challenge your parents or grandparents. Dice baseball can be great fun, and no batteries required.
Steve Korby’s interest in writing goes back to when he was in fourth grade and editor of the Scan-Satellite school newspaper in Scanlon. He welcomes human interest stories and tales regarding Carlton County residents, sports, projects, history, and plans by email at [email protected]