IP September 88

Well, stupid name or not, on the last weekend of the Gonzo baseball league my Marineville Titans took the closely fought Eastern divisional title and went on to narrowly lose 2-1 in the playoffs for the Gonzo World Series. The Titans went down to our arch-rivals the Berkeley Reds (always have liked that name), managed by Inside Pitch US baseball correspondent, Chuff Afflerbach. Final results aside, I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of the season and look forward to next year with interest. Expansion teams are on the cards so anyone wanting to join in the fun should drop me a line. I won't know the details of the real Cy Young awards for a while but I am hopeful that either of my aces, Danny Jackson or Frank Viola, will win one of the awards but with Orel Hershiser's late season burst and all-time shutout record, I feel he will get the nod in the NL. Congratulations to Chuff and I hope he goes all the way.

The baseball season draws to a conclusion and as I write it looks like the Dodgers, Mets, Oakland and a fight between the Bosox and the Tigers for the AL East. After last year's excesses, 1988 has seen a massive drop-off in home run production. The best explanation was heard from the excellent commentary team of Vin Scully and Joe Garagiola who put it down to the leather on the '87 balls being sewn more tightly. This would explain why the balls flew further and curveballs broke less - the stitching would have been less prominent and thus caused less air resistance. Simple really, and the theory was born out by the umpire teams who rub up the balls before each game. While obviously impossible to prove, it makes a lot more sense than the other explanations for the 'rabbit ball' which went from suggestions of the authorities trying to make the game more exciting to boost crowds to the rather fanciful blaming of the greenhouse effect. The final word on the conspiracy angle went however to the vociferous Andy Van Slyke, "They didn't wind the baseballs as tight. Home runs are down, runs are down, averages are down. Pitchers didn't get that much better. If the stats are down, the salaries go down. Don't you think 26 owners can't go to Rawlings and say 'Do this or we'll go to Wilson.'" Paranoia is alive and well on $1 million a year.

Three weeks on. Unlike the '87 playoffs where, for me, the two 'wrong' teams got through, I was well pleased with the this year's outcome where the Dodgers and A's came up with the goods. The NLCS was a classic and Hershiser was incredible. The A's looked unbeatable in their sweep over the Sox but the Boston team was playing way under par and my feeling is that the Series could be close. Sadly, the timing of this Sensation means I will have to report on the Series next time. PS See below! The only nasty aspect of the playoffs was the accusation made by Thomas Boswell that Jose Canseco was using steroids, apparently backed with documentary evidence. After the Johnson scandal, from now on there is going to be a very thin line between being a superb athlete and being a 'cheat' and doubts will accompany any superhuman feat until something is done to stop it. If Canseco did achieve his 40-40 season through the use of substances, (Does baseball have a similar policy to pro football on drugs?) I for one would be very surprised, but Boswell is no gutter journalist and I will await the outcome with interest.

So, Ellis is busy at work so I get to report on the Series. And what a series. As the man said, 'You gotta love this game'. If you asked for pre-series odds on the Dodgers to win it all they would have been long. If you wanted odds on a 4-1 drubbing they would have laughed. The chances must have been miniscule of Canseco hitting a grand slam and then going 1 for 18 or Mickey Hatcher hitting two homers or Kirk 'No Wheels' Gibson hitting a game winning homer off Eckersley, of all people. But all that happened and the Dodgers, the biggest underdog in years, deservedly showed everyone that they were no walkover and they did it without Fernando! I thoroughly enjoyed it anyway but must admit I was rooting for the A's - I have a sentimental spot for them as they were the first team I saw in the flesh and also Chuff follows them avidly. Game One prompted a few shouts I can tell you. A classic by any standards it pushed the boundaries of even 'Boys Own Stuff' events. Canseco's first grand slam, a mere line drive, was good enough for most great games but the amazing Gibson capped it all. Brilliant stuff and one of the most exciting games I've seen. Game two had a hard act to follow but the awesome Hershiser was on the mound who, as we were to find out, was the key player and easily the man of the Series. His brilliant shutout was just what the Dodgers needed and a two game lead is always tought to pull back, even if you are playing well. If he doesn't win the Cy Young now, I will be shocked. The A's started to spark in game 3 but that was really too late and the rest, with Hershiser pitching game 5, is history.

I thought the coverage was up to the usual high C4 standards and I enjoyed it all the more because I dodged the Herald Trib and USA Today thus avoiding knowing the results ahead of the coverage. Only awaking to the dulcet tones of Archie McPherson on Breakfast TV spoilt the Game 5 result, but by then I had guessed as much anyway. Kid Jensen was a better presenter than Old Bag Eyes but I don't think he knew his stuff - a few things gave it away but the pronounciation of Len Dickstra did it. That aside, the coverage now seems tried and tested and I don't remember seeing much, poor titles aside, in the way of new ideas. This is someone who five years ago would have watched baseball in black & white given the chance.

Best news of the month on the baseball front is the launch in the States of Starting Lineup Talking Baseball from Parker Bros. This is a mouthwatering stat-based game that I just have to get hold of. Brian Walker tells me it is a stadium layout with two consoles at either side into which the player cards, and presumably tactical instructions, are plugged. The attraction is that as the plays are resolved, two digitised voices commentate on the action. It sounds brilliant and despite the price, rumoured to be around $150, it is on my Christmas list. Still expensive at £1.50, but providing interesting and informed comment, is issue 6 of the Transatlantic Baseball Bulletin. Season summaries, predictions for the Series and book reviews round out a fine issue. The latest issue of First Base is also out and this really represents nothing less than a complete waste of money. A few pictures, a few weak articles and a whole bunch of ads. This is the pits.

Like thousands of sports fans I look forward to the Olympics and this year has been no exception. My preliminary viewing tactics were as follows: a) Avoid the interminable previews and those oh-so-witty puns - "Seoul Search for Coe", "Cram's brilliant Korea." Yawn. b) Avoid od'ing on the first week's swimming to get to the real hard stuff in week two c) Try to keep track of the videos using post- it notes and about ten E180's. d) Don't sleep for two weeks. Despite the planning, I have had difficulties seeing what I wanted to see and have missed a few events. The viewing problems have really revolved around the unfortunate timing which has made any selective viewing or taping all but impossible, one has to work after all. I suppose a long play video would have partially solved this but I can't imagine how I would watch five or six hours of coverage in time to keep up to date. As I remember, the LA Olympics were just about right as long as you didn't mind staying up but the Seoul games were tough. As a result I have seen very little consistent coverage and the whole thing has been something of a disappointment on that score.

I also suspect that the coverage of some of the more 'obscure' sports like volleyball, basketball, handball, fencing and cycling has been minimal. I have seen no baseball at all and cannot believe the time allocated to tennis, synchronised swimming and tae kwon do. The latter must surely rate as the most boring 'action' sport going. Two fighters bouncing around for ten minutes does not make for exciting television. I realise it is rather hopeful but what would have been nice would have been a post-games series of hour-long programmes, late at night possibly, summarising each sport. This would be ideal for the real fans of minority sports and would surely not cost too much to do?

Given that the footage was often identical on both BBC and Channel 4, it often came down to a choice of commentary team which mostly resulted in me choosing the Beeb, despite the obsequious Ron Pickering, simply because of the lack of commercial breaks. Initially I was a bit wary of Channel 4's hordes of has-been panelists but the approach gradually grew on me. Barry Norman was a revelation and had they got rid of the horrible little Elton Wellsby then I could well have chosen them over the clinical, minimalist BBC approach with Moorcroft's obvious 'insights' droning on at all too frequent intervals. Only the brilliant Des Lineham saved the day.

The drugs scandals were really overplayed but I can't resist sticking my views in. Basically, anyone not realising that this sort of thing goes on is naive beyond belief and the incredulous faces on the TV presenters were a joyful sight. It seemed obvious to most athletes, especially Lewis and Calvin Smith, that Johnson was using stimulants and this was strongly hinted at prior to the news breaking. The side effect of this was for apparent gross hypocrisy from the panelists when Christie was also under suspicion - Johnson was immediately branded a cheat but Christie was given the benefit of the doubt. Partially patriotism no doubt, but also possibly the fact that those in the know are reasonably aware of who's body is their own. Whatever the moral arguments over what Johnson did, I wholly endorse Barry Norman's view that when it comes down to it the immense pressures of money, sponsorship and fame were unacceptably high for Johnson or anyone else. The commercialism has become a terrible motivation but I am pleased to see he has at least some support back home in Canada. I feel genuinely very sorry for the man, as do I feel for the unfortunate Mike Tyson who fell for the scheming of his get rich quick wife. This is disgusting and if the court has any moral fibre she won't get a bean. Robin is an appropriate name.

The spectre of drugs and the sordid details of pseudo-professionalism aside, the sports I did manage to see were marvelous. For the first time I actually rather enjoyed the gymnastics and am amazed at some of the routines performed. Just how anyone does a somersault off their knees is beyond me. All that is needed is a revised system of marking as they are fast approaching the ridiculous situation where two girls will get straight tens in all the apparatus. Try sorting that one out.

I also enjoyed the diving, the archery and more so than in the past, the swimming with Biondi and 'Supersub' being the highlights. The track cycling was far better than the rather boring road races, due I believe to the poorly chosen circuit, and the bike technology has to be seen to be believed. I did question the rather unusual elimination rounds for the sprints though - surely the essence of the event is the one-to-one tactics so to effectively have a solo time trial struck me as odd. Sadly, I missed my favourite event, the team pursuit, which I was not too pleased about. Was it actually shown at all? I cannot say I am a great fan of hockey, it seems to be one of those games that is better played than watched, but I do recognise the achievement of the GB team. Some, including himself, would have us believe that Sean 'Spokesman for the Sport' Kerly was solely responsible for the victory. The man is pompous beyond belief and really gets on my wick.

The athletics always has its share of upsets and it was interesting to see just who would come up with the middle distance goods after all the petty pre-games squabbling. As it turned out, very few did from the GB team. The sprints were fine entertainment as ever and in general the track and field were very watchable. I thoroughly enjoyed the relays and thought Evelyn Ashford did superbly to win the 4x100. Overall the games were a fine spectacle and from the ceremonial scorching of the doves to those amazing fireworks at the end, the Koreans did themselves proud. And for the Americans, it must be a case of what a difference a boycott makes. They surprised me in how few medals they won, whether they were disappointed overall or if it was expected I do not know.

Big news this time is that those loveable chumps at the Animal Liberation Front are trying to blow me up. This is basically because my firm, Costain, are in the process of building a research facility for Glaxo and the curious thought processes of these people deemed us worthy recipients of their brand of terrorism. Tenuous link there methinks, presumably they will be ignoring the many firms doing similar work elsewhere. Some of you may have read in the paper about the bomb left in Maidenhead under a director's car and last week we had a full scale bomb scare at our building which left us outside for three hours while the dogs went in and sniffed out the whole five floors. Police everywhere, vans, tape, the lot. It also had a humorous side in that one of the temps working downstairs spotted a furtive looking guy who pulled up outside, pointed a remote out of the car window at the building, pressed it, and drove off! She got his registration number and that was the last we heard of it. Weird. Anyway, either he was a crank trying to switch to Channel 4 or he was trying to set something off. There was no publicity because we heard that the police were keen to keep it quiet to dissuade further attempts. Up till then I had no idea why it was called a bomb scare. It does exactly that, the thought of sitting on a bomb in your desk is not a happy one.

Since starting Inside Pitch I have seldom written much about music. The reason is that I have experienced something of a watershed in my tastes and cannot really get excited about the same bands I used to in the late seventies and early eighties. Neither do I listen to very much these days, my album collection has had only a dozen or so additions in the last two years and the rest rarely see the light of day. Quite simply, if I were to compile a piece similar to Ellis' last time it would be written from memories rather than very recent listening. This is all strange, but I feel it is now beginning to pass. This is helped by a recent purchase of a rather nice Walkman which sounds, subjectively, better than my main hifi. A depressing thought indeed. The excellent recording of The Four Seasons by the A.A.M. has been much listened to, as have Tom Wait's new live album, Philip Glass' soundtrack to Powaqaatsi (Thanks Geoff), Tracy Chapman's masterpiece, Michael Jackson's rather patchy Bad, George Michael's accomplished and mature Faith and Suzanne Vega's two albums, so with music of this quality around at the moment I suppose I may recover and a CD player purchase is planned for the new year.

Highlight of the month for me in the gaming field has been the arrival of three professional games magazines, whereas previously there was an empty gulf. I have to nail my colours etc now as I am currently doing some stuff for Brian Walker's Games International. Regardless of this fact, my comments below are unbiased (!) but embarrassingly enough I regard GI as easily the best of the bunch and I would be pleased to see that one alone each month but it does, fortunately, have rivals in the shape of Games Review Monthly and Games Monthly. The former is published by the Games World people and is a good magazine that shows a few signs of being rushed while the latter is a dated, turgid journal concentrating on the likes of Shogi and Backgammon. I have no axe to grind here further than being a keen gamer who is keen to read a good review and have a reliable source of news. I hope they all manage to carry on, which is surely the major hurdle, and that in all cases they Rounding out a good month for games media is the excellent newsletter of the North Shore Game Club. The club is based in Massachusetts and the newsletter is written superbly by Alan Moon, formerly of Avalon Hill and now, among other things, collecting and designing games. Alan has a vast collection and impressive knowledge of games, a sharp writing style and, like Sensation, tackles other topics as well as games. Reviews and news are spot on, timely and well composed, and in general make one wish that flights were cheap enough to attend a few meetings. This is what games zines are all about. Highly recommended, please see last issue for subscription details - at $15 per year it is a bargain.

The end is in sight on the games collecting front. Basically because of current space and free time restrictions, I would like to be in a situation where my games collection is reasonably 'complete', if such a thing is ever possible, leaving me to buy just magazines, new games and oldies I have still to acquire. The most annoying aspect is that many of the games I am now having trouble finding were readily available on the shelves about seven or eight years back, but I unfortunately wasn't in a position to buy them then. I calculate that I have only 20 odd 'collector' games and some old S&Ts to find and buy to get to this happy state, but many of those are out of print so if you have any games for sale, like those splendid gents at Sensationcon, please drop me a line and I will make you an offer on anything I am interested in. I am also a buyer of P.A. 16 and 17, S&Ts, F&M, Moves and All Star Replays. Lists welcome.

The free time angle has become important since doing a quick survey of the 250- odd games I have already. Of these I still want to play, or at least read and inwardly digest about sixty. Obviously, with every new purchase or review game this number grows. Playing an average of one or two games a week, this means I have over a year of gaming without playing new games and old favourites. What an appalling situation to be in. Rationalisation is called for, I think.

On the other side of the game collection, I am having a clear out of duplicates and 'others' at the moment and am interested in reasonable offers on the following games: Foreign Exchange, Gold, Dinosaurs of the Lost World, Raid on St Nazaire, Starship Troopers, Stocks & Bonds, Twilight 2000, Battlecars, Judge Dredd, Empire Builder, Shogun (MB), Auf Achse, Hunt for Red October, AirCav and Fireteam. Offers to the address below, you pay postage or collect in the central London area.

Just appearing over here is Steve Jackson's Murphy's Rules book which is basically a list of the rather silly unintended, and some deliberate, rules that have graced the industry over the years. The text is highlighted by some excellent cartoons and there are some real classics in there. Favourites were that in Squad Leader an infantryman can run at 25mph along a road while carrying a flamethrower, as long as a leader is spurring him on and in Car Wars a character cannot commit suicide with a .44 Magnum because it only does enough damage to cause unconsciousness. I have never really been a regular reader of the Space Gamer so this material is mostly new to me. I love the spoof D&D tables including the Random Pizza Generation Table and Costikyan's piece on Nuclear Winter is very on the ball. In the same vein, I was interested to read in the latest F&M that the average gamer has been playing for 11-15 years, owns 101-150 games and plays 16-20 hours per week. Phew! 20 Hours per week is going some for an average and is something I would like to have time to achieve. Jeez, that it three hours per day! I think they must use the same computer to compile the stats as WWW do for their game ratings.

Even with the much vaunted power of the Amiga and Atari ST computers, it seems to me that we are still waiting for decent strategy games to appear. There is no shortage of marvellous arcade stuff and the mid-range, including the likes of Defender of the Crown and F18 Interceptor, is coming along nicely but there is very little yet to tax the old brain cells or to rival any boardgame. I have probably mentioned before the interesting looking Fire Brigade from Panther Games which, according to reviews, represents the current state of the art. It is due for release on the main machines in late September and I will review it as soon as a copy gets to me. While waiting for the Australians to post this one, I have been buying a few games to see if there is life out there yet. The first comment regards price. Each of these games cost me £25 and that is ridiculous. Serves me right for buying them I suppose. Anyway, the first one is Hunt for Red October, billed as an in depth strategy game simulating the actions in the book. When the film comes out, I think I will have the set - book, game, film, computer game. Sadly, of the bunch, the computer game is among the weakest which isn't saying much given the quality of the boardgame. The graphics are nice, it is very easy to play using the on screen icons but the manual is pathetic and gameplay offers very little - it boils down to getting across the Atlantic very quietly while avoiding the Russians and trying to rendezvous with the Yanks. We did it first time and were either very lucky or the game is a bummer - I suspect the latter. What we couldn't find out how to do was actually win the game - the Yanks seemed very reluctant to go for the scuttle and retrieve the Red October. Strange. Hints appreciated please.

The second game is Empire and this one is rather better. The background is fictional and concerns the wars between three countries with silly names. This aside, what we have is a generic WWII type strategy game involving production, exploration, conquest and combat fought over a very large 'world' map. It allows up to three players which can be human or computer controlled, the computer opponent being very proficient. Most troop types are covered including armies, ships, carriers, subs, transports and planes. You even get to name your ships. Movement is completely hidden and you start the game not even knowing the terrain around your own home base. This is a game that has very simple mechanics (and graphics) yet is very gripping in play. When you have exhausted the maps supplied, there is a map editor to design your own and you can also amend the parameters allowing for very tough opponents. I have already put in a good few hours at the screenface on this one and look forward to many more.

If there is anyone out there who would be interested in corresponding on the subject of designing and programming games as above, I would be very keen to hear from them. This is something I have had loosely in mind for ages and would actually like to get something going, even if it means deciding it isn't a feasible task to write something GOOD. I suppose it would be ideal if you had an Amiga, ST or an IBM PC but I guess that narrows down the range just a little. Please drop me a line if interested.

After last month's excesses on all-time best films, this time we return to some sort of normality. Film of the month is the patchy but impressive Beetlejuice. Best summarised as Ghostbusters in reverse, thankfully it is far better than that much hyped film. The scenario is reasonably straightforward: a young couple with a comfortable Laura Ashley lifestyle are killed in a car crash and find themselves trapped in their house as ghosts. Their beloved house is bought by a family of repulsive trendies (surely not yuppies as has often been written) and the ghosts recruit the help of Betelgeuse, a ghost specialising in human-exorcism, to be rid of them. The setting is perfect for numerous excellent one-liners and the special effects are amazing. Sadly, the film is spoilt by its main problem - pacing. The initial 30 minutes or so is very slow and has only sparks of humour that indicate something of what is to follow. The rest of the film is mainly excellent with Michael Keaton turning in a stunning performance as the eponymous spook. With Spielberg at the controls it may have been a classic but it is just possible that the story was only long enough to fill the hour and the rest was padding. Either way, one to see.

After much deliberation I have finally decided on a holiday. I am off to the States in a couple of day's time and will be taking in California and meeting Chuff again after a couple of years. The middle weeks are undecided and I may possibly go to Hawaii, Mexico or Colorado and then will be returning to the Boston area to attend a North Shore Games club meeting and will also hopefully see some hockey and basketball. I may even take in a Steelers game but with the way they're playing I won't be missing much. Reports next time with the now traditional Inside Pitch 'Year in Review'. You can hardly wait, can you?

Be seeing you.

Mike Siggins, 129 Ardmore Lane, Buckhurst Hill, Essex IG9 5SB.

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