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What would baseball be if it were like steeplechase?

Here’s an offbeat idea to look at the game we love.

Photo By David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile via Getty Images

As almost all sports content is now rumor-based or fantasy-style, I've rolled the clock back to the latter. Strat-O-Matic is my preference, in part because I am that useless on a computer. Cards and dice, for me. I have a 52-team SupraLiga, though some teams are far better than others. As I write this on Wednesday, the Illinois team just advanced to the SupraLiga Steeplechase Baseball semifinals. Which begs an obvious question; what is Steeplechase Baseball?

I came up with the idea over a decade ago, though it didn't have a name until April 2020. Whether you know or not, steeplechase is a (generally lengthy) running event, where you run, jump, land in water, and run some more. And jump some more. And land in more water. The premise of Steeplechase Baseball (which should never be played in reality) stems from something that has frustrated Cubs fan the last few years. That pitcher with a 6.50 ERA that gives down the Cubs offense for just long enough to get it to the leverage relievers. Puke. Steeplechase Baseball tends to limit those events.

Steeplechase has two main differences from real baseball, and if you are a "card and dice baseball" fan, it should translate to any version of any game. Instead of nine innings (with the usual caveats), Steeplechase goes until one of two things happen. Fifteen innings, or someone completes an inning with at least 13 runs. It takes a while, but you'd better have a bullpen. Especially since days off between games are pooh-poohed. Use your closer for three innings? Cool. He's out for two games, now. Your top starter just tossed 12 brilliant innings? Nice. He's likely done for the tournament. Steeplechase is fantastic for tourney play. The best team might not win, but one of the top few will, as the bullpens are taxed beyond belief as soon as a starter "only" goes five or six innings. Unless the offense bails him out.

(It's an interesting mindset managing a team that realizes they're about to incinerate their bullpen. The closer enters in the sixth to try to give the offense two more cracks. I had a game I just completed where a team down four in the 14th used three pitchers to lefty-righty-lefty five or six Hall of Famers. It didn't work. Honus Wagner with the game-winner.)

"Yadda yadda. Everyone getting their geek on. But, fantasy sports don't matter. You even admitted this game should never be really played on a field."

True.

However, before the idea of Steeplechase Baseball, I didn't really care about bullpens. Play enough Steeplechase, and something bizarre happens. You realize the value of a reliever who can pitch two innings and only give up three runs.

For instance, you're partway through a tourney, managing the Cubs. Whatever your roster, you prioritize your four or five best relievers. However, a reliever that throws in successive days, or for more than an inning is out for tomorrow's tilt against St. Louis, in a game for the finals berth. The offense is humming, and the starter (Jose Quintana) ran out of gas in the eighth. You need a reliever, and the pen might need to give you seven. However, their bullpen is coughing up fumes. The Cubs lead 11-2, and you want to save everyone valid for tomorrow. Plus, their pitcher is due to hit third, and they're almost out of arms.

You'd love to bring in an innings-muncher to throw strikes. Eventually, after enough Steeplechase back in the day, that became part of my mindset. Throw strikes, not center cut. If they score three runs, no problem. If absolutely needed, get someone up who is of more value.

Knowledge isn't so much a bolt of lightning, as seeping rain. Once I realized a pitcher that forced contact can have value, it expanded. Yeah, 97 on the corners is better, but those types are, unsurprisingly, tough to locate. If a pitcher has an ERA of 6 over the course of a real season, a 6 ERA is totally acceptable in a blowout. Either way. If you believe in some method of "innings limits" over the course of a season, getting four outs from you 12th reliever is of value.

It goes one step further. In most dice or computer baseball games, the player is who he is. There is no method (normally) for player improvement. Which leads to an evil mindset, far too often. The thought that a player both is who he is and is unlikely to ever change. Players change all the time. The Yankees released Quintana. Kirby Yates was a waiver wire addition. The Dodgers signed Max Muncy off the street. Players get better. Players get worse. Play enough varieties of strategy games, you end up asking questions. Dismissive non-answers aren't acceptable.

Why were the Cubs getting so little from the draft?

Why did it seem so many players had their careers launch once they left the Cubs?

What would be some methods to acquire talent that actually gets better?

Steeplechase, before it had a name, didn't lead me to those questions directly, but it didn't hurt me in my voyage to asking more questions. Whether they are good ones, or not. One final one.

Why water in steeplechase?

Sammy Sosa homers twice. Frank Thomas homers, scores twice, and Ernie Banks provides the exclamation point with a three-run bomb in the 15th, as Illinois upends Pennsylvania 12-5.

Al Spalding pitches into the 15th, and Guy Bush gets the last three outs, after Pedro Strop made the 14th interesting. Illinois gets the winner of California and Michigan (lots of Tigers) in the final.