Time Machine Baseball

“You once wrote, there comes a time when all the cosmic tumblers have clicked into place and the universe opens it’s self up for a few seconds to show you what’s possible.”

— Ray Kinsella

This page is about my new iOS app called Time Machine Baseball.  I’ve worked hard on it all Winter but in a way I’ve worked on it my whole life.

Baseball. Summertime.  Friends.  It doesn’t really get better than that for a neighborhood kid.  I remember going to the playground nearly everyday in the Summer for pick up games with the rest of the kids in the neighborhood.  I can see their faces in my mind right now – David, Mike, Larry, John, Vic, Chuck among others.  Chuck was also known as Stretch as he seemed to always try to turn a single into a double but most of the time turned it into an out.

The first major league game I attended was “Old Timer’s Day” in 1973.  I was there with my Father and Uncle Bob.  I was interested in the current Yankees of course – Murcer, Munson, White.  Many of their favorite old timer players were there and I got an appreciation for the older players that day.  Here is a short video  – Mantle vs Ford.

Later that weekend, my Uncle gave me the 1951 edition of “The Official Encyclopedia of Baseball” which I still have 43 years later.  I spent hours looking through it.  Finding a player here and there from my home town.  Reading stats of players I had heard about – Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and many others.  There was a section on the Hall of Fame at Cooperstown – just a short drive from my home town.  The next year my sister Joyce and her husband Kevin took me there.  It was amazing to see all the artifacts.

1951 Baseball Encyclopedia

1951 Baseball Encyclopedia

Time Machine Baseball

The modern game of Baseball has changed quite a bit since I was young.  No not too many rule changes other than the designated hitter and official replays.  The way the games are consumed has changed a lot.  There has been an explosion of popularity, salaries, and costs passed onto the baseball fan.  Games take a lot longer to play, routinely taking up to 4 hours.  Some of it is the style of play, many pitching changes and batters out of the box after every pitch.  Most of it is more commercials to pay for these exploding costs.  In our busy lives it’s just hard to find 4 hours to spend in front of the TV or radio.  I have to say it’s really hard to watch or listen to a complete game, I find myself just catching a few innings here and there.  The next day I end up reading an article about the game to find out what happened.  To be honest many times I don’t even take the time to do that so baseball has faded a bit to the background for me.

A year ago I had quite a commute to work – 71 miles each way.  So that put me in the car for 2 1/2 hours each weekday.  Most of the time I listen to podcasts, talk radio or music on the radio.  That is a lot of time to fill in a week and I found that I was either bored of that stuff or had listened and was caught up on my podcasts.  I asked myself why can’t I listen to the game on the commute?  Either I record it somehow, or get it some other way.  However I still have the dilemma that the games are so long – even too long for my commute!

I remembered reading about Ronald Reagan and how he had a job soon after graduating from College at a radio station in Iowa.  What he would do is get ticker tape updates on the Chicago games and then broadcast a re-creation of the game to his local listeners, doing the play by play based upon the ticker tape updates he was receiving.  So I thought way can’t I write software to do what Ronald Reagan did?  Time Machine Baseball was born!

I think the best way to use Time Machine Baseball is to pick a Year, pick a favorite team (or more) and just listen to the season in order.  My first time doing this I chose the 1927 Yankees.

Simulator Screen Shot Mar 7, 2016, 6.42.42 PM

They were known as Murderers’ Row because of their feared lineup.  Six members of the team are in the Hall of Fame.  What I learned was that they were not infallible.  They lost their share of games (44) and had stiff competition.  In one game the Yankees were down a run in the bottom of the ninth.  Earle Combs doubled and was on second base with one out.  Ruth and Gehrig both struck out.  And the starting pitcher had a complete game!  I learned about other players too – a fellow by the name of George Burns played for the Cleveland Indians and had some huge games against the Yankees.

One of my favorite features when using Time Machine Baseball is as I’d listen to the games, I could see the league standings as the season wore on.  Very much like looking in the newspaper for the standings like I used to do when I was a kid.

Today's Standings

Today’s Standings

Time Machine Baseball also includes statistics on the players so I could easily look up how they pitched or batted.  The app also includes a link to wikipedia where one can see and read more details about each player.  I found myself really becoming a fan of these players.  In a way, hearing them perform in the games made them come alive.  They became more than just a plaque on the wall.

Boog Powell's stats. The "More" button will load his wikipedia page.

Boog Powell’s stats. The “More” button will load his wikipedia page.

I remember the day I knew Time Machine Baseball would work – a game in May of ’27 at Fenway Park.  The Yanks were leading 2-0 in the bottom of the ninth.  The Red Sox scored 3 runs.  I was crestfallen.  And the reality was that the game was played 31 years before I was born.

There is a group of people at retrosheet.org who have taken the time to document major league baseball games.  They have made their work available and Time Machine Baseball is using the data to re-create the games.  A game takes about 20 minutes – no commercials, just the game!  This first version of Time Machine Baseball doesn’t include all the pitches – just the pitch that was the deciding pitch for an at bat.  That is why games can be finished so quickly.  The data includes pitch data but not for the earlier years.  So to keep a consistent experience I’m ignoring that data in this first release.  In a future release I would like to add pitches and make them optional to the user, if they don’t mind extending the game time.

My original thought on the app was to listen to the current games – just as I said above – to solve the problem of  “I missed last night’s game so let me listen to it this morning”.  Right now Time Machine Baseball cannot do this – the data costs for these games is quite a bit of money.  If there is a demand and people willing to subscribe I would love to add the feature in a future release.  I’m also working on other new features that didn’t make it into the first release.  If you have some ideas please tell me!