Eric Mayer

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Ralph Houk passed away a few days ago. I'm a little late mentioning it here. I've reached the age where I could probably blog every day about someone whose obituary I just read.

Houk was associated with the Yankees baseball team, like owner George Steinbrenner and announcer Bob Sheppard, who also died recently. He managed the team during the early sixties, the same years I managed them. Houk sat in the dugout at Yankee Stadium next to Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris and Whitey Ford while I sat at my desk, next to the guppies in my fish tank, Strat-O-Matic baseball cards in one hand and three dice in the other.

What a thrill when the red die stopped at three, and the two white dice rattled across the desk top and came up four and two, allowing the Mick to blast a fastball into the upper deck as Mel Allen called the shot -- "That ball is going...going...gone!" In my imagination anyway.

Strat-O-Matic doesn't give the manager his own card, only the players, but I knew I was taking Ralph's part in my Yankee drama. Not that I was allowed to spit chewing tobacco in my bedroom. The Ralph Houk I played was even more successful than the real manager. His Yankees won every year. Not surprising considering I got to make the opposing managers' moves too. I guess the other guys didn't always employ the smartest strategies but in my baseball narrative Ralph Houk invariably outfoxed his rivals.

Each baseball season is a saga. It's the story aspect that I've always loved. Baseball simulation games like Strat-O-Matic allow one to replay seasons and, perhaps, find a completely different story, starting with the identical players, teams and schedule.

I wonder has a writer ever returned to a published novel, starting out with exactly the same characters, setting, and situation -- the same first chapter perhaps -- but then replayed the story in a different manner?

How did I get from Ralph Houk to novels? I guess for me everything is about stories. He was a memorable character in a classic tale I very much enjoyed way back when.

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