The ever humble host and moderator, Kevin Cluff, of the APBA Between The Lines forum on Delphi (http://forums.delphiforums.com/apbabtl/messages), has become a regular household name among those who play APBA and Baseball for Windows. APBA Journal readers from the last few years of the Journal (1999-2001) read his Computer Corner column. APBA Convention attendees know Kevin as a regular guest over the last 15 years, as well as a very deserving member of the APBA Hall of Fame. As the BTL Forum host since 2012, the firm yet friendly nature Kevin has, is exactly what was needed to maintain a sense of community and sportsmanship among the regular visitors.
I’ve gotten to know Kevin personally over the last few years, since the Twin Cities APBA Baseball Tournament “committee” (pictured below, clockwise from Kevin standing, Bruce Tyler, Leroy Arnoldi, Darrell Skogen and myself) formed the semiannual regional tournament.
Kevin’s knowledge of APBA Baseball, the card sets, the data disks for BBW, and his all-around baseball knowledge are encyclopedic in nature. An example of Kevin’s baseball passion is that he will never hesitate to comment on current Minnesota Twins player personnel, management, scouting, etc, his thoughts and opinions cover the gamut. This is die-hard baseball fan knowledge which does not come from just reading in a box score or a game write-up. It is an example of his passion for baseball, which translates directly into his love for APBA Baseball.
Kevin is in good company, when it comes to a who’s who of APBA. Longtime APBA players, historians and employees would all consider Kevin a true friend.
(Attending the official APBA Convention in 2014, standing from left: Bill Blair – 2012 HOF, Roy Langhans – 2001 HOF, Pete Simonelli – 2005 HOF, Kevin Cluff – 2012 HOF)
Kevin is one of 29 APBA Hall of Famers, nominated and elected based on their contributions to APBA and the APBA Community. Kevin has been invaluable in his help with the annual APBA Baseball Season Disk which comes out each December, going back to 2001. The on-going day-to-day moderation of the APBA Between the Lines forum is handled flawlessly by Kevin.
Kevin will tell you that playing in the APBA Convention tournament is 2nd to just being there, having a chance to reunite with old APBA friends, etc. But good things have a tendency to happen to good people, as was the case for Kevin, winning the official APBA Convention tournament with the 1998 Yankees this past June (2015) in Alpharetta, GA. Kevin’s tourney titles are beginning to pile up as he also won the first TCABT tourney back in 2014, managing the 1927 Yankees.
Kevin and I live only a dozen miles from each other in the south metro Twin Cities … this is one interview I probably could have conducted in person 😉 I’ll let Kevin tell the story, as he answers several questions about his life growing up, and his involvement with APBA over the years.
Onto the questions for Kevin Cluff …
Jimsapbabarn question #1: Tell us about yourself, outside of APBA.
Kevin Cluff: I was born in Mesa, Arizona, in 1963. My dad moved us to Southern California (Covina, LA County) in 1968. I grew up on the Dodgers, as a result. Covina was a great place to grow up in the 70s, small town feel but part of the LA megalopolis. Somehow my dad found a shortcut (through Solano Canyon) to Dodger Stadium and we could get to the parking entrance in about 20 minutes.
I have two brothers and a sister. My older brother is Cody. Younger brother is Curtis. Baby sister is Lori.
I went to Northview High School in Covina. Northview is where I garnered my sole claim to MLB fame.
My freshman year we had about 90 guys on the football team (yes, this is my claim to MLB fame, but I didn’t play baseball in high school, so it has to be a football story). Early on, sometime in late August, they started using this depth chart board, and we all had our name on some position on the board (this was how I learned where they thought I was going to play). I was 4th on the depth chart for nose tackle (middle defensive lineman). Then one day, I was 3rd (don’t know why, there was no discernible reason for the change, we hadn’t even started to play games yet). Well, the guy who was 3rd and now was 4th was so incensed that I was ahead of him on the depth chart that he quit the team to “concentrate on baseball.”
That kid’s name was, Keith Lockhart, who some may remember as a secondbaseman for the Atlanta Braves. And to think, he owes it all to me!
(Keith Lockhart in action for the Atlanta Braves)
In addition to Keith, Rob Wilfong and Kevin Bell also graduated from Northview High School in Covina. The Roenicke brothers graduated from Edgewood High School in West Covina, which no longer exists, but their father worked at Northview High School for 15 years or so.
Anyway . . . I started working for Honeywell in 1990, in their old Protection Services Division. However, in 1994 they moved me to Minnesota. At the time, Honeywell was big in Minneapolis, and I was working in their corporate headquarters on 4th Avenue and 28th street. Honeywell merged with Allied Signal in 1999 and moved most of their Minneapolis presence out of state. Allied Signal was based in Morristown, New Jersey, and that is where Honeywell is now. Eventually they sold our division, and now our small division is owned by Stanley Black & Decker.
I’m a SQL developer for our division, which is a full service alarm company. We install, service and monitor alarm systems in homes and businesses. The funny thing about working in IT, for me, is that the reason I initially bought a computer (in 1987) in the first place was to play APBA. I am largely self-taught on the computer. I really owe my current job to APBA, without APBA I would have never been interested in computers in the first place!
I met my wife here in Minnesota and we were married in 2000. We have 3 kids, ages 9, 10 and 11. We are active in our church (we are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – as the Cluff family has been since 1833).
(Circa 2005: Emma Cluff, Kevin Cluff, and longtime revered APBA Game Co. employee, Skeet Carr)
Jimsapbabarn question #2: What are your favorite sports and sports teams (from your time growing up to present day)?
Kevin Cluff: After Church and Family, Baseball reigns supreme in my life. My dad took me to many Dodger games growing up. We used to sit in the upper deck right behind home plate. It was $1.50 for my dad’s ticket and 75¢ for mine. This was early to mid-70s. I become a big baseball fan, and a big Dodger fan.
I played little league baseball and high school football. I was an adequate high school athlete, nothing special, and I soon realized my natural position of fan. I tried to follow the Rams, but Baseball is and was the game for me.
When I moved to Minnesota in 1994, I was a Dodger fan. I don’t know how many reading this remember the strike years of 1994 and 1995, but it was a difficult time to be a baseball fan. After the strike/lockout was settled in 1995, MLB started what they called the Baseball Network. What it meant was that I rarely saw any teams on TV besides the Twins, Cubs and Braves. I actually got quite sick of the Twins in 1995, they weren’t very good and I saw too much of them. I was wearing an Indians hat to the Twins-Indians game in 1995 when Puckett was beaned in his last Major League Plate Appearance.
And, to make matters worse for this Dodger fan . . . While I’m in Minnesota. . . . Peter O’Malley sold the Dodgers … They traded Mike Piazza (in really poorly thought out trade) . . . . And worse of all, I naturally never heard Vin Scully. It eventually became difficult for me to identify with the Dodgers, with all that going on.
About 1998 or so, the Twins started a serious rebuilding effort (“Get to know them!” Was the marketing slogan). I love rebuilding. The Dodgers used to rebuild. Then Fred Claire (GM from 1987 to 1998) said they had to reload, they couldn’t afford to rebuild in their market. Well, that philosophy failed to win anything for the next 20 years or so.
But the Twins were rebuilding. David Ortiz, Todd Walker, LaTroy Hawkins, Corey Koskie, Matt Lawton and all these young kids started coming up for the Twins, and it was fun to see them develop (or not, Marty Cordova never did what I expected, for example).
Slowly, I fell in love with the Twins organization and their players. Eventually XM radio and the MLB Extra Innings package brought the Dodgers (and Vin!) back into my life (though the west coast start times are brutal when you have kids and a “regular hours” job).
As of now . . . . Twins fan. Then Dodgers (although . . . the Matt Kemp trade made me mad, again . . . I expect them to start developing their own players again soon – and keep them!) . . . Then Brewers. I would like to see the Cubs in the series. I rooted for the Red Sox too, until they won, now enough is enough already for them (and the Giants – though I never actually rooted for the Giants!).
Basically, I’m just a big baseball guy. 12 months a year, baseball. That’s for me.
Jimsapbabarn question #3: How did you discover APBA?
Kevin Cluff: My older brother, Cody, and his friends had started a League using All-Star Baseball. I wasn’t involved, but I did inherit the game when they moved on to APBA. I’m not 100% sure if they had another game between All-Star Baseball and APBA, or not, I know my brother looked at an SOM game at a toy store but didn’t buy it.
Anyway, at least by 1973 (1972 cards) they had switched to APBA. The ’72 cards are the earliest cards we had around the house, so I assume that was the first year. I was playing All-Star by myself and I really loved it. After that summer, I inherited the 1972 APBA cards and started playing APBA by myself. I was 9 the summer of 1973, but I was probably 10 when I got those cards (October birthday).
They had a pretty small group for a league, 3 or 4, so in 1974 they asked me to join the league. I was really too young (10 that summer) but they let me play anyway (they were desperate for an extra manager). We picked teams, not players, and then played those teams. I picked the Padres first (My little league team was the Padres) and a couple of the guys laughed at me for it, and I know I also had the Rangers too (brutal).
One strong memory of that season is Ivan Murrell’s card (he was on the Padres in 1973). I wasn’t particularly adept at reading the cards at that time, but I knew his 1-5-6-6 numbers were good (I had played APBA by myself in 1973 enough to know that). It wasn’t until that league had gone on for a while before I found out that it wasn’t really a very good card. I remember my brother explaining the card to me (after I kept insisting that it was a good card, as I recall). Beside the power numbers, Ivan was short on hits and had a 13-13.
(1973 APBA Ivan Murrell card)
I don’t think I ever won a game. My brother had to keep nixing trades that I was willing to make with one of the guys (Gus!).
I kept playing solitaire, and after that season I inherited the ’73 cards and mixed them in with the ’72 cards. I created draft leagues where Aaron (1-1-1-6-7) and Hal King (1-1-1) and Mike Corkins (1-1-1-6; a pitcher) and I think Steve Dunning (1-1-1-6-7; a pitcher) were all playing (DH, except for Aaron – I thought the DH was normal, I was so young in 1973!).
(The “1-1-1” 1973 APBA cards for Hank Aaron, Harold King and Mike Corkins)
I didn’t buy my first set until 1978 (14 years old). It was the first time that the APBA box had my name on it. Sweet!
The next year, the letter with the new APBA flyers had my name on, and that was a big thrill to me. Eventually, someone at APBA must have noticed that my brother and I had the same address, and they lumped our names together and sent just the one letter. That wouldn’t have been so bad, except they had one of my brothers friends name on his envelope with his name (Gus!) – the same guy who was always trying to cheat me in a trade when I was 10!
More than 40 years ago, now. APBA has always been there for me. It’s strengthened my relationship with my brother, brought new friends into my life, and taught me how to analyze baseball in a way that most fans never can. It has been a friend more than a Hobby.
I’m thankful that my brother sent away for that brochure. I’m thankful that Richard Seitz made it all possible. I can’t imagine my life without it. It’s a temporal pleasure, but it is a good and wholesome one, and it has taught me a lot.
Jimsapbabarn question #4: How did your parents treat your APBA hobby?
Kevin Cluff: Mostly, APBA baffled my parents, I think.
When the new cards would come in the mail each year, I would take the box up to my room and stay there all afternoon and evening with the new cards, not stopping for dinner. So one year, my mom saw the package first and hid it until after dinner. I was really mad. <G>
I remember a conversation between my older brother (Cody, the one who played APBA), my dad and I. We were all talking about something, and Cody and I agreed that we didn’t want to participate in whatever the topic was, because “we had done that already.” My dad looked at us and said, I can’t believe you feel that way and yet you still play APBA after all these years. My dad worked hard, all the time it seems. I don’t think he ever considered spending as much time as I did on anything as unnecessary as a game.
On a similar point, my parents couldn’t help notice that I spent a lot more time on APBA than I did my homework, while I was in school.
Jimsapbabarn question #5: You began writing the Computer Corner/Baseball for Windows column in the APBA Journal in the late 1990’s until the Journal’s end in the early 2000’s. When did you first subscribe to the APBA Journal and how did you end up taking over the Computer Corner column from Phil Medon?
Kevin Cluff: Well, Cody again. My brother subscribed to the APBA Journal, starting in the early 80s. He let me read them when he was done. A friend of mine (Ed Meek – also of Northview High School) loaned me some of the older journals, specifically to help me understand how to create an APBA card (this, after he got a peek at some of my attempts at creating cards).
When I moved to Minnesota in 1994 I had to get my own subscription. In early 1995 I sent Eric Naftaly a letter, showing him some test results I had gathered from BBW (showing hit values of various PRNs). Eric called me and we talked about it a little, and I did some more work on it and sent it to him again. Eric ran it as an article instead of a letter to the editor. It ran in the June, 1995, edition.
(Kevin Cluff on right, rolling vs former AJ Publisher/Owner, Eric Naftaly – 2006 HOF on left, during 2005 APBA Convention)
It was actually quite exhilarating to talk to someone who knew as much about APBA as Eric does. I remember being really pumped about the first call and how helpful and friendly he was. Now that I know Eric, I know that he is that way with everyone. He is a great person, as kind as he is smart.
My second article for the APBA journal ran that same year in November. It was the analysis of the Cards created by WinDraft from the Encyclopedia import. I had created some disks through the import, and then converted them back to the DOS Game format, and saw the cards in Wizard. It was shocking, and a little exhilarating, since I felt like I was the only person, outside of Miller Associates, who had seen how ugly those cards were (effective, but aesthetically displeasing).
(Editor note: Because of this, Joe Sweeney wound up writing the “Disk Unscrambler” utility which took the ugly BJE created cards and formatted them into traditional APBA format, IE, if the player had a result of “1”, the “1” result was placed at “66”, etc … found here along with Sweeney’s many BBW utilities – http://www.makojo.com/bbdesc.html#dskunscr)
That article on the Encyclopedia created cards also drew interest from Miller Associates. After some back and forth emails with Bill Schindel, Miller Associates slightly changed the algorithm of the Play Result Number placement for the cards that were created from the import. That was a fairly satisfying result, for me.
After that Miller Associates just started sending me new versions of BBW to test. I didn’t really have the time to spend on it like I would have wanted, but it seemed like an honor so I just accepted the disks and did the best I could to help out with the testing.
Eric put me on the APBA Journal staff in 1996. In 1999 Eric asked me if I would succeed the great Phil Medon on the Computer Corner beat. I was flattered, of course. I knew I couldn’t do it as well as Phil did, but I did the best I could for a couple of years. It was no coincidence that I stopped writing the column at the same time my daughter, first child, was born.
(Kevin Cluff’s first “Computer Corner” column in the APBA Journal, Issue #6, 1999)
Note, both Kevin and I lived in Savage, MN at the time, as shown by my address label on the back … Kevin, we should have gotten this TCABT thing started long ago!:
Jimsapbabarn question #6: I know you play a part in the disk/card creation for APBA today, tell us more about how you began working for APBA?
Kevin Cluff: I went to the 2001 APBA Convention in Lancaster, which was pretty awesome. It was the first time I got to go to the APBA building on Millersville road, which my wife and I did a day or two before the convention began. I hope I’m not over-selling it when I say that it was really a dream come true, but it was. APBA was not in the store front any longer, but I got to meet Skeet Carr and go into the APBA bar area, get pictures with Skeet and just really feel 14 years old again. What a thrill.
As the convention was winding up I was hanging around and talking with Skeet and the subject of APBA’s computer game, Baseball for Windows, came up and somehow I gave Skeet the impression that I knew a little bit about the way the game worked. Skeet told me that he had just taken over the tech support duties for BBW (from Miller Associates), and he asked if I would be willing to give him a hand with some of the questions he might get. Skeet hedged his bet to be sure, suggesting that he might send me one or two and just see how it went. I told Skeet that I was willing to help APBA with anything I could.
Skeet, who is now semi-retired, is still doing the bulk of the tech support for APBA, and he is still great at it (Skeet is such a super people person, and he is helpful and super-responsive). Once in a while he will bounce one of the questions he gets off of me, and I give him my take.
Later, APBA had some issues with the 2001 data disk. It was the first one they had to create themselves, and the process did not go as smooth as they had hoped. I told Skeet that I thought I could help with that process, so he let me help with the 1923 season disk they released in late 2002, and that December I also helped with the 2002 season disk. I must say, I am proud of the track record the data disks have had since 2002. There have been a very small number of issues in that time period, and I know I have had a small hand in that.
I certainly don’t want to overstate my value to the process. There are a lot of people capable of doing what I do for APBA, I’m not creating cards or rating pitchers or anything like that. I help with the transition of the data to the data disk. I take some measure of pride in it, but as I told Skeet in 2001, I am willing to help APBA with anything I can.
Jimsapbabarn question #7: How long have you been attending the APBA Convention and tournament? You have been part of the Twin Cities APBA Baseball Tournament since it began in 2014, what makes any regional tourney worth attending?
Kevin Cluff: I have attended eight APBA Conventions so far (2001, 2003, 2005, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 & 2015). I’ll tell you what the conventions and tournaments do for those who attend; they make you feel connected. Connected to something good, something special.
(2005 APBA Convention: Joe Sweeney – 2005 HOF on left, Kevin with Emma stealing the show)
If you are in a league, you already know that some of the guys in the league are your best friends. Even guys you didn’t know before you (or they) joined the league are some of your best friends. That is how it is for the conventions and tournaments. I wish I had the words to adequately tell these guys how I feel about them, but I don’t. Instead of telling them, I just keep showing up so I can see them and talk to them again. It’s purely selfish on my part.
The games are fun, really there is nothing better than a face-to-face APBA game. But the best part is getting to know a bunch of the greatest guys in the world and knowing the whole time that you share the same passion for APBA. You walk in a room, and even before you know someone’s name you know that they understand you, and you have an instant connection.
I have developed some lifelong friendships that I truly cherish through these events. And in each case these friendships were anchored and accelerated through, and because of, a shared love of APBA.
Jimsapbabarn question #8: What product (for any of the APBA sports, including baseball) would you like to see APBA Game Co. produce?
Kevin Cluff: Well, I am baseball only, so I will stick with baseball. Two products?
Well, for one, I would appreciate reprinting of the original 1950-1959 baseball sets. I would just like to be able to see those cards, but I am sure there are many who would like to see how they play.
The other idea I would like to see is a BATS like set based on normalized stats. In the interest of full disclosure, I should point out that I have created a set of cards like this already for myself and I love the set and the idea in general.
After playing with my set, I find it difficult to go back to pre-1920 sets. In my normalized set the big dead-ball stars like Cobb, Wagner and Jackson all have a 66-1 on their cards. I love the BATS and OFAS sets, but it doesn’t seem right to me for Honus Wagner to hit 4 or 5 home runs while Davey Lopes hits 25 to 30.
Kevin, thank you very much for taking the time to be part of the interview. I will say one of my favorite times is at the end of each of our TCABT events, it is usually you, Darrell, and I, left at the house, talking APBA and baseball for another hour or so. Thanks for your contributions to the APBA community. Your contributions are invaluable, and your efforts managing the BTL forum are thankless … more than anything, you have helped to keep APBA relevant into the future!
(TCABT-IV action, Rob Skogen left, facing off vs Kevin)