The mention of “celebrities” playing APBA are relatively scarce over the years, as you might expect. When you consider the fact that most of us do not easily admit to strangers or even relatives and friends that we play a dice baseball game using cards and charts, and that we keep score and stats. Celebrities who have been mentioned as APBA fans, might surprise you. Deceased actor, singer, performer, Danny Kaye (http://dannykaye.com/) was mentioned by APBA Game creator, Dick Seitz, as being a regular APBA customer.
(Danny Kaye talking ball with Willie Mays)
APBA fan and sports writer, Greg Eno, wrote a blog interview he had with actor Jeff Daniels, about playing APBA (http://enotalksbaseball.blogspot.com/2006/11/guilty-pleasure-for-eno-daniels.html).
Kevin Hooks (Morris Thorpe) of the TV show “The White Shadow”, and current television show producer, played APBA, and is actually pictured in the August 1973 APBA Journal issue which covered the first APBA Convention:
(Note on the above, Danny Weiser on left, is convention organizer Ben Weiser’s younger brother, seated here with Kevin Hooks, 2nd from right)
(Kevin Hooks as Morris Thorpe and a more recent Kevin Hooks)
Today, one BIG-TIME celebrity who makes his APBA interests known to those of us on the APBA Between The Lines forum on Delphi, is Todd McFarlane. This is Todd McFarlane, the renowned comic book artist, first hitting it big with his best selling Marvel Comics, Spider-Man. This is Todd McFarlane, producer of the movie SPAWN, based on his Image Comics creation, the dark “devil made him do it” anti-hero, SPAWN. McFarlane then turned SPAWN into an Emmy winning HBO television series, running from 1997-1999. McFarlane followed that up with his first Grammy, with his award winning video in 2000, Korn’s “Freak on a Leash”.
This is Todd McFarlane, purchaser and owner of Mark McGwire’s 70th HR ball, as well as Barry Bonds’ 73rd HR ball, better known to be part of the “McFarlane Collection”.
This is Todd McFarlane who happens to post regularly on the BTL forum, and if you did not realize it was a celebrity behind his Delphi forum name “todddeanmark”, you would tend to think he is just another APBA nut like the rest of us. Todd has posted his own replays, his style of play, his method for keeping stats, and even the fact that he once had to finish one of his games while making a bathroom visit.
Todd’s honest nature when he posts about a game engine topic, or a replay result, shows that he is very approachable on any topic APBA wise, and will even talk shop when it comes to comic books and his company, Image Comics.
Of course, “approachable” is selling McFarlane short. I was in Arizona in March of 2015 visiting my daughter who attends Grand Canyon University in Phoenix. Todd was aware of this and he made sure he invited my 12 yr old son and I to visit his Tempe, AZ office studio. Todd could not have been a nicer guy. By the end of my visit, we were talking APBA, as Todd was opening an Excel spreadsheet on his PC with his latest 1972 season replay stats, showing me examples of how he tracks and organizes his stats. I quickly got the feeling that Todd is no different than the rest of us. We might be at our office working, but APBA is on the mind, and there is nobody around to talk APBA with, as Todd and I were able to do that afternoon.
Without a doubt, APBA’s biggest celebrity moving forward into 2016 and beyond is Todd McFarlane … time to ask some questions:
Jimsapbabarn question #1: Tell us about your early life, and growing up in Canada?
Todd McFarlane: Well, you’re correct that I am Canadian. I was born there in 1961 (the same year Maris hit 61, so I knew I would be tied to baseball from birth). At age five, my family moved down to Southern California, where myself and my two brothers (one a year older and one a year younger) constantly played outside in the sun. It was those formative years that got me interested in the ‘sunshine sports’. Though I was a late bloomer, having started Little League at the age of 12, most all of the other kids were much better than me. In fact, I was the only 12 year old in my Little League to not make the ‘Majors Division ( my younger brother did, and to this day that still sticks in my craw). But as luck would have it, I was quite athletic, and was able to make up for any lost time by practicing nearly every day some type of sport.
By the time my family moved back up to Calgary, Alberta, Canada (where I was born), my summer sport skills were quite good. So, I had a very easy choice as a 14 year old back in Canada: I could either be one of the best baseball players in my league OR join a hockey team (where every kids played since they were 5 years old) and be the worst skater anyone had ever seen. My ego won out and I ended up playing baseball, track, basketball, volleyball and football (where I was the quarterback) instead of hockey.
(Todd did not leave hockey completely behind, as part owner of the Edmonton Oilers franchise and designer of their “third” jersey)
Jimsapbabarn question #2: When and how did you discover APBA?
Todd McFarlane: My fascination with APBA (I am one of those guys that says each letter A.P.B.A.) came as a young man. As I mentioned above, I had just begun to get heavily involved in sports and my brother’s and I began collecting Topps Baseball and Football cards. Then I started to collect lots of sports magazines, including Baseball Digest and Street & Smith. As many members of us old dudes remember, in some of those magazines were ads for this game with cool looking cards and a bunch of numbers on them. So, I sent away for my free brochure and sample cards and was instantly smitten by the game (and to this day, I have never played any other competitor’s baseball product!).
That fall of 1973, I began working jobs in the neighborhood to earn enough money to be able to send away for the game. It was about $14, which was a big amount to a kid in those days, so it took a bit of time before I had the cash ready to go. My mom helped me with sending my order and early in 1974 the game arrived (and silly as it may sound, I still remember it being delivered by the mailman).
After reading all the instructions and playing a handful of games with my brothers, we decided we would do a full season replay, so each of us picked 8 teams (4 from the National League and 4 from the American League) and thus began our first attempt at a full replay. The reason I use the word ‘attempt’ is because every year, after getting the new set of cards from the prior season, we would get about 120 to 130 games for each team, into our replay, and then the fighting amongst us would get so bad we’d all quit and vow never to do that again. But each year when the new cards came, we put away our differences and started another new replay…only to have it blow up in our faces once again by the 120th game of each teams schedule.
There were many death threats screamed at each other. Cards torn up. Tears of pain. And a very pissed off mother, when she came into the garage (where we had built our set-up for play the games) to see one of us crying, one of us laughing (the winner of that latest game) and the other brother just shrugging his shoulders in innocence. Our family became infamous for some of the blow-ups we would have over the game. As both neighbors and relative still talk about some of those times when “the boys were fighting and sobbing over some silly game.”
To us, there was nothing silly about it.
Jimsapbabarn question #3: You played D1 college baseball for Eastern Washington University, what were your plans at this point in your life?
Todd McFarlane: As mentioned above, I became quite good at baseball, enough that I was able to come down to Washington state and try out for Gonzaga University’s ball team (though I had a great tryout, they only offered a tuition scholarship but not room and board). Since I didn’t have the money for the rest, I went back to Canada to earn money to come back down and play at a Community College in Spokane, Washington. Though I didn’t much playing time that first year, I caught the eye of a scout who ran a summer team of University players and he invited me to play. It was on this team that a coach from Eastern Washington University saw me playing in a tournament and offered me a scholarship to come play there. And as luck would have it, the division they were playing in (it was called the NOR-PAC) had just been absorbed into the PAC-10 (this was for baseball only). So, my last three years were playing at Eastern in the PAC-10 against the northern teams. I played centerfield and batted lead-off the last couple years, since I was left-handed and very fast.
My daily life was quite full at that time, with sometimes, two-a-day practices, working as a janitor on campus (as part of my scholarship), going to school, working at a local comic shop, doing my college homework and trying to get an hour or two of drawing under my belt before going to bed. You see, beside school and baseball, I had become a very fanatical comic book collector too. My big plan was to play professional minor league baseball at night (since those games start late) and draw comic books during the day. Unfortunately, my baseball skills weren’t good enough to take me beyond university, so I ended up in the comic book profession full-time instead.
(Todd with his wife, Wanda)
Jimsapbabarn question #4: Tell us briefly about your career after college/university?
Todd McFarlane: Well, like I said, I caught a lucky break, and got my first professional drawing gig just as I was studying for my last tests at the university. I do have a degree, but have never formally had to use it since I went directly into the comic business out of school. The first company I worked for was Marvel Comics, but soon found myself over at their competitor, DC Comics. After a few years at DC, I went back to Marvel and began drawing The Incredible Hulk and eventually The Amazing Spider-Man. It was while I was on Spider-Man that my career real took off as I began to win awards for my work and helped bring Spidey back to the top of the best selling list. When I decided to leave the Spider-Man book, they asked me to stay, but I wanted to write the comics as well as draw them. They then created a new Spider-Man title for me to write and draw and that book set sales records that still stand today (I even received an award from The Guinness Book of World Records for that).
After a few more years on Spidey, along with a small duty on Batman, myself and six others from Marvel decided to head out and start our own comic company. So, in 1992 we formed Image Comics, which is the third largest Comics publisher (my partner was the one who created The Walking Dead comic book and TV series) in the country behind Marvel and DC. The book I introduced was called SPAWN, which quickly jumped to the top of the sales charts and allowed me to make deals for that character to get on TV (through HBO), in the theaters, and in video games. The one piece still missing was to get a toy deal for him, but when I couldn’t find the right partner, I decided to start my own toy business instead (called McFarlane Toys).
I currently still do comics, am President of Image Comics, run my toy company and occasionally do work in Hollywood.
Jimsapbabarn question #5: I believe you coach one of your son’s club baseball teams, tell us about this experience?
Todd McFarlane: Since I am no longer 20 years old, though I do still play in the men’s league here in the Phoenix ares from time and play in all the big National Tournaments for the 25 to 65 year old dudes, I find coaching kids a relaxing way to unwind at the end of the day. Four years ago, I started a Club Team (called, what else, Club SPAWN). I had always coached all three of my children in their baseball careers in Little League, but Club Ball was another level up. And I can boastfully say that our team has been Nationally ranked in the top 5 in all four years. We were even number one, at one point, in the nation out of 1,200 teams during our first year.
My son is now a sophomore in high school and most of my players are all good enough to play on their varsity teams as sophomores.
(Todd as youth Club Baseball coach/Teaching the bunt, 2012)
Jimsapbabarn question #6: Tell us about your APBA collection and what your playing time is like today, as well as any future APBA project plans?
Todd McFarlane: My collection is, well…massive! I have every Baseball season, including all the R and RR sets (other than the original 1950 and 1951 releases), every Football season, every Basketball season, every Bowling set, nearly every Saddle Racing and Golf sets, as well as a gob of Hockey and Soccer sets. Oh, and did I mention the Boxing set too. Basically, you could call me a fanatic of APBA.
(My guess is when Todd and Wanda designed closet space, they did not take into account Todd’s growing APBA collection …)
(The 2 pictures do not take into account the many duplicate sets which Todd owns)
As for my playing time, it is really predicated upon my daily life. As a husband, father, businessman and coach, it can be hard at times to get enough time to concentrate on whatever the next project may be. I’ve posted baseball, football, boxing, saddle racing and golf replays in the past. Currently I am doing my write-up on my full season 1972R N.L. Replay. My best guess is I will do a fun pitcher’s replay again (having done a Ryan, Gibson and Carlton replay). I’m thinking of something like a Phil Niekro or Wilbur Wood version of one of there seasons where they won 20 AND lost 20 games in the same year!
Jimsapbabarn question #7: What does your family think of your APBA hobby?
Todd McFarlane: Like most of us out there in the APBA community, they don’t really get it or understand it. Especially in this modern tech world we live in. Though they don’t directly laugh in my face, I can sense that my wife and daughters just humor me about it. They even have a cute name they call it “Chinga-Chinga” for the sound the dice makes when they rattle around in the yellow shaker.
(Todd with daughter Cyan at Super Bowl XLVIII in New Jersey)
Jimsapbabarn question #8: What can you tell us about the latest and greatest with your comic character, SPAWN?
Todd McFarlane: I am just finishing up a new screenplay for an R-rated version of Spawn that is more supernatural/horror in tone than a super-hero story. I hope to have that up an running by the end of this year if all goes well. My intent is to direct that version myself.
I also have a couple of television projects being developed in Hollywood and am continually creating new ideas for toys, comics, video games, TV and film.
(Todd with legendary comic book artist, Stan Lee)
A quick AROUND THE HORN with McFarlane …
Your favorite sports team?
Todd McFarlane: Since I live in the Phoenix area, that would be the D-Backs and the Cardinals. Hopefully, by the time people read this interview, the Cardinals will be the Super Bowl Champions of 2016. And with the additions of Zac Grienke and Shelby Miller on the D-Backs pitching staff, I can look forward to a more competitive season in baseball. As someone that was at the 7th game of the World Series against the Yankees in 2001, and got to see Luis Gonzales’ dramatic base hit in the bottom of the 9th…I know how excited this city can get when we do good.
(Greinke signs with D-Backs)
Your favorite athlete?
Todd McFarlane: Bar none, it is Wayne Gretzky. He is our modern day Babe Ruth in the fact he destroyed the record books and changed the way the game was being played.
(One of McFarlane’s incredibly lifelike Gretzky figurines)
Your favorite ballpark?
Todd McFarlane: I’ve only been to Fenway Park twice, but I have to say that the experience of that park was far better than what I had imagined. After seeing hundreds of games on TV at the Red Sox field, I thought it would be cool to go there once, since it looked so cool on television. But, for me, seeing it in person was even cooler! (I can’t say I’ve been to Wrigley Field yet).
(Just another day at Fenway)
Your favorite uniform?
Todd McFarlane: I’ve thought all those awesome, bright-colored uniforms that baseball had in the ’70’s were the greatest. The all-red Indians uniforms. The yellow and Brown padres. The giant feather on the sleeve of the Braves uniform. A bunch of teams that had baby-blue away uniforms (Royals, Brewers, Rangers, Expos, Cardinals, etc).
(1975 Cleveland Indians uniforms)
Dice or computer?
Todd McFarlane: 98% dice. And as you may know, I am obsessed with trying to see if those silly red numbers on each card can actually get me to the player’s real life stats during any of my replays. I’m what you might call a “re-creationist” when doing a replay.
I’d like to add one last thing: I have always been a guy that has rooted for the underdog (it may just be my personality and why I started my own businesses), so I was completely enamored with those horrible Phillies, Padres, Rangers and Indians teams from the earlier ’70’s. And to this day, they are some of my favorite teams and players (Nate Colbert, Bill Greif, Jeff Burroughs, Charlie Spikes anyone?). What this means to me during a replay is I am way more interested in playing the BAD teams than having the good teams go against each other. When the good teams are playing late in the season (like the Reds and Pirates in my 1972 replay) it would be a struggle for me to get through them. BUT…give me the Padres and Phillies ( who were a combined 60 games out of first place) and by blood starts pumping like a kid on Christmas. I always root for the underdogs (which is why I rarely pick the winner in the Super Bowl or World Series).
(Bill Greif, 1974 Topps)
Jimsapbabarn bonus question: I asked Todd one follow-up question … Todd had spent time working with Curt Schilling in the past … I was aware that Curt had played APBA, so I asked Todd if he and Curt ever discussed APBA?
Todd McFarlane: Yes, when I was working with former MLB pitcher Curt Schilling on a video games project he was heading, we very much did talk about sim games. APBA was his favorite and he told me he knew his all of his cards by heart (which included his Grades and his control and K’s ratings). He often would rattle off the big dice numbers of some of his favorites while growing up. Plus, he like me called the game as four letters A.P.B.A. instead of the other pronunciation. He also said he would try and get some of his teammates to play games with him in the minors.
(Todd, center and Curt, right, 2 out of 3 in above photo play/played APBA …)
We would talk about the game at length and he would recant about the no-hitters his pitcher’s would get from time to time. I gave him a few of the more recent seasons and he was very thrilled to see the game still in print and with all the statistics on the cards. Then he said he might buy a set and do a replay of the 1985 Red Sox team (one of his favorite teams).
(Curt Schilling pitching in 2004 World Series)
There were a couple of years where we were both in the same fantasy leagues. Surprisingly, I always clobbered him in the standings even though he was a former MLB player. And he recruited me into a STRAT online fantasy game too (but I think he did that because he knew I had never played the game and I wouldn’t know the nuance of who to draft because of their cards…which he was right).
Each of the 4 interviews I have completed to date, have offered something different, and from varying backgrounds. Each person has been very forthcoming with their story, telling us something we either did not know or did not expect. This interview was no different.
Todd, thanks again for taking the time to do this interview. Your involvement with APBA is definitely a gain for the hobby, not that it needed a celebrity to validate its worth, but the fact that this game and hobby has a hold on part of your life as it does with the rest of us. You are genuine in your posts on the APBA Delphi Forum and they definitely add value to the APBA community. “The Devil’s in the Details” says the subtitle of your wonderful visual autobiography, but I think this also applies to your APBA replays, when it comes to the details.
(Actor Jamie Foxx with Todd McFarlane)
NOTE: The only pictures Todd needed to provide me with for this interview were the 2 photos of his APBA collection … 😉