"It's APBA, Dad. You know, A-P-B-A."
"Oh my God," the elder Longstreth gasped. "It's some form of LSD, only worse—it's got one more letter."
It wasn't long before the father was hooked. "It's the most vicious thing that ever happened to me," he says with mock chagrin. "It's worse than a narcotic." Longstreth, whose son no longer plays the game, has as much control over his APBA habit as a knuckleballer has over his pitch on a windy day. "Two members of our league are normal and two are fringe players, but the rest of us have to have APBA."
"There are people who devote 50 to 60 hours a week to the game, and that's really sad," says Bob Henry, a Delaware Law School professor who teaches tax law and studies APBA. Henry writes a question-and-answer column for The APBA Journal, a monthly for APBA junkies with a circulation of 2,500, and he knows nearly every APBA baseball card by heart. APBA code dribbles from his mouth like stock quotations. But his knowledge isn't without drawbacks. APBA freaks have called him at three in the morning to dispute things like Gary Peters' 1966 pitching rating. "It's really bothersome," he says. Especially since he'd just as soon play Strat-O-Matic, one of APBA's many imitators. Strat-O-Matic uses one more die and has actual batting and pitching statistics, besides an arcane rating system, printed on its cards. "That's like admitting the cards have no character," rails Seitz. "It's like having a human being walk around with his IQ stuck on his forehead, instead of letting him show you what he can do. You've got to let the card speak for itself." Indeed, the cards are part of the mystique of the game. "Once you get the cards and hold them," says Tellem, "you transcend the game and become the baseball players themselves. Each card has its own personality."
Alone with his Super League, made up of the best cards from nearly every APBA edition, Tellem will take out his fielder's glove and pretend he's Rogers Hornsby—the card, not the player. When Tellem married, he carried a 1938 Hank Greenberg card as a talisman in the breast pocket of his wedding suit. "I wanted Hank to share in the experience of my life," he says. "It's a mutual relationship—he lets me share in his." Tellem is so nutty about the game that when he flies on business trips, he carries his stats in an attach� case manacled to his wrist. When he's out of his house at night, he always leaves the case open, a precaution against burglars. "They can have the TV, they can have the money, they can have our lives, just please leave the records."
Some APBA fans even get to be like J. Henry Waugh, the obsessed loner in Robert Coover's The Universal Baseball Association, Inc. who invents his own game. Waugh calculates averages, keeps team financial ledgers, oversees life histories and loses his job and, eventually, his mind.
"There's a compensation in APBA that does border on the psychotic," says Seitz, a former philosophy major with a passion for metaphysics. "But it also acts as a fulcrum that people can build their lives around. It lets them relax by giving them a diversion they can become intensely involved in." But Seitz concedes that the line between fandom and fanaticism is as elusive as a ball in the left-field corner at Fenway. "In the '60s a budget analyst from Toledo said he'd never marry because it would curtail the time he spends on APBA. I worry about him, but I appreciate his loyalty."