I wax nostalgic every time I see an ad for the Strat-O-Matic baseball game. For those of you who don’t know anything about this wonderful and long-lasting board game, Strat-O-Matic has been around since 1961, when Hal Richman, a college mathematics student and avid baseball fan, began selling a version of a tabletop game out of his basement. Richman created one player card for every Major League player, refined his concept, and the game quickly developed a strong following among fans, me included.
Strat-O-Matic’s statistical research and game methods have the intent of replicating athletes’ abilities as accurately as possible, giving the player the feel of making managerial decisions. In February of 2011, Strat-O-Matic celebrated its 50th anniversary with an opening day event at the Community Church of New York. Over 500 people attended, which shows you how popular the game continues to be. Indeed, a number of current and former Major League players say they play the game. It made Hal Richman so well-known and popular that he was inducted into the National Jewish Hall of Fame.
As mentioned above, in Strat-O-Matic each player is represented by a card, on which are printed various ratings and result tables. You make strategic and personnel decisions, while determining the results by cross-referencing dice rolls with a system of charts and tables. One die selects which column is used on either the batter or the pitcher card, while the other two dice determine the outcome within the column. It’s simple and ingenious all at the same time, and tons of fun.
The results on the player cards are determined by a combination of the player’s statistics from the previous year and independent research of news articles and scouting reports. Strat-O-Matic offers a “basic,” “advanced,” and “super-advanced” versions; the more advanced games offering additional strategic options to players.
I spent hours, starting around spring training time for the Major Leagues, playing Strat-O-Matic in the bedroom of my parents’ home. I kept fastidious statistics and even wrote game reports on an old pick and peck computer my parents gave me. I trace my love of sports writing back to those days, telling people when they ask that I have been a sports writer since the age of 10 or 11.
Around the middle of February I get the itch to play Strat-O-Matic again, just like those halcyon days as a kid huddled in the warmth of my room, a sandwich and glass of milk or soda at my side, as pitcher battled hitter and I rolled dice for hour upon hour. As I grew older, I believe my parents began to worry if I would ever put the game aside and go out and find a girlfriend. But they didn’t have to worry, I knew sports and girls were two very different and equally appealing endeavors in a young man’s life.
I passed my love of the game on to a cousin, who became so addicted, loudly doing play-by play for the games, that his mother finally entered his room, smashed his miniature stadium to pieces and forbade the playing of Strat-O-Matic in her house. Bummer. We had to confine ourselves to playing Wiffle Ball in one of our backyards. That’s a story for another column.
So, while today’s kids sit in front of a computer or television, joysticks in hand, playing various baseball video games, it’s comforting to know that there are others who still are rolling dice and getting ink on their hands, playing Strat-O-Matic baseball.
by John Torsiello