This is more, so much more, than just the opening week of the 2011 baseball season. It’s also – cue the confetti – the 50th anniversary of Strat-O-Matic Baseball,the favorite board game of my youth. Without it, I might not be a sportswriter today (or at least, I wouldn’t have as intimate a knowledge of, say, the ’65 Twins).
Strat, as we called it, had none of the high-tech bells and whistles you see in today’s CD-ROMs and whatnot – not in its original version, anyway. At the risk of oversimplification, it consisted of a cardboard playing field, a set of three dice (one white, two red) and individual hitter and pitcher cards (which were computer generated to, hypothetically, approximate a player’s performance). When you rolled the dice, the result might be a home run, a groundout to second or an error by the center fielder. It was all probability-based and much more realistic than any other baseball game out there.
(It also didn’t have a spinner. That alone made you feel like more of a grownup.)
I stumbled on Strat in the mid-’60s and played it religiously through my Little League years and beyond. Nothing was more fun than the summer my two brothers and I proselytized our three cousins during a two-week vacation in Massachusetts. We each chose a team – I’m pretty sure mine was the ’64 Yankees (Mickey Mantle’s last great season) – and staged wicked battles on the dining room table or the basement rug. We kept standings and statistics and everything (as did most Strat disciples).
The best thing about the game, of course, is that there were no rainouts, no matter what the weather outside. That’s not to say, though, that there wasn’t the occasional spilled Slurpee (but that only happened, I think, when the Twins were home early in the season).
Strat-O-Matic’s creator, Hal Richman, has gotten a ton of publicity in this golden anniversary year. Here are some of the stories written about him, including a piece in the New York Times. Richman, now 75, is amazed that the game he began developing as a kid remains so popular. Naturally, Strat has joined the computer age, but you can still play it the old-fashioned way – and many do.
(FYI: Later I branched out to Strat-O-Matic Pro Football, which could also be an obsessive pursuit. But that’s a whole other blog. Another time, maybe.)