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  • Mike Whiteman

It's that Strat Time of Year

By Mike Whiteman

February 18, 2024

***

Back when I was a kid, the dead of winter was always kind of a drag. Couldn’t play baseball, couldn’t go fishing, couldn’t go swimming. Cooped up inside. Sometimes it just felt like I was going through the motions, waiting and waiting for the warmer weather and longer days. Having grown up in the 1980s, I also didn’t have access to many of the options we see today to entertain myself and pass the time until spring. It felt like winter lasted forever! Thankfully, throughout the cold there were small reminders of upcoming spring, small lights in the at the end of the tunnel. One particular item would show up in the mailbox in January that would brighten my day. It was the annual Strat-O-Matic baseball mailing. Most avid baseball fans have heard of Strat-O-Matic baseball, be it in their youthful memories, or reading about articles in the media or here on the blog. Like a lot of folks my age “Strat-O” was as core to me growing up as Little League, baseball cards, wiffle ball, and watching “This Week in Baseball”. If you’ve never heard of it, Strat-O-Matic Baseball is a board game in which rolling dice sets off confrontations between pitcher and hitter, determines results of batted balls, and reveals the success - or failure – of managerial strategy put into place by the tabletop managers. Each Major League player is represented by a card calculated to replicate his strengths and weaknesses. It’s where I realized that my favorite player, Reggie Jackson, was a great power hitter but struck out a lot and wasn’t a very good fielder. I saw the double-edged sword of Nolan Ryan with a card that yielded few hits, struck out a lot of batters, but issued enough walks to keep me on edge. It reinforced to me that Don Mattingly wasn’t just good, he was great in his prime.



In addition to the way this card represented Donnie Baseball's extra-base power and standout glovework (a firstbaseman-1 is Gold Glove caliber), notice what's not on the card - there are no results of strikeouts. Now, Mattingly could strike out in a game if the dice dictate the result comes from the pitching card, but this card is a unique way of showing what a great contact hitter he was. Through the years, Strat-O-Matic baseball has become a fixture in the baseball landscape. During the 1981 strike, media outlets turned to the game to create baseball content for their readers, including playing the All-Star game on the originally scheduled date of July 14th at Cleveland Municipal Stadium with Hall of Famer Bob Feller throwing out the "first dice roll". Many major league players through the years were Strat-O-Matic players, Len Dykstra, Ken Singleton and Doug Glanville among them. Keith Hernandez has played since childhood and drops the occasional reference to the game in Mets broadcasts. Playing Strat-O-Matic is how I learned the value of the walk. It’s where I learned to appreciate the concept of a balanced offense, not one just built on mashers. It’s where my strong desire for the Yankees to field a very good defensive team started. It enhanced a love of baseball history I still have today. It's hard to quantify the fun, and the intrigue of playing “Strat-O” as a kid in the 1980s. Our fearless leader Paul articulated this well in an article back in 2019: https://www.startspreadingthenews.blog/post/my-favorite-table-top-baseball-game-by-far-strat-o-matic-baseball Of course, I am one of many to enjoy the game which was first brought to the public by Hal Richman in 1961 after working on it since the 1940s. Like many baseball crazed kids, I was drawn in by the “You be a manager” advertisements in the magazines of my youth. The notion that I could have baseball on my desk whenever I wanted was irresistible…and in addition I was in charge! My first order came at Christmas 1981 with a number of teams from the 1980 season.



That quarter I sent for the brochure was money well spent! Every year afterwards, in some of the coldest days of the year, that envelope came with just a bit of spring. It included the invitation to send your order to Strat headquarters in Glen Head, New York. A whole set of cards based on the previous season would put you back about fifteen bucks plus shipping costs, which was not an insignificant sum of money for a kid in the early 1980s. One could purchase individual teams for about 80 cents, so my dilemma was which teams in addition to the Yankees did I want in the five or six teams I’d purchase. I’d usually top off the order with some "Oldtimer" Teams  - cards based on great teams in baseball history like the 1927 Yankees, 1934 Cardinals, 1965 Dodgers, etc. – add a set or two of dice, and give the cash to mom and have her write the check to send to the game company.   Then started the agonizing - and I mean agonizing - wait for the cards to arrive. When they did show up, it was a glorious day, and would immediately mean showing my friends the new cards, and plotting out new leagues to play. Forty years later, I still look to the annual notification (made electronically now), which came just this month.

The nostalgia is strong! There are of course some things that are different. Strat-O-Matic can be played on a computer now, and there’s an online game as well. "Opening Day" at Strat-O-Matic was held Friday at company headquarters. In this annual event, folks line up early to pick up their orders of new cards. Orders placed online start shipping February 20th. Here are some of the new products being offered this year: -Cards and computer roster based on the just completed 2023 season -Cards and computer roster based on the 1984 season -Cards based on great teams of the 1920s, including the 1927 Yankees -The latest version of the Windows game along with a number of roster files, including some Negro League seasons. -The latest version of the beginner level "Express" game I’ve placed my order and will be eagerly anticipating delivery. You can too at: https://www.strat-o-matic.com/

3 Comments


Len
Len
Feb 18

I'm older. I was aware of Sratomatic a t the time, but somehow was attracted to it's rival, APBA Baseball. There was an intense rivalry. It was never settled as to which was more realistic, but there were plenty of fans on either side. It only lasted about 2 years for me, as it was troublesome and time consuming to set up and play, and this was in a time before the game was computerized.


Tried it again in 1996, computerized, but didn't stay with it. Still available and still updated yearly.

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fuster
Feb 18

we used to take a shovel and a basketball

clean the snow off the asphalt and play 3-on-3

as the games progressed

we shed our coats and then sweaters

and were down to sweaty t-shirts

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Paul Semendinger
Paul Semendinger
Feb 18

I love Strat. I have played a million leagues over the years, made up of various iterations of teams, players, drafts, etc...


As I have said before, there is no better baseball board game out there and I don't think there ever can be.


Thanks for linking my article from a few years ago! :)


(I ordered my 2023 Yankees yesterday. Now I can't wait until they come. I'll share some highlights of the cards when they arrive, hopefully in the next few weeks!)

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