My Favorite Table Top Baseball Game (By Far): Strat-o-Matic Baseball
As a child growing up in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, I was enamored with baseball. I couldn’t get enough of the sport. Ever.
I read as many baseball books as much as I could. I horded tons of baseball cards. I watched as many Yankees games as possible. I kept scrapbooks. I read Baseball Digest, The Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, Sport, Street and Smith’s Baseball Yearly, Who’s Who in Baseball, and so many more magazines. I looked at my Yankees Yearbooks and scorecards so much that their covers fell off.
Of course, I also played a lot, mostly Wiffle Ball, on an almost daily basis throughout the summer.
I was an easy kid to buy presents for. If there was something that had to do with baseball, I wanted it.
I tried to display all the items in my growing collection. My room, with objects all over the place, was like a miniature Baseball Hall-of-Fame museum. I had statues, figurines, posters, pictures, newspaper clippings, photographs, and more displayed on every flat space including dresser tops, shelves, and on my walls.
Of course, on special occasions like the holidays and my birthday, people gave me gifts relating to baseball. I tended to receive a lot of table top baseball games. I think I played them all. They were all fun, to a point. But, no matter whether the game was played with spinners or cards or dice or marbles…they all tended to be too much alike. The games just weren’t all that realistic. Even the baseball game on my Atari 2600 suffered from that same fate. The games were fun, I enjoyed them all, but I didn’t think there was a game that could actually replicate baseball, real baseball – Major League baseball. I thought that all the table top and simulation games were flawed… until I found Strat-o-Matic.
In late 1981, I was shopping in a baseball card store with my Grandma. Looking around, my grandma said to me, “Find a baseball board game that you’d like. I’ll buy it for you for Christmas.” The store had two games that caught my eye. One was your typical table top game that had a Yankees theme. The other game was Strat-o-Matic. I couldn’t decide which one to get. I had always been intrigued by Strat-o-Matic having seen ads for the game in baseball magazines and comic books for years. I really wanted to try it, but the other game was a game about the Yankees. THE YANKEES!!! The store owner saw my dilemma. He said, “Trust me, get Strat-o-Matic…you’l love it.”
He was correct.
I did love it… and I still do.
I remember Christmas morning and having the chance to finally open the box and take out the cards and the charts. I was awed. I felt like I just unlocked some baseball secret. I was also a little afraid, having this worry that this game would be far too difficult for me to understand and learn how to play. There were two teams inside the box – the 1979 Los Angeles Dodgers and the 1979 Toronto Blue Jays. Once the gifts and the eating concluded, my dad and I sat down to try to figure out how to play this game. Surprisingly, it was easy. For the most part, the game involved rolling a single tiny white die and then two larger yellow ones. The single die indicated what column on each player’s card to look at (Batters were columns 1, 2, and 3; pitchers were columns 4, 5, and 6) and the two other dice told the result of the at bat. In moments, my dad and I had the game figured out. Yes, there were charts and things, but they all were up-front, direct, and logical. This game made sense in a way no other grown-up game did. It was so intuitive. And fun!
We both couldn’t get enough of the game.
Possibly the best feature of the game was that we could play a game together in less than 30-minutes. (We had some other “realistic-type” baseball games that were so realistic that they took hours to play.
As a bonus, inside the box was a coupon for six new free teams. I filled out the form, ordering the Yankees, the Red Sox, the Mets, The Royals, the Brewers, and the Phillies (as I recall) and waited with great anticipation for the cards to arrive. (They actually came super quickly. Strat-o-Matic has always been a company with very efficient ordering and quickness of delivery.)
I quickly created a league of teams and started playing my first season…
On and off, ever since, I have played Strat-o-Matic. I taught the game to my sons. I taught the game to a host of friends, some who still play today – one of whom, Dan Diljak, will be offering some guest posts in the weeks to come. I brought the game to the schools where I worked and taught it to students. These people, in turn, have taught the game to many others…through my love of the game, and their love, the game’s audience keeps growing.
I introduced Dan to the game in college. He’s loved the game ever since. We have many great memories of playing Strat at college including when Dan broke all the rules and put Rick Miller, a lefty outfield at shortstop – and still beat me. Dan had a knack for rolling whatever he’s need to get the big hit or the out. I’ve never seen anything like it (except when my wife wills herself to a Yahtzee – in another family favorite game). About two years ago, Dan gave me one of the greatest gifts ever, a homemade Strat-o-Matic stadium with dice tower that he constructed himself. I love that stadium!
In my “Strat Career,” I have played out entire Yankees seasons. I have created my own leagues of Yankees great teams and held drafts of Yankees players and created my own teams. Once, I played out a 162 game season with the best Yankees players from each decade. As I recall, the team of the 1940’s won the World Series over the team of the 1960’s. Joe DiMaggio won the league MVP.
One thing has always been remarkably true about the players cards (over the years I have attempted to get the cards of every Yankees team ever produced), is that they are remarkably accurate. Great players play great. Poor players pay poorly. Players who are excellent defensively help their teams. Players who are poor hurt their teams. Fast guys take the extra base, slow guys don’t and double plays often come as a result. Some pitchers struggle to pitch six innings while others can routinely pitch complete games.
By paying the game, I learned that a pitcher’s ERA matters little when choosing a player’s card – what matters more is the amount of base runners he allows. I knew about WHIP years before it was a stat. I just knew what to look for because I played so many games with the cards. This was also true of the value of getting on base and hitting for power. Many of the original sabermatricians played Strat-o-Matic as children (and adults). I think because the game is so accurate and so realistic that it actually gave rise to the first true analysis of player performance as based on statistics.
As stated, by and large, in all the leagues I have played, the players performed as their cards said they would. By the end of the seasons, the player’ stats (I did keep track, always) almost always were within the range of how the player was actually supposed to perform. The consistency of the cards, the accuracy, was (is) remarkable. All of this makes me love the game even more.
I cannot recommend Strat-o-Matic enough for anyone wishing to play a table-top baseball simulation game. The game is easy to play, it’s fun, it’s accurate, and it’s realistic.
I fell in love with the game in late 1981. It has given me thousands of hours of joy ever since.
I am honored and proud that we here at Start Spreading the News have partnered with Strat-o-Matic to bring you some fun features on the game along with a special series using their new “Enemies” set. We’ll all have a few contests with free games as giveaways over the next few weeks.