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  • Writer's picturePaul Semendinger

My Favorite Table Top Baseball Game (By Far): Strat-o-Matic Baseball

By Paul Semendinger

December 25, 2023 (republished from a few years ago)

***

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. 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 my roommate to the game in college. He’s loved the game ever since. We have many great memories of playing Strat at college including when my roommate broke all the rules and put Rick Miller, a lefty outfielder, 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, my roomie 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 1940s won the World Series over the team of the 1960s. 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 playing 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 was one of the greatest Christmas presents I ever recieved. It has given me thousands of hours of joy ever since.

7 comments

7 Comments


grygucj
Dec 26, 2023

My first Strat cards were the 1965 teams. I've played hundreds of games each year, ever since. In the 80's Hal Richman sent me a copy of the beta version of their new computer game. I always get the card image option, along with the cards themselves. Suffice it to say, over 58 years of play, a few hundred replay and custom leagues along with the included encyclopedia function, Mantle has 1,128 home runs, Ford has 576 wins, and Jeter has over 4000 hits. Stratomatic is the best game ever invented for baseball fans who love reliving the greatness of their heroes, past and present.

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Robert Malchman
Robert Malchman
Dec 26, 2023

I grew up an only child, so solitaire-playable games were important (and for the young'uns in the audience, this is before you could play games against a computer). I played Strat-o-Matic against myself for several years. I think twice I got all the teams from the previous year and set up a round-robin league, all mapped out on yellow legal pad pages. I tip my hat to Paul for implicitly figuring out the value of WHIP; my pitching metrics were ERA +/- .1 point for net wins and losses (so a 3.50 ERA pitcher who went 20-10 would rate a 2.50). For the hitters, I counted up on-base results for the 6, 7 and 8 two-dice categories (and to …

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Brad Scheller
Brad Scheller
Dec 26, 2023

December 25, 2023,,,


For no other reason than I would like to see what others are predicting on this date for the 2024 Yankees roster, here is my first cut 2024 prediction--to be updated Jan 25 and February 25.


Starters:

_________

Cole

*Rodon

Schmidt

*Cortez

Warren or Montas

~~~~~~~~~

SWB Reserves:

Weaver

Beeter

Hampton

Beck 


Rationale:

Hal was willing to pay for what was percieved to be a young, generational talent that could anchor the staff for 10 years. He will be unwilling to ovverpay with prospects for one or two year rentals like Burnes, Bieber, or Cease, or for long-term deals for Snell or Montgomery where he is paying high price for past performance, and getting inferior performance o…


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Brad Scheller
Brad Scheller
Dec 26, 2023
Replying to

Btw, I hope that I am wrong in my cynicism, but when Hal says he doesn't think it should take a $300M payroll to win the world series, but that he was will to pay for generational talents, I believe him.

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Alan B.
Alan B.
Dec 25, 2023

Oh Paul, what Yankees thing did you get today?

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Alan B.
Alan B.
Dec 25, 2023

Wait... isn't Strat-o-matic the Yankees current version of how to play the game for real?🤔

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