Strat-o-Matic Sunday: The Enemies Set (guest post by Dan Diljak)
My college roommate, Paul, had introduced me to Strat-o-Matic a little over 30 years ago; we’ve both been playing ever since and have, nearly daily, emailed each other about our various solitaire leagues. My next league will either be my favorite individual players for each team or a battle of past season teams (thanks to the recent Diamond Gem sets). Please leave some comments to let me know what you recommend.
A few weeks ago, “Rooms” told me he had been approached by Strat-o-Matic to review their “Enemies” set – a set of 6 teams (Yankees- Red Sox, Dodgers-Giants, and Cardinals-Cubs) whose cards have just the ratings compiled against their rival teams.
I decided to test this set with a friend that I used to work with, Joe, who lives in an even more rural section of Pennsylvania than I do. Joe is similar to me – a strong fan of his team, (the Phillies in his case, the White Sox are mine), from the 70’s and 80’s who now follows them somewhat, but is not a diehard. I thought it would be interesting to test whether two people who don’t follow any of the 6 teams in the Enemies set would find it enjoyable.
We started with the Yankees (Joe) and Red Sox (Me), Mike Mooo… (continue to page 394) …ooosina vs. Luis Tiant. I’ll tell you that like many of the actual games between these two rivals, our game stayed interesting from beginning to end with a 3 to 2 Yankee victory. There was a lot of drama with the Babe hitting a solo shot in the 4th and Lou Gehrig hitting a two run double in the top of the 8th for the win. As we played the game, it became more and more immersive as we went along. It started out dry with a “what’d you roll – oh a 6, that’s a groundout to the second baseman C… what’s C mean”, etc.. By the time we had finished, our imaginations had run away with us with Rags doing a Righetti Spaghetti commercial, Wade Boggs asking the official scorer to change an error of his to a hit (that really happened in 1992), and Carlton Fisk trying to wave a foul ball fair only to have it stay too far to the left of the Fenway foul pole (he eventually strike out). Yaz silenced Bucky Dent (berating him on from the dugout) with a 2-out double in the bottom of the 9th only to have Dwight Evans ground out sharply to Jeter to end the game; in his passion, Dewey was injured for the next seven games.
We had so much fun with that game that we played the Cubs (Joe) vs. Cardinals (me), but that game was over midway through after a 3-run shot by Derrek Lee (yep, I lost both games today). Again, our imaginations ran away with us as I ordered Ron Santo to be hit by the pitch every time he appeared (if you were a White Sox fan, you would understand) near home plate and with Rogers “I’m so good they made my name plural” Hornsby had “The Way It Is” as his walk-up music.
So, as usual with Strat-o-Matic get-togethers, there was a lot of fun and fairly moderate amount of silliness (I think you figured that out), especially for two accountants (you call that a debit…. that’s a debit). But what was it really like, what’s the appeal? Historical perspective is what you get out of it. It’s like walking on a Civil War battlefield or tracing a map – you are reliving a version of history. We learned from the viewpoint of someone involved in an actual game versus an outsider looking in – pitchers going deep into games, relievers thought of as extensions of starters vs. going for the save (imagine that – Goose Gossage can easily go 3 innings before tiring, Dick Radatz can go 4 innings – unheard of in the present day; contrast that with Mariano Rivera and the ever-hated Jonathan Papelbon who tire after an inning), Babe Ruth really was that good, and not many people cared if Ted Williams patrolled left field with little care so long as he could hit with vigor. You’re not just reading the results on the card when you play this game, you’re experiencing the history first hand and somewhat literally reading between the lines. It’s a Field of Dreams experience where the players have come alive. In this case, you’re seeing bitter rivals trying to win one game as if it meant (and in the cases of all 6 teams, it very well might) do or die for the season. Incredibly, players from just about every era are represented on each team. The differences in the eras show the differences in strategy (last season there were 45 complete games in the majors; in 1983 there were 745) and equipment (Hack Wilson is expected to make 15 errors but have decent but not spectacular range in right field – it turns out that that is fairly normal for the Twenties and Thirties. Something I suspected, but never had in front of me before).
Joe and I ran out of time (and snacks) before we could get to the Dodgers and Giants, so I ended up playing that as a solitaire game. It played somewhat as expected – who would come out ahead, superior pitching (Dodgers – how can you beat Kershaw, Koufax, and Drysdale. If you get past them, you’d still have
Fernando (no last name needed) and Hershiser to go) versus every Bonds except Gary US Bonds (with Willie Mays thrown in too). Predictably, pitching beats hitting over the long term as the Dodgers won 4 to 3 with many offensive rallies being shot down by the marathon starters of the Dodgers.
Besides the history, how would you review the Enemies set? Strat-o-Matic is a very simple game to learn, it doesn’t bury you in the details. If it did, it would lose the immersive quality that it has – the player would get so bogged down examining charts instead of being carried away to some imaginary old ballpark in Iowa that sells hot dogs for a buck. I still prefer the Diamond Gems sets more than any other, but these teams were a lot of fun to play. I found myself researching players I hadn’t heard of (sorry, Hack Wilson) and looking at statistics I had never thought of before (for example, in 2019 the White Sox drew 378 walks; in 2004 Barry Bonds walked 232 times all by himself). I would have thought I would have gotten sucked in to my imaginary Field of Dreams ballpark sooner if I had played all of the games as solitaire as I usually do, but that was not the case – Joe and I merrily toured the cornfields together as we remembered items about the players (who was more un-athletic looking, Rick Reuschel or Fernando Valenzuela? Answer – Yes) and learned things we didn’t know before (Sammy Sosa had great power against the Cardinals, but his average suffered). What would I change if it were up to me? I would include some of the better known players (Thurman Munson, Bernie Williams, Mark McGwire, Shawon Dunston, etc) even if they didn’t have great success against their rival team – other than that, I would leave the sets as they are – sometimes the absence of success is as interesting as an abundance of success. Doing that adds to the learning experience, and history is one of my favorite parts about Strat-o-Matic.
So this is my final article regarding Strat-o-Matic. I’ve been playing this game for over thirty years (and man could I use some sleep). Like real baseball, I’ve found every game to be different with surprises around every corner, sometimes in the cards and sometimes in between the lines on the cards. I highly recommend it as a companion to real baseball – it adds to perspective and increases your historical knowledge.
Thanks for reading!