Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Strat-O-Matic Lives

Strat-O-Matic lives.

I received my first Strat-O-Matic game set for a bar mitzvah gift when I was 13. I played simulation baseball games with my dad and later a college friend, but mostly alone, for several years. I enjoyed the simulated competition and being thrust into the role of manager for teams from the 1971 baseball season.

Just in case you are wondering, according to the official website, “Strat-O-Matic produces sports-simulation games that rate real players and teams accurately for professional baseball, football, basketball and hockey, and college football.”

Somehow, in the various moves I made after college, the original Strat set did not survive. About 13 years ago, before we even had kids, I decided to buy another game replete with old timers’ teams from the 30s and 40s as well as some of my favorites from the 60s and 70s. The game gathered dust on top of our bedroom bookshelf and later in the garage until last winter.

That was when I decided to introduce Miguel to Strat. Even though many of today’s kids are addicted to videogames, X-boxes, Playstations, and all things instant stimuli media, Miguel loves all games and I thought this one might rope him in.

I was right.

Unlike other board games, Strat is largely based on the roll of the dice. Yes, the player cards do reflect actual statistics, so a world class hitter or pitcher has greater odds of “performing” well. But anyone can be a star at any given moment if the right numbers pop up. Call it game board egalitarianism.

Miguel and I decided to each select ten teams, play ten games per team, and then have playoffs and an inter-conference World Series. One each of our teams we drafted from a pool of Hall of Fame All-Stars.

Among the teams he chose were the 1927 New York Yankees, featuring Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig and called by some as one of the greatest offensive squads in baseball history. He also had the 1975 world champion Cincinnati Reds, 1920 Cleveland Indians, the 2007 Los Angeles Anaheim Angels, and the 1909 Detroit Tigers, which included otherworldly base stealer and inveterate racist Ty Cobb.

My Hall of Fame All Star team was pretty stacked. I had Frank Robinson and Roberto Clemente on my bench and my team boasted pitchers Three Finger Brown, Kid Nichols, and Chief Bender and hitters Frank Baker, Jackie Robinson, and Heinie Manush. I had the 1924 Washington Senators and the 1905 New York Giants. I also picked the 2004 and 2007 Boston Red Sox teams and learned an important lesson: it’s not always good to lead with your heart.

Those Red Sox squads may have won the World Series (and brought me unbridled joy), but their real world success does not always translate well in the chancier world of simulated baseball. They won a total of four or five games out of 20.

Miguel scored the most learning by acquiring knowledge about players from different eras. How many other twelve-year-olds know that the 1906 Cubs featured the great double-play combination of Tinker to Evers to Chance? Or that Mantle and Maris combined to hit nearly 120 homeruns in 1961? Or that several old time pitchers were virtually unhittable in the dead ball era?

Well, Miguel does, and more. I recently added the Negro Leagues All-Stars to our stable of players, and last week we each drafted three teams. Miguel is now familiar with Oscar Charleston, Satchel Paige, Bullet Joe Rogan, Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard, Cool Papa Bell, and nearly a hundred more men who were denied entrance to the major leagues solely on the basis of the color of their skin. I hope the six-team inclusion of Negro League stars will educate Miguel and increase his sensitivity to matters of race and tolerance.

And I think Strat is paying off. Over the weekend, the parent of one of Miguel’s friends said to me, “Miguel’s pretty smart. He was telling us all about all these old-time baseball players.”
So I explained to him that it was largely because of Strat. Then he asked for the website and said he might get the game.

“Kids just don’t play board games much these days,” he said, impressed by Miguel.

No, they don’t, I said. Miguel and I used to play Star Wars and Major League Baseball Monopoly, but he gave up on both games because he said I won too much. Hey, I may be a proud progressive-leftie-commie-rabble rouser, but plop me down in front of Monopoly and I turn into a blood-thirsty capitalist with enough cutthroat ambition to rival Vanderbilt, Trump, or Murdoch.

Anyway, we began our second season last night after we chose teams and assigned them to various divisions. Curiously, most of the players on one of Miguel’s Hall of Fame All-Star teams formerly played on my team, the team that won our inaugural World Series.

As we climbed to stairs to his room, he said, “You’re going down.”

“You’re going down,” I said.

The game pitted his other Hall of Fame All-Star squad with Ty Cobb, Christy Matthewson, and Joe DiMaggio against one of my Negro Leagues teams, with Satchel Paige, Bullet Joe Rogan, and Dizzy Dismukes.

Miguel’s team scorched mine, 11-3.

Strat-O-Matic Lives. Long live the games.

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