I created the line-up card and handed it into the umpire. When the baseball game got started, I was the one who called for the steal, switched players, and made the long walk to the pitcher’s mound to take out the starting pitcher and put in a reliever.
For one year of my life, I served as the manager of a professional major league baseball team. You won’t find my name in the annals of the Baseball Almanac or any of MLB’s record books, but, it was the best summer of my life. I thought life couldn’t get any better.
Here’s how it happened.
When I was twelve, my mom and I took a trip on a rainy, cold spring day to the mall. I’m not sure what we were looking for — possibly new pants for school, I vaguely recall trying clothes on in the store — but I definitely remember buying Strat-o-matic Baseball, a board game that used real-life statistical data to simulate games.
Before leaving the store, my mother questioned how long the game would keep my attention. Whatever doubts we both shared, they didn’t last long. When we got home, I took the game to the basement to play and didn’t come back up until she called me two or three times for dinner. If left to my own devices, I probably wouldn’t have come up for dinner until months later in time for the real life World Series. In any event, I raced back down to continue playing and didn’t come back up until it was time to go to bed. That’s pretty much how it went for the rest of the year.
You make the call
I loved the game. I could decide who to play, I could go with the established star or play the up-and-coming rookie. I decided what pitcher to start, created the batting order and decided whom to trade. I could pitch around certain hitters. I could steal. A roll of the dice here and you would hit into a double play, a roll of the dice there and you would hit a three-run homerun.
The game offered two versions, a basic version and a more advanced one. I leaned toward the advanced version, which took about 30 minutes to complete and took into effect the stadium, lefty-righty effects for both pitchers and batters, pitcher
fatigue, and clutch hitting.
The game was pretty simple, but I was hooked. I could play the game any time I wanted. I could play with another player, but could also play it alone. To top it off, I could complete a game in just over half an hour. I didn’t have much control over everything that happened at school or home, but I controlled the game. For a pre-teen, that was gold.
In 1980, I loved the Pittsburgh Pirates. I started by playing a game or two with my beloved Pirates and soon moved onto playing the Pirates’ 1980 schedule, keeping meticulous track of every run, hit, walk and error.
Coming off their dramatic World Series win the year before, the Pirates in real life stumbled to a third-place finish and a so-so record of 83-79. In my league, with me at the helm, the Pirates stole a record number of bases, hit a Babe Ruth-like number of home runs and earned a trip back to the World Series.
In a dramatic back and forth series, the Pirates would go onto to crush the hated New York Yankees 10-7 in the deciding seventh game.
I haven’t played a game of Strat-o-matic in years — video games have changed how we think about gaming nowadays and a little thing called parenting demands have gotten in the way — but I think often about that year.
I have fond memories, of Strat-o-matic and the hours I enjoyed by myself. I loved the game so much so that I tried several years ago to introduce my own kids to the Strat-o-matic joys, but they were more interested in playing Risk or Stratego versus playing a boring baseball game. I couldn’t really blame them, baseball can be hard to watch anymore.
Despite that, Strato still holds a special place in my heart.
Strat-o-matic got me through my early teen years. I could veg out playing the game after a tough day of school and lose myself in the game’s myriad of statistics. I learned too I had a knack for the strategy and could have fun on my own.
Now if only I could just straighten up those record books.