Friday, February 11, 2011

Strat-O-Matic: Happy 50th Anniversary

Saturday, Feb. 11 -- tomorrow or today or yesterday, depending on when you’re reading this -- is the 50th anniversary celebration of Strat-O-Matic, the legendary card-and-dice baseball game. (Here's a primer from Wikipedia.)

Let's start with this: Many/most fans call it "Strat-O." I called it "Strat." Sorry.

From Strat’s Years’ 24-27, it was among my biggest obsessions. I’m not sure what drew me to it -- what draws any fan to it? I liked mixing and matching teams -- an early form of fantasy baseball -- and I liked the range of probabilities and outcomes.

I had the "1985 edition" set -- so it covered the 1984 season. For the next three years, all me and my friends did was play with THAT set, so it was like we were permanently in 1984. As a young Cubs fan, this was fine with me, as that was the season the Cubs won the NL East.

But my most vivid memory of Strat was my freshman year of high school. I wasn’t nearly cool enough to be part of the “cool kids,” and so my friends and I continued to play Strat, rather than -- say -- going to parties we couldn’t have gotten into anyway.

Then, two of the coolest kids in my class wanted to play with us -- they loved it, and they totally dorked out with us. But their participation was totally on the “down low.”

They couldn’t tell their cool friends they were playing Strat with us, obsessing over the league and trades and homemade stat sheets in between classes.

But that was fine for me and my friends. I was so baffled that the cool kids were playing with us, that they even seemed to enjoy spending time with us. Even...grateful.

Ultimately, I out-grew Strat after my freshman year of high school. Other things took over: School, finding a sport, working on the school newspaper, girls.

But I retain such a fondness for Strat-O-Matic that I sometimes wish I could re-capture those years where it was my obsession. I know others feel that way, too. It’s a fun community to be a part of: “Did you play Strat-O-Matic," answered in the affirmative, signals you know.

You know what a fun, obsessive game it can be. You know how it impacts your fandom in a positive way -- particularly in giving you an appreciation for the role of probability and randomness in the sport. You know that it can become a lifestyle.

Happy 50th birthday, Strat-O-Matic. And I hope everyone who ever played remembers their experience as fondly as I do.

By the way, along the same vein as Strat, my favorite baseball book of all time -- a novel about an obsessive man who creates his own fictional baseball league based on cards and dice and probabilities -- is also one of the most underappreciated baseball books of all time:

The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop. (Yes, that’s the complete title. By Robert Coover. Published in 1968. I was introduced to it in high school during that freshman year when my Strat obsession was at its peak. Highly recommended. If I had a million dollars I would buy the movie rights. It’s a brilliant book.)

-- D.S.

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