By In Baseball

Me and Maddux



So, I got home from Sochi — long fascinating trip, tell you all about it later — and this was waiting for me: My own Strat-O-Matic Baseball card. Man oh man did I have a good season.

When I was a kid, I did not play Strat-O-Matic … I played a different strategy game called Statis Pro Baseball by Avalon Hill. I guess Avalon Hill stopped making Statis Pro Baseball a while ago which is too bad because it was a pretty great game, and it was a wonderful introduction for the superior Strat-O-Matic, which I would begin playing in college.

There is a basic similarity between the games that I think gets to the heart of what makes tabletop baseball so brilliant — that is in both Statis Pro and Strat-O* there are “pitchers” and “hitters” cards. I’m sure you’ve played these games so I won’t go into great detail about rules but I think the pitcher/hitter card concept is pure genius. In both games, there is a hitter’s card (which is usually good for the hitter) and a pitcher’s card (which is usually good for the pitcher). The essential battle is to see which card will be used for the play.

*I know a lot of people play APBA baseball and swear by it; I’ve never played so cannot speak about it with any confidence.

The two games do it differently. In Statis Pro there are “Fast Action Cards” you draw with numbers between 2 and 12 (you could also roll two dice). That number tells you whether you are on the pitchers card or the hitters card. And in Statis Pro, pitchers had different number ranges. Terrible pitchers would be 2-5, meaning only numbers 2, 3, 4 and 5 would be on the pitchers card. These pitchers would often get lit up because most of the action was happening on hitters cards.

But great pitchers — I remember Goose Gossage was this way — would be 2-9, meaning every number between 2-9 would be on the pitchers card. And because Gossage’s card was a hitters nightmare (seemingly nothing but strikeouts), Gossage was all but unhittable.

In Strat-O-Matic, the system is streamlined a little bit. You use a single die — all rolls of 1-2-3 go on the hitters card (in the corresponding column) and all numbers 4-5-6 go on the pitchers card. I started playing Strat-O-Matic in college, played it a ton when I moved to Augusta to be columnist for the Augusta Chronicle. And it made me look at baseball a whole different way — Strat-O says, basically, every at-bat is a battle for control. The pitcher tries to get the hitter to swing at good pitches. The hitter tries to wait for the pitcher to leave one in the hitting zone. It’s an eternal clash, and it’s fantastic. Strat-O-Matic beautifully demonstrates that.

I’ve written before about my favorite ever Strat-O-Matic game — it was in Augusta, it was between me and Chardon Jimmy, a seven-game series between the 1988 Cincinnati Reds and the 1988 Boston Red Sox. I don’t remember how we picked those teams; Jimmy was a Reds fan and I think I just tried to pic a team with a similar record. I do remember that Jimmy was leading the series three games to one and, in Game 5, had Tom Browning throwing a masterful one-hitter going into the ninth inning. Browning was astonishing — my guys couldn’t do a thing against him.

So the Reds led 1-0 going into the bottom of the ninth and seems about ready to wrap it up. Marty Barrett — who for some reason was all but impossible to get out the whole series (while Wade Boggs couldn’t get a hit) — scratched out a single. There were two outs when Dwight Evans came to the plate.

Jimmy at that point very seriously thought pulling Browning about going with Rob Dibble to close out the game. My suspicion — one he won’t confirm — is that he STILL jolts awake up in the middle of the night thinking about it. But he just couldn’t do that to poor Tom Browning (or his card). Browning had pitched his guts out. He stayed in the game.

I rolled the die. I recall the white die being 3 and the red dice adding up to 9, but I could be wrong about the numbers. I’m definitely not wrong about the results. Every Strat-O-Matic fan will recognize the word.


One word. All caps. HOMERUN. That’s all. When you see that word, you know it’s not an ordinary home run (many of the home runs in Strat-O-Matic require a roll of a 20-sided die to confirm) but a monstrous, titanic, Roy Hobbs into the lights kind of blast. I saw flying way over the Green Monster and into the Boston night.

The Red Sox came back to win the series in seven games and through the years, from different points of view, Jimmy and I have relived that home run, what it looked like, what the crowd sounded like, what our post-game interviews were like (the Cincinnati press was not too impressed with Jimmy leaving in a lefty to face Dewey though, to be fair, I remember the number was a HOMERUN against righties too). It remains one of my favorite sports moments ever, even if it only happened in our imaginations.*

*I have several such moments in Strat-O-Matic football too, and there it’s Chardon Jimmy who ended up with the upper hand. All you have to say is “Dan Fouts into double coverage” and Jim will smile happily.

Anyway, getting my own Strat-O-Matic card (one which Adam Rosen and Hal Richman and the Strat-O folks designed without my input or even knowledge) was great on two levels. One, it gave me a baseball identity — apparently I’m a high-average (.390 average!), power-hitting (40 doubles! 30 homers!), Gold Glove third baseman. My season is obviously influenced by George Brett in 1980. We both hit .390 with .454 on-base percentages. I was more durable than Brett — I got about 150 more plate appearances — which is why I hit more doubles (40 to 33) and homers (30 to 24). He had a slightly higher slugging percentage and stole three more bases. Yes, Brett in 1980 — that’s more of less my skill level as a ballplayer.

The second level, this gave me an opportunity to face my favorite-ever great pitcher Greg Maddux. I gave myself 10-plate appearances against 1994 Greg Maddux, which was the Maddux Strat-O card I found. In 1994, Maddux with 16-6 with a 1.56 ERA and he won his third of four straight Cy Young Awards.

So here we go. Me and Maddux.

First plate appearance: Dice roll 3-7. That 3 puts the action on my card (look at the advanced side — that’s the side with numbers for right-handed and left-handed pitchers). Look up 7: That’s a WALK. Hmm. Maddux a little nervous going up against me there. Can’t say I blame him.

Second PA: Dice roll 5-11. Ooh, that’s on Maddux’s card. He got me swinging at his pitch, probably a fastball that drifted away from me outside I lift it to right field for a relatively easy out. Damn. I’ve got to take those pitches.

Third PA: Dice roll 4-11. Yep, on Maddux’s card again. Another fastball drifting away, I’m sure. Another fly ball to right field. He’s in my head.

Fourth PA: Dice roll 1-10. Ah, back on my card … Maddux makes a mistake and left a pitch up and … and I’m overanxious and lift another medium range fly ball to right field. That question mark next to the result means that if there was a man on third, it would be a question whether or not the fly ball is deep enough to score him (depends on the runner’s speed). So that tells you exactly how deep a fly ball it was. I’m not getting anywhere with Maddux.

Fifth PA: Dice roll 1-6. Man, on my card again … and I pop-up to shortstop. Are you kidding me? This is ridiculous, I’m obviously just freaking out facing Maddux here. But wait! I will point out something — you see next to the result there is a horseshoe facing down. If you don’t play Strat-O you might be wondering what that’s all about. Well: That is a clutch-hitting horseshoe. That means that while NORMALLY this is an infield popout, if it’s a clutch situation (at least one man in scoring position and two outs) it automatically turns into a run-scoring single (for some players, the exact opposite effect is true — they might normally hit a single but in clutch situations it turns out into an out).

I don’t believe in clutch hitting as a unique skill as I’ve written about thousands of times here. But I believe in it in my Strat-O-Matic identity. This was a clutch-situation and I’m a clutch-hitting man! I just got my first single off Maddux!

Sixth PA: Dice roll 2-4. I keep rolling on my card … and that’s my first clean hit a nice clean SINGLE. So I’m now 2-for-5 with a walk against Maddux, if you count my clutch single. Which I do.

Seventh PA: Dice roll 6-8. OK, if that first number is a 5 or 6, you know it’s all over. Nobody hits Maddux under those two columns. I ground out to third for the easy out.

Eight PA: Dice roll 4-7. If you are going to get a hit off Maddux’s card, it more or less has to be in the 4-column. That’s by far his weakest one. The exact result for 4-7 is as follows:

SI 1-4
gb (2B) B 5-20

That means that I have to roll the 20-sided die. if I get a 1-4 it’s a single, otherwise it’s a ground ball to second for the out. I imagine this being a ground ball up the middle that could sneak by a mediocre second baseman. Rolling the 20-sided die: 15. Ugh. So that wasn’t close. That’s a groundout to second.

Ninth PA: Dice roll 2-7. Oh yeah, clean single. I’m in his head now.

Tenth PA: Last chance against Maddux. I roll a 1 with the white die, so the result will be on my card. Yes! I’m imagining Maddux threw me a fastball off the plate, I let it go, the umpire (uncharacteristically) calls it a ball. Maddux gives an extra glare. He wanted that pitch. He’s 1-0, but he won’t give in — he throws me another fastball in exactly the same spot and I let it go again. Count is 2-0. It’s my time. I’m feeling comfortable against him now. I think I know what’s coming. He’s going to keep staying away from me but he has to bring it in a little bit.

Here’s the third pitch — it’s up and in the zone. I roll 7. Oh yeah. I crack a no doubt SINGLE. So, final results: I’m 4-for-9 with four singles and a walk against Greg Maddux. I wonder if he’ll mention me in his Hall of Fame speech.

39 Responses to Me and Maddux

  1. shoptaw70 says:

    I started out with Statis Pro as well, only getting my first SOM set recently. Great to know I wasn’t the only one!

  2. Carl says:

    But now it’s the 80’s…
    And Brett is the greatest….

    • Baseball Guy says:

      …and Bobby Bonds can play for everyone.

      Rose is at the Vet
      Rusty again is a Met
      and the Great Alexander is pitching again in Washington.

      I’m Talking Baseball….
      Reggie, Quisenberry
      Talking Baseball
      Carew and Gaylord Perry
      Seaver, Garvey, Schmidt and Vida Blue
      if Cooperstown is calling is no fluke

      They’ll be with Willie, Mickey, and the Duke…

  3. nightfly says:

    It might be mire realistic to see who the shortstop is… and for the ’94 Braves it’s Jeff Blauser, checking in at 1.4 dWAR for the strike-shortened season. Played over 81% of the team’s innings at short. Not much help if it’s Rafi Belliard either: generally decent fielder who was at least league-average with the glove that year.

    Gonna have to overrule your clutch single, Pos. Be happy with 3-9 and a walk against Mad Dog… anyone else would be.

  4. Dr. Doom says:

    What a fun gesture from the Strat people! Also, this was a fun project. I’m kind of wondering what a lineup of saber-friendly writers would look like, and what ALL your strat cards would be. You, Neyer, James, Tango, etc. This set of cards would exist PURELY for those people for whom playing pretend baseball with dice isn’t QUITE nerdy enough. 🙂

  5. Craig says:

    I’ll be honest. I was kind of hoping they would simply put your name on a Duane Kuiper card.

  6. Tim Lowell says:

    I’ve been in a computer Strat league for over 20 years. I was a complete AVG/HR/RBI and WINS/ERA guy when I started, and I predictably sucked. I’ve gradually adopted sabermetric principles in my drafting and now I routinely make the playoffs. I’ve had terrible luck with pitchers and haven’t been able to build that monster team that has three aces and a full lineup of WAR lords at the plate. I do have Mike Trout and Miggy Cabrera, a fact I will always mention when given the chance.

    I’ve had some epic playoff series over the years,and lost nearly every one. I came back from a 3-1 deficit to the best team in the league, down something like 7-0 in game 5. I tied the game with two outs in the 9th, lost the lead two other times, then won it in the 16th. I lost that series by being shut out by Tim Lincecum in game 7, which is a microcosm of my failures.

    My bad trades and drafts are endless. I traded Fred McGriff for Cal Eldred and Shane Mack. I traded Mike Piazza (a guy I personally recruited at spring training one year and drafted before anybody else ever heard of him) for Brad Ausmus. I drafted Rick Ankiel, and was so excited in 2000 when he blew everyone away down the stretch for the Cards. I remember vividly following the 2000 NLCS between the Mets and Cards on the crappy ESPN Gameday site before they added all the fancy graphics. I just kept seeing “Wild Pitch”, “Wild Pitch”, “Wild Pitch”, and thought, “That can’t be right, this thing must be broken.” Nope. I ended up trading Ankiel for Travis Lee, the bum of all bums.

  7. Matt says:

    There’s a guy who, for a relatively small fee, will provide Statis-Pro player cards for any season. My brother and I started playing the 2008 season back in the late fall of 2009. We’re up to the first week of August and have been keeping track of all of the stats.

    I usually play at lunch in an unused conference room. When anyone asks what I’m doing I have to start off with a qualifier that I’m not trying to make myself look like the King of all Nerds, but then I end up doing just that, even when I keep the explanation to under 10 seconds.

    Overall, the updated version is really enjoyable, although the bell curve is stretched, so the best players/teams are even better than they actually were, while the bad teams/players are even worse.

  8. visigoths says:

    Strat was great. I play Diamond-Mind Baseball now, on the computer, and it’s a lot of fun. Not quite like rolling the dice, though.

    • Matt says:

      I’ve heard that Diamond-Mind is amazing. Particularly if you care more about the team-building aspect. Don’t they have a version where you can run all of your minor leagues, down to the A level?

  9. bobdd says:

    I’ve used APBA for 50 yrs. Never tried the others, but from seeing year-end stats I am guessing that Strat is more accurate at the yearly level. APBA has huge yearly fluctations so that even Babe Ruth can be an average hitter one year and hit .420 the next year. But over the course of careers, APBA evens out nicely.

    I remember back in the days before I had the windows version, going to a local printshop and ordering 1000 pages of randomly generated numbers I’d whipped up on SuperCalc: 11-16, 21-26, 31-36, 41-46, 51-56, and 61-66 – the numbers that could be obtained from a pair of dice. If you used the dice, one was red and the other white so you knew which was first and second digit. I kept my dice in a Planter’s peanut jar, so they could rattle around before setting it down with my left hand and with my right hand noting the result. I only use the PC version now.

    I couldn’t guess how many hundreds and thousands of hours I willingly sacrificed to the APBA gods. Everything I’ve heard about Strat-O-Matic and DiamondMind sounds like they are better than APBA, but I just can’t give up that familiar and identical thrill from adolescence.

    • NRJyzr says:

      “I’ve used APBA for 50 yrs. Never tried the others, but from seeing year-end stats I am guessing that Strat is more accurate at the yearly level. APBA has huge yearly fluctations so that even Babe Ruth can be an average hitter one year and hit .420 the next year.”
      It’s not an individual game system at fault for what you’re seeing, it’s the effect of the random element. And statistical theory.

      The number of PAs in a single season for an individual player is still a small enough sample such that a fairly wide variation in numbers produced by the game would be considered statistically valid.

      This would exist with every game, not just APBA.

      If you ran 15 or 20 seasons for a player, you could expect something closer.

  10. Randy says:

    I’ve played them all. Either rolling the dice or on computer, and I believe the best game is from Dave Koch Sports. Highly recommended.

  11. Cathead says:

    I learned Strat-o in college and was immediately hooked. Eventually, a roommate challenged me to replay the 1979 season which took five years to do (2,106 regular season games, plus playoffs, AS game, and WS). The season played out pretty much the same way the real season did (3 of 4 division winners), and the Pirates beat the Orioles in the WS. There were some anomalies on the individual level (e.g., Sixto Lezcano hit 56 homers).

    I collected a pizza from the roommate about ten years later.

  12. Dave says:

    Joe, Joe, Joe–

    I don’t mean to pop your balloon, but you’ve encountered the SABRmetricians nightmare: the statistics of small sample sizes. Let us know the outcome of, oh, the next 600 at bats! (Maybe you will turn out to be Tommy Hutton vs. Tom Seaver, although that was a fairly small sample size too.)

    I do note that you didn’t get any extra base hits. His ball always moves so even if you make good contact, it’s not super-great contact.

    I write this in the same spirit with which you shared your success! 🙂

    P.S. Are you now clearing your calendar to play those next 600 at bats? I hope so–the boy in us must live on!!!

  13. Dan W. says:

    I grew up playing APBA and because of that and perhaps the simplicity of the game always made me partial to it for baseball simulation. One of the anomalies of the game was that it overweighted a player’s most recent performance and did not take into account actual games played or how those games were played. Thus the 1980 APBA card for Oscar Gamble, based on his 1979 season, was a thing of beauty. In ’79 Gamble played in 100 games for the Rangers and Yankees and posted a combined .358 BA and 1.065 OPS. That was as good as Fred Lynn, who had an amazing ’79 season, and the best of any player that season who had more than 14 plate appearances. And, of course, Oscar had the best hair in baseball.

  14. RickyB says:

    One of the great things about Strat-O-Matic is that anyone can get a card made with their name. I ordered a card for each of my years playing college ball, then my dad put my card on the Yankees roster (computer version of Strat that I don’t enjoy as much — gotta have the feel of the dice!) for the 1993 season to test me out. My numbers came out very close to what I did in that college season.

    Back in the mid-’80s when I was a teenager living in a Chicago suburb, my dad and I, along with one of his friends that lived in California, replayed the entire 1984 season. Took 2 and a half years to do. For games in which his friend’s teams played on the road at one of our teams, the friend would mail (yep, snail mail) his lineups against lefties and righties as well as his pitching rotation. And we would play the games, send him copies of the boxscores back through the mail, and we each would compile our own stats by hand. One of my favorite experiences during my childhood. I remember Dave Winfield hit .414 for the Yankees that year with 36 homers (instead of .340 with 19 jacks), but Don Baylor only his 12 HR (had 27 that year) and Mattingly was 20 points off his real average (.323 instead of .343). Nearly 30 years later and I remember those stats without even looking them up. For a long time, I knew just about every stat from nearly every MLB player from 1984.

  15. mbastable66 says:

    I want one!!!

    must have the 1-4 HOMERUN on it. That was Jim Rice’s number on his ’78 card, that I played to death.

    My friend saw me roll that number for Jim ed so many times he simply started to call it the 1-4 moment. And if Rice came up with men on he would walk him!

    how great would it be if Strat started customizing cards. You could figure out your friends or your kids strengths, send them to start, and they would make cards for you.

    awesome Joe…very envious

    Mark Bastable .

  16. Paul says:

    Great season Joe! Unfortunately the Royals announced today that, in a money-saving move, they traded you to the Orix Buffaloes in exchange for Esteban German and Yuniesky Betancourt.

  17. KB says:

    My uncle turned me on to APBA when I was a kid. 1927 Babe Ruth was silly good with three 1’s on his card, single-spaced. That means a buttload of homeruns. I graduated to Pursue the Pennant as a teen. PtP is the forerunner to Diamond Mind. PtP rocked because the box became a stadium. You even had cartoon strips that were depictions of each team’s outfield wall. Fenway was really cool because with the box shape the Green Monster really looked like the Green Monster. Now I play OOTP solo and online with friends. Totally open-ended with player development, full financials that can mimic each big league season or be customized, full minor leagues, leagues around the world if you want, a historical database to do historic sims, just an amazing game that puts all the rest to shame.

  18. MJ says:

    you shouldn’t hit Maddux, even in your dreams where you are a .390 hitter and somehow the best 3b in MLB history.

  19. Johnny B says:

    We played Strat-O-Matic in the early 70s, and after trying to load the lineup with .300 hitters it became clear that on base & slugging were paramount. Hits and walks per inning for pitchers, very important. I had Hank Aaron in 1973, age 39 and his last good year, and he was the MVP. His card reflected a 301/402/643 with 40 homers in only 392 at bats. Learned quite a bit about stats and baseball from that game.

    And the first game I played, Tom Seaver no-hit my team….

  20. Cliff Blau says:

    What I’d like to know is, if you are a one at third, why are they playing part time at first?

  21. The big eye opener as a pre-saber metrics kid was the 1969 Jimmy Wynn Strat card. His traditional line was .269 33 HR, 87 RBIs. Pretty good. Not awesome. But he had 148 walks. So his card had some hits and HRs, which was fine, but the rest of the card was loaded with walks. Basically he was really hard to get out…. Yeah, a .436 OBP. I don’t think I was fully able to process that, in SOM, a 1969 Jimmy Wynn was way better than a 1974 Steve Garvey. I mostly thought it was some quirk in the game, rather than revealing some larger truth about the value of players. But the loaded cards were undeniable.

  22. Mike Schilling says:

    The Murray Chass card: .026 batting average, but a decent OBA because people can not resist throwing at him.

  23. Herb Smith says:


    That’s a pretty good line against 1994 Greg Maddux. A 944 OPS for a slick-fielding 3rd-sacker? Not too shabby.
    And don’t let any of these stat nerds give you any hassle about that “small sample size” malarkey. You OWN Maddux.

  24. Barclay says:

    Strat-O-Matic Baseball….the single most reason I became the baseball junky that I am today (well that and Vince Scully. Fist baseball game I ever turned on was between the Dodgers and the Reds on NBC Saturday. Vince was doing the play-by-play).

    If only Strat-O would do a MAC or iPad version of their wonderful game, though admittedly, nothing beats the table top version. My son (who is 8) and I are just starting to enjoy the game together.

  25. Moeball says:

    “And don’t let any of these stat nerds give you any hassle about that small sample size malarkey. You OWN Maddux.”

    No, Tony Gwynn owned Maddux. Lifetime .429/.485/.538 for a 1.024 OPS in 103 PA. That’s bought and paid for.

    • Herb Smith says:

      That’s a fascinating stat line. And considering it includes over 100 plate appearances, over a decade or more of baseball, there’s got to be something TO it. But what? What the heck did Gwynn figure out that nobody could? Did he hone in on the fact that Mad Dog detested giving up free passes, and knew that if he (Gwynn) were patient, he’d see a fat pitch in the zone? And why didn’t the smartest pitcher of his era ever figure out Tony?

      I love stats like that. Like Bill James used to insinuate, a few numbers can tell a whole Russian novel worth of story.

  26. Crafty Veteran says:

    Hey Joe, Thanks for the memories. I started out with “Challenge The Yankees”; a pre-historic Strat-O-Matic that featured the early 60’s Yankees and an All-Star team as the opponent. Game was played with dice and the personalized cards were 2-12 with hits or outs. I have played APBA after playing Strat-O-Matic for years and I felt Strat was much better.

    One of my favorite Strat moments was when I was the victim of a Hideo Nomo perfect game. I was playing my youngest son and the tension was crazy after the 7th inning.

  27. flyingdonut says:

    I played thousands of hours of Strat, including tournaments in the Chicago area. Strat is where I learned probability plus the beauty of platooning. I can still see Sixto Lezcano’s beautiful 1979 card with an “80” against lefties.

    I lost a tournament final once when Randy Lerch of the 1977 Phillies threw a perfect game against my 1979 Expos – who still remain the best Strat team of all time.

  28. shthar says:

    Joe, we actually have an opening in the WTBL strat baseball league. Not a bad team, could contend or rebuild. Stars include Grienke and Kung Fu Panda.

    Let me know.

  29. Jesse Barfield’s 1992 Strat-0-Matic card.

    Blue Jays up 3-0 vs the Yankees
    My friend Mark in desperation with an empty bench brought Barfield up, who had a horrible finish to his career that year and had been languishing on the bench for just about the whole season. Barfield steps in and rolls a 1-12 HOMERUN, pretty much the only thing on his entire card and hit a pinch hit grand-slam to win the game.

    This HAPPENED in 1992, and I still remember it.

  30. […] box is “for kids 5-10”? I thought it might be fun to recap it, an idea inspired by a post by Joe Posnanski on Strat-O-Matic. Let’s do […]

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