By In Baseball, History, Joe Vault

Things I learned from Strat-o-Matic



Strat-o-Matic was not the first tabletop baseball game I ever played. No, first was this game called “Statis Pro Baseball,” which was this fantastic little baseball card game invented by an Iowa newspaper columnist and, later, sports gambling guru named Jim Barnes. There are two things I remember most about the game:

1. Unlike Strat-o-Matic, where hitters and pitchers have an equal chance to control the action (more on this in a bit), in Statis-Pro-Baseball the better pitchers had a lot more control of play. Dominant pitchers like Goose Gossage were what we called 2-to-9 pitchers, which meant generally that when rolling two dice, any number between 2-9 would signal that play be determined by the pitchers card.  Other not-so-accomplished pitchers, like Rick Waits, might have a 2-6 card or even a 2-5 card, meaning that any number six or higher would trigger that play was powered by the hitters card.

2. Matt Alexander was the best player in our game. I will never, ever forget this. We were playing the 1979 cards, and that year Matt Alexander went 7-for-16 with a triple, 13 stolen bases and 16 runs scored. Played out over a whole season, Matt Alexander hit .538, slugged .692 and ran like the wind. When my friend Mike and I had a draft, we played paper-scissors-stones for like three days to determine who got the first pick (let’s make it 4,598 out of 9,915). I ended up with it and took Matt Alexander, who was of course League MVP and star of my championship team. I believe he took some shlub like Dave Winfield or Mike Schmidt with the second pick.

In any case, Statis-Pro was fun but it wasn’t until college that I got all serious and started playing Strat-o-Matic baseball … and Strat-o, as much as reading Bill James, listening to Vin Scully and watching the miserable efforts of my hometown Cleveland Indians* taught me about baseball.

*Was so glad to hear a Cleveland team was changing its logo. Then I found out that it was the Cleveland Browns. Sigh. I guess this would be like the Washington Nationals changing their name.

Let me give you a very, very basic crash course on Strat-o-Matic baseball before getting to what I learned. Basically, the game goes like this: You take three dice, one red, two white (or whatever colors you like). The red die determines on which card the action takes place. So if you roll a 1-2-3, the action is sparked by the hitters card. If you roll a 4-5-6, the action goes on the pitchers card.

As mentioned above, I really liked the Statis-Pro system where different pitchers had different levels of control. Still, the Strat-o-Matic method is tidy and works well. Here are two cards:



Two pretty good players. Very big deal what card you are using for each play. Let’s say you roll with the two dice you roll  a 3-2, adding up to 5. That’s a pretty common number … and now everything depends on that hitter-pitcher die. If you roll a 5 or 6, that’s a strikeout because that goes on Kershaw’s card. If you roll a 1 that’s a home run because it goes on Tulo’s card. But there is something else you might have noticed: If you roll a two, it goes on Tulo’s card but that is “gb (3b) A plus injury.” That’s very bad … Plus injury could mean you lose Tulowitzki for a game, a week, a month, the rest of the season, who knows?

So, again, it all depends on pitcher card and hitter card. You will notice a lot of other symbols — not going to go into all of them, but will mention a couple of things because they will come up later:

See the diamonds on Tulowitzki’s card? You will find a diamond, for example, on 1-8 against left-handed pitching. The diamond refers to the ballpark where the game’s being played. It might say HOMERUN but the diamond means that it is only a home run in certain ballparks. For this, you use a 20-sided die and and the ballpark chart. I’m not going to go into specifics but let’s just say that it probably IS a home run if the game is being played at Coors Field or Arizona or some great home run park. And it’s almost certainly NOT a home run in San Diego or Los Angeles.

Then there are the horseshoes. Look on the right-handed batter side of Tulowitzki’s card — you will see upside down horseshoes on 1-7 and 1-8. Those refer to a players clutch ability. Strat-o-Matic has determined that Troy Tulowitzki was a very unclutch hitter last year. Those two numbers are singles UNLESS it’s what Strat-o determines is a clutch situation. They they magically become outs. Again, I don’t need to go into details but will talk about what Strat-o taught me about clutch hitting … probably not the lesson they intended to teach.

OK, so let’s get to what Strat-o-Matic taught me:

Lesson 1: You really need a defensive shortstop with range.

A man named Hal Richman invented Strat-o-Matic — he came up with the name when he was shoveling snow one day in Great Neck, N.Y. — and Hal has always been fascinated with baseball defense. There is much brilliance in Strat-o, but I would argue that the thing that Hal got right before almost anyone else was how baseball defense works.

You will notice on the hitters cards that there are two different numbers. Tulo, for instance, is a “1 e8.”  The 1 reflects Tulo’s range as a shortstop. The e-number or error rating generally reflects how often he is likely to boot routine plays. A “1 e8” is a fantastic defensive shortstop … which is obviously true for Tulo.

When I first started playing, I was very concerned by the error rating. There are players out there who are e24 or e36 and I was scared to death to play those guys. Meanwhile, I was much less concerned with a player’s range number — I would readily play 3s and even 4s at shortstop in order to get some offense and a relatively low-error rating.

This proved to be disastrous. What happened was hits would leak through my infield ALL THE TIME. In Strat-o there are different kinds of ground balls and a coordinating chart telling you whether or not the ball gets through based on your infielder. Basically, 1 shortstops and second basemen, well, they get to EVERYTHING. They save inning after inning after inning. But when you have a 3-range player at a middle infield position, you find that innings are extended all the time because balls are constantly seeping through.

Errors stink, but Strat-o really taught me that they are a ridiculous way to measure defense. Give me a shortstop who can get to everything. If he blunders a few easy plays, that’s a winning tradeoff.

Lesson 2: On-base percentage! On-base percentage! On-base percentage!

What really comes across when you manage 200 games over a summer is the painful price of outs. You don’t need to see the charts to understand that if the hitter leading off an inning makes an out, your chances of scoring a run go down exponentially. If you have nobody on and two outs, you’re unlikely to get anything going. You begin to feel that rhythm in your bones as you manage game after game. A 1-2-3 Strat-o-Matic inning can end in about 10 seconds … that’s the most helpless feeling East of Vegas blackjack tables.

And so, you just want players who extend the inning. You just want to keep the conga line moving. Sure, I idealized batting average when I was a kid. We all did. And when I started playing Strat-o, I didn’t even THINK about walks, I just looked at a guy’s batting average, his power numbers, and that was it.

And what I found was: There are .300 hitters who make A LOT of outs. And there are .250 hitters who seem to keep innings going a lot. I remember when one of the guys in our league, Ed, announced that he was going to lead off Don Slaught. It made absolutely no sense at all to me, Don Slaught was a slow catcher. But Slaught had a .380 or so on-base percentage, and he was a pain in the butt because he’d get on base a lot, and I realized that my speedy .300 hitter, whoever it was, was absolutely killing me because he never walked.

It took a little longer for me to start thinking about on-base percentage when it came to my baseball writing — that’s the power batting average had on my psyche. But as a Strat-o-Matic manager, I got on-base percentage pretty quickly.

Lesson 3: Ballparks matter.

My friend Chardon Jimmy tells a great story about Roy Smalley. Jim had a lousy hitting team and he decided in 1986 to trade for Smalley, who had hit 20 home runs for the Twins that season. Jim badly needed power and was willing to put up with Smalley’s basic inability to play defense by that point in his career.

Trouble is: He didn’t pay attention to those diamonds. Remember: Those diamonds are listed as HOMERUN on the card, and it’s easy to get suckered by that. They are only home runs based on the size of the ballpark. For instance, the Metrodome that year was a good home run park … it was probably a 1-14 homer park, meaning that when rolling a 20-sided die, any number between 1 and 14 is a home run.

Unfortunately, Jim’s team played in the Astrodome … which was one of the worst home run ballparks in baseball history. It was, in his memory, a 1-2 home run park, meaning that the only time Roy Smalley hit a diamond home run was when the 20-sided die ended up 1 or 2. In other words, all those home runs Smalley hit in smaller ballparks turned into warning-track outs in Houston. A diamond at the Astrodome is an out. And Smalley was an out-and-out disaster for Jimmy’s team.

It’s one thing to understand ballpark factors intellectually. It’s quite another to throw Royals pitchers in the shrunken Kauffman Stadium of the 1990s. It’s by playing Strat-o, by the way, that I came to my theory that if Dave Kingman had spent his career with the Boston Red Sox, even for all his flaws as a player and a person, he would be in the Baseball Hall of Fame right now. So much of baseball is context. Some much comes down to where you are.

Lesson 4: Clutch hitting is baloney.

I give Richman and the Strat-o-Matic team so much credit for making the game feel and smell and taste like real baseball. There are so many awesome elements they use. For instance, on a pitcher’s card there will be an X next to outs. You will see a bunch of Xs on Clayton Kershaw’s card above for instance. That tells you that the play not an automatic out … you have to go to the advanced fielding chart to determine what actually will happen.

Let’s say you roll a 6-9 against Kershaw. That is “GB (ss) X.” That means that you roll the 20-sided die and go to the chart. If you roll a high number — 13 or higher — then it is a always an out.

But if you roll a low number, then the result depends on the range of your shortstop. If you roll a 1 for instance, that is a single UNLESS you have a 1-range shortstop. I already mentioned above how important it is to have a shortstop with great range, and this is the reason: They turn every kind of ground ball into an out.

But my point here is this: If your opponent rolls a 1 on the 20-sided die and you have someone like Tulo or Andrelton Simmons at shortstop making the out, then you know your guy just made an absolutely FANTASTIC play. A dive to his left, scramble to the feet, throw out the runner. A backhand deep in the hole, plant, throw. You can see it in your mind.

That’s the wonder of Strat-o … it moves with your imagination. A diamond on the card that is caught is a fly ball that would have been a homer in any other park. When a pitcher gives up a hit on his own card — say someone actually rolled a 4-5 against Kershaw — that would mean that the pitcher made a mistake, threw a pitch that caught too much of the plate. If you love baseball, you can feel the very drumbeat of the game when you play Strat-o-Matic.

OK, all that said: The horseshoes don’t work. They just don’t. It’s the one part of the game that feels make-believe and disconnected from the real game. I’m supposed to believe that Troy Tulowitzki gets a single on 1-7 against righties EXCEPT when it’s a pressure situation. Baloney. It doesn’t make sense. It cuts against everything I believe about baseball. And it makes even less sense when a mediocre player has a regular horseshoe and gets a hit in a pressure situation that he would not have gotten during the regular course of play. Playing Strat-o-Matic, more than anything else, convinced me that the idea of clutch hitting as a unique skill is completely bogus.

Sadly, Chardon Jimmy and I only play Strat-o-Matic once ever few years but when we play we don’t use the horseshoes. That’s kid’s stuff. It’s a very rare Strat-o-Matic misstep in my opinion, but it did form my view about clutch hitting.

Lesson 5: Don’t use outfielders with no range and low error numbers.

This is a corollary to Lesson No. 1 but it’s slightly different: Real baseball managers tend to love those limited veterans who make few obvious blunders. They call those kinds of players “true pros,” and praise them beyond reason, and give them 400 at-bats or something crazy like that. I referred to this in the Gloaden Rule:

1. Use Ross Gload correctly, he will help your team win games.

2. Use Ross Gload incorrectly, he will get you fired.

Outfielders who are “3 e1” defenders will get you fired. You think they are helping you because they make so few mistakes. They almost never commit an error. Remember the 20-sided die? Well, if you have a right fielder who has a 1-range, he gets to every ball. If you have a 3-range outfielder then rolling a 1, 2 or 4 means double, 2, 5 and 6 are singles. You learn very quickly that solid but immobile outfielders are barcaloungers with good hands, and they will hurt your team.

Lesson 6: Matchups matter but …

By splitting the card between lefty and righty, Strat-o-Matic does a great job of emphasizing just how much matchups do matter. Troy Tulowitzki absolutely kills lefties, especially in his home park. He’s not nearly as good against righties. How bout this Dellin Betances card?

DellinCardIn case you missed it: There are exactly zero hits on Betances’ card when facing lefties. ZERO. There are a couple of dots — those become hits after a pitcher gets tired. But again, not to get too technical, matches do matter a lot in Strat-o-Matic.

What’s interesting, though, is that while matchups matter a lot, from what I have seen in Strat-o, overmanaging often backfires, just like in real baseball. I think this is because the difference between a good matchup and a bad matchup is pretty miniscule. I mean, it isn’t like righties get a lot of hits against Betances either. We tend to overrate moves in baseball because we tend to think that the optimal play is significantly better than the non-optimal play. And that just isn’t the case. Sending a .350 on-base percentage player to pinch-hit for a .320 on-base percentage hitter is only adding three-percent to my on-base chances. And it might not even be that depending on a thousand other factors.

Anyway, the point I’m making is: I’m probably going to use Betances a lot if I’m managing the Yankees.

Lesson 7: Twenties happen.

Chardon Jimmy and I talk about this lesson all the time — it’s more a life lesson than a baseball lesson. In Strat-o-Matic you will sometimes have a play that is almost a sure thing. It might be a single into center field with two outs and Jose Altuve at second base. Altuve scoring is almost a sure thing — in Strat-o-Matic Jimmy and I call that a 1-19 play. That means, you roll the 20-sided die and if it lands 1 through 19, Altuve scores.

Most of the time, you would never even roll the die because the defending team would cut off the throw to keep the batter from going to second. But now and again the throw does go home. It’s a 95% chance of scoring.

But every now and again the 20 comes up. Twenties happen. Ask Harold Reynolds about his 1-19 play against Bo Jackson and the Royals.

“Twenties happen” is so true about so many things. Marty Schottenheimer has had a lot of 20s rolled against him in his life. The Seattle Seahawks had a 20 rolled against them. Sergio Garcia has faced a lot of 20s. All of us, in life, have had 20s rolled against us. It’s pretty devastating. How do you respond?

I had a 20 against me in a big series against Jim — I was about to score the tying run, it was a sure thing, 1-19, and I rolled the die and the 20 came up, and instead of extra innings the game was over. I remember going to sit on the brown lump that I called a couch in those days and thinking about the unfairness of life.   In retrospect, that might have been an overreaction. And I say that because my team came back to win the series on an epic Dwight Evans home run that haunts Chardon Jimmy to this very day.

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119 Responses to Things I learned from Strat-o-Matic

  1. Shawn Weaver says:

    I remember one year in S-O-M–I think it was the 1979 cards–that one team–I think it was the Cubs–had a bullpen full of relievers with kind of Jekyll-Hyde splits. They either gave up nothing to lefties and couldn’t get a righty out, or the reverse. That was how I really learned about matching up relievers. And some of the guys (like Elias Sosa, maybe?) were reverse-platoon guys, like righties who got out lefties but not righty hitters. I was Tony LaRussa before Tony even thought about that kind of bullpen usage.

    • Mitch says:

      Although I watched Dennis Martinez throw the 11th perfect game in MLB history at Chavez Ravine, Señor Sid “6 Innings” Fernandez’s “6-walk No Hitter” has made Strato more special to me than that ‘whatever lucky’ 148yd hole in one I hit with a nine iron.

  2. Joe Harder says:

    Wonderful. Love it (and Strat)! 18th year in a 36-year, 11 team league. Thanks!

  3. Dave Scott says:

    Strat-O-Matic, not Strat-o-Matic.

  4. Dr. Baseball says:

    Best Game Ever.

    I couldn’t even begin to think of the lagues and series I played with Strat throughout my formative baseball learning years.

    After playing Strat baseball throughout my entire childhood, and teaching it to my sons (after learning the game and playing with my father) I decided to try out the Pro-Football version with my 15 year old son when his other brothers went off to college.

    While we don’t play often enough, it still is a great way to spend an hour together on a cold and uneventful Sunday afternoon.

    And, though we don’t play the baseball game right now, I still buy the New Yankees team cards every year (and have been doing so since the 1980’s).

    If one were to look at the collection of Jeter cards over time, for example, one can see his range go from a 1 to a 2 to a 3… His new card has him as a 4. That’s one of the great aspects of Strat as well:

    A 1999 Jeter card isn’t the same as a 2013 Jeter card because Jeter wasn’t the same player in those seasons.

    Another lesson Joe – just because you have a Derek Jeter card, you don’t necessarily have “Derek Jeter” (the player you think you are getting). (Just like the real life 2014 Yankees.)


    I imagine that one day, in retirement, I’ll take out all those old cards, that today just get purchased and put in a box, and relive my childhood… and my adulthood too.

    There isn’t a game like Strat-o-Matic.

    • YouDon'tKnowNothing says:

      Best game ever ???? Not likely. It may have been the best game in the ’60’s, ’70’s and ’80’s, but it’s been surpassed by a number of different games since then. Of course an SOM’er would never know this, cause their heads have been stuck in the sand for so long and they’re oblivious to all the better games out there.

      • Mr Ostrich says:

        OK smart guy. Give me 3 games that are better and explain why each game is better. Be specific with your examples.

        • Mr YouDon’tKnowNothing sounds like Mr KnowItAll.

          I happen to think he’s right, but jeez!

          I grew up playing APBA in the 60’s, and occasionally I spent over an hour playing a BLM game. When a friend offered to play a game of Strat with me, I’d already seen the advertisements for it and knew it was the better game than APBA. But what always bothered me was the 50%-50% batter-pitcher thing … I intuitively knew that pitchers ought to affect batters on every at-bat. (Of course, I could critique other aspects of Strat-O-Matic as well as any other game. LOL.)

          Some games that better deal with pitcher/batter interaction are BLM (but whoa, this is no recommendation for that game!), the short-lived ASG, Inside Pitch, and Payoff Pitch. Perhaps Box Seat Baseball should be mentioned also.

          If you’re curious, you might some time check out any or all of these other games, just to see how other game engines work … and to see how other games handle pitcher-batter interaction.

          Meanwhile, I’m sure you’ll continue to enjoy Strat. As I will, as I pull out my 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates …

        • YouDon'tKnowNothing says:

          Take any current non-50-50 game out there, even the worst one of the lot and it’ll be superior to SOM. And dollars to doughnuts they’ll have better card stock too.Those paper cards SOM uses are, by far, the worst of any game company. Just thinking of those curly things sitting on my game table gives me heebie-jeebies.

        • Morris Day says:

          Did I miss it? I haven’t seen one (1) single game actually specified as being “better than” SOM

      • Paul says:

        How about some detailed info to support your comment.

      • Joe colella says:

        Name some of the better games….and it better not be video games

  5. Cuban X Senators says:

    Played out an 8-team league with 1984-1986 cards (midteens, before I got a job). I’d read Bill James & ignored those horseshoes too. But then I always figured the fortunately clutch in any given year would have their overall numbers suppressed (& the opposite). I’m not sure it really works to do that.

  6. John Nacca says:

    I started playing Strat in 1971, played for years, gave up the game for awhile, now I play the computer version, which is basically the same game without the cards and dice, although there is an option to view the cards. I am in the process of replaying my 26th season. My bucket list goal is to replay every season from 1871. I have played just over 25,000 regular season games so far, so I am about 10% of the way there. I figure at the pace I play, it should take me well into my 70’s (I am 53). It is definitely my alternative universe, but not as severe as Robert Coover’s “The Universal Baseball Association Inc, J.Henry Waugh, Prop.”

    If any of you reading this are Strat players, please check out…….

  7. Sirk says:

    The horseshoes are meant to better approximate RBI totals when replaying a given season. They are not an inherent judgement on the “clutchness” of a hitter, and are not even specifically tied to a player’s real-life average with two outs and RISP. It’s just that some cards would never come close to accurately replicating a player’s performance without those horseshoes. Think of 1987 Brook Jacoby. He hit .300 with 32 HRs and…69 RBI. A .300 hitter with 32 HRs is surely going to drive in way more than 69 runs as carded. So the horseshoes help replicate the real-life fact that in 1987, Brook Jacoby drove in only 69 runs. He hit .221 with RISP. He hit .158 with 2 outs and RISP. He hit .167 with a runner on third and less than two outs. He hit .115 with a runner on third and two outs. And so on. The horseshoes are basically a rule that helps regulate the fact that, as carded, with a .300 average and 32 HRs, Brook Jacoby would knock in way more runs than he did in real life that year.

    The opposite is also true…there could be a player with a low average and few homeruns who also drove in a decent amount of runs in a given year. In order to replicate that performance, some of those outs on the card are going to have to be turned into timely hits.

    The horseshoes are not clutch hitting as a scientific fact. They are simply the solution to a math problem. If you’re replaying the 1987 Indians, how do you make it realistic so Brook Jacoby doesn’t drive in 110 runs?

    But that’s the great thing about Strat… many layers and levels of rules to the game, all of which are optional depending on how realistic you want to get.

    • teb7 says:

      Thanks for posting this, wanted to explain this myself and you did it far better than I could have. Horseshoes irked me for the same reasons as Joe for a while until I started looking up RISP numbers on players.

      Remember, Strat isn’t trying to be predictive, it’s trying to be descriptive!

  8. yogithedog says:

    As a young boy the game I first got hooked on was APBA and over the years I picked up every season back to 1901. I took a pass at Strat one year in the 1970s and unfortunately I was turned away quickly by one player, don’t remember who, going nuts with HRs, just wild and unrealistic, such that I just gave up and dismissed the game. Given how popular the game is, it was perhaps just something unfortunate, couldn’t understand why. Anyway, APBA filled my need and still does, I do wish a bit it was as popular as Strat, perhaps that is because of Richman versus continual APBA ownership turn over.

  9. DjangoZ says:

    Thank you. I think I played this game a few times when I was a kid in the 80s, but I never really understood how it worked.

    Reading your take on it was really enjoyable.

  10. Sirk says:

    @yogithedog As Joe said, “20s happen.” Outliers can happen, especially with an extremely small sample size. It’s all probability and math. The great thing about Strat is that the math is there for all to see. You can look at the cards and know the probability of the dice rolls and realize if something crazy happens, it was against all odds.

    • Doug DeMoss says:

      It’s also worth noting, especially with the discussion about clutch hitting, that the sample size you need to make an accurate measurement may even exceed the length of an entire season – Tom Tango, in “The Book” (if you like Bill James, but haven’t read this, you MUST) comes to that conclusion regarding clutch hitting value.

  11. R says:

    I played SOM in the late 1960s, before all the lefty-righty stuff and pitchers tired and ballpark factors, and it was still a great simulation where you could almost smell the popcorn. There was a deck of 20 “split cards” rather thaba 20-sided die. WiWithout calling it on-base percentage, I judged pitchers and hitters by a number out of 108 representing likelihood of a walk or any hit . . . and made small adjustments for all the HRs Mantle and Yaz had on their cards and for Lindy McDaniel (pitcher) who had none. And yes, the unsung hero – Julian Javier whose hit won a marathon game of stars.

    • David K says:

      When I played in the mid-1970s, I did something very similar to you regarding how to judge pitchers and hitters basically by a pseudo-OPS in our heads. If a card had a hit or walk in the “7” position, that was worth 6 points, in the “6” or “8” positions were worth 5 points (since there are 36 combinations of 2-dice rolls, and a “7” occurs on 6 of them, etc). Then I mentally added some factor based on extra base hits, so I basically ignored most of the stats that were on the card. SO I guess I was doing “Moneyball” years before it existed. I guess some of us were years ahead of our time, and could have done well in the baseball world if any of the executives would have listened to us (THAT would have been the hard part).

  12. Dirtbag says:

    We had a computerized version in college in 1985, on the Commodore 64.

    We had a draft of all of the 1984 players.

    I picked 1984 Jamie Quirk in the first round. Everyone thought I was crazy.

    He won the MVP by a mile.

  13. Cliff Blau says:

    Something I learned from Strat- players seemed to have hot and cold streaks during the season, just as the real players did. But cards can’t be hot or cold; it’s just luck. So I started thinking, maybe the same was true for real players.

  14. Anon says:

    I’m not sure if everyone knows this or not, but Strat runs an online version. In fact they are currently drafting for an All Time Greats tournament. Not as fun as actually rolling the dice, but pretty darn close. Only down side is that is costs 20 bucks a team.

  15. Johnny B says:

    Stratomatic really nailed it. OBP especially.Paved the way for Bill James. And everyone else.

  16. 1992 Edition; 9th inning, bases loaded for my friend Mark, and he pinch hits in JESSIE BARFIELD for his Yankees team. I have Duane Ward on the mound, and what does he roll? 1-12, HOMERUN, basically the only extra base hit on Barfield’s card that year. The only thing I could do was watch as Mark jumped up on the table and physically ran around the actually bases on the game board. Galling still.

    • mrhonorama says:

      I had a similar experience in an APBA league my junior year in college (1985, so we had cards from the prior season). I was one out away from winning our World Series with AL MVP Willie Hernandez on the hill. Unfortunately, after almost 30 years, I forgot who he was facing with a man on protecting a one-run lead, but I do remember than player hitting a two run dinger to steal victory away from my squad. And the next year, in some season preview that I read, I saw that villain, in real life, had not only never hit a homer off of Hernandez before, he had never even had a base hit.

  17. I invented a baseball game using a deck of playing cards — not nearly as sophisticated — when I was a kid back in the 1950s. It didn’t simulate baseball very well, but it taught me a lot about game theory and procedures, which became very useful as an adult computer programmer. My family thought it was a waste of time, of course, but it probably increased my lifetime earnings quite a bit.

  18. Jeff H says:

    I thought I was the only one who played the lesser-known Statis Pro game. Spent many a late summer night in my room playing Statis Pro listening to Ernie Harwell call Tigers games on a west coast road trip.

  19. BobDD says:

    I remember Matt Alexander’s nutso ’79 card, but the George Puccinelli ’30 card was king!

  20. Jim Parks says:

    All hail Broderick Perkins….

    And dig the Baseball Prospectus 2014 commentary on Daniel Descalso…

  21. John says:

    Maybe the horseshoes shouldn’t be called “clutch” hitting. After all, the shoes can come up in the 1st inning. Whatever the situation is in the 1st inning, it is not a clutch hitting scenario. Maybe call it “RISP” hitting. Statistically some players don’t hit as well with 2 outs and runners in scoring position. But I think ignoring the shoes makes the player better (or worse) than they really should be.

  22. Ter says:

    I remember Tom Niedenfuer being so lethal against righties that my buddy hid his Strat card up his sleeve during the draft.

  23. Thomas White says:

    I absolutely loved Statis-Pro. As a 9-year old kid I received the 1981 set and played the entire season without the strike. It took me eight years to finish.

    I received the 1993 Strat-O-Matic set and replayed that season as well. I finished the day before 9/11.

  24. Lyle Kittle says:

    My biggest problem with Statis-Pro was that Rickey Henderson had one of the best throwing arms in the set, better than Evans or Winfield. As far as the pitcher controlling the action, I kept one friend that it didn’t make any difference if you read it off the pitcher’s card or the batter’s card, or the bathroom wall, as long as it was statistically accurate, it didn’t make any difference where you got the result. One positive about Statis-Pro was being toi move your outfielders around. Took a while for Strat to do that, but I think Hal got that right.

  25. George Lewis says:

    Great point about fielding ranges, it doesn’t do you much good to have a sure handed fielder if he can’t get to the ground balls. I’ve been replaying the 1911 Strat-O-Matic season and boy are there some high E ratings. Most starting shortstops are E56 or higher (Cincinnati’s primary shortstop is E88), I quickly learned the range of the player was key in having a decent defense.

    Another great thing about Strat is all the past seasons they’ve released. I’ve learned a lot about the history of the game by playing these past seasons. We all have heard about the Hall of Famers (well, many of them anyway), but each season has loads of really good players that didn’t earn a plaque at Cooperstown. It’s been very interesting to learn about these players and the role they played in the history of the game.

  26. go_baseball says:

    Disagree about the absolute of defense or even the negative effect of a 3 e1. 3 e1, I’ve always felt, is actually pretty solid for a corner because LF/RF are the least rolled x chart numbers.

    Over 20 years I’ve found the best lesson strato has taught me is that a player’s value is the sum of his offense and defense, there are no absolutes, and whatever cliches about how one builds a team do not matter. While I don’t have the mathematic skills to figure it the break even point, I think it’s very likely that (at least in a 6 man draft league) Hanley Ramirez is an elite player, and Elvis Andrus is not all that great.

  27. The biggest SOM takeaway for me was that you needed to have guys with lots of CAPITAL LETTERS (hits and walks) on their card. Jimmy Wynn hit like .269 in 1969, but had a great card with almost a whole column of walks, plus power. Joe Morgan hardly had any non-caps in his best years. Steve Garvey, lots of lower case letters. Manny Sanguillen, the same. Walks matter. Playing another manager who has lots of guys who get on base is highly annoying. Constant walks. Constant baserunners. Then…. the three run HR. Compeltely aggravating! You learn quick, or end up in last place.

  28. The one challenge I had with SOM was trying to play a full 162 game season. Football was easier to play a, then, 14 game schedule, even though games took longer. We’d have SOM sleep overs and knock out a lot of games in one night. But still, had a tough time doing 162. We were playing outside, going to the park to play ball, swimming, riding bikes, playing games etc. That was a kids life back in the day. It was tough to squeeze in a ton of SOM.

  29. Oh, and the 1970 Tom Hall pitcher card was as good as any HOF pitcher! Definitely a quirk because he didn’t pitch a ton of innings, but his card was the best & nothing prevented you from pitching him as part of a 4 man rotation (which was the norm back then).

  30. Noah says:

    Really, Joe? “Horseshoe?” That’s the greek letter “Omega.”

    • Pablo M. says:

      I think he was calling it as he did as a kid. I also called it the Horseshoe, which I got it from my neighbor, who had gotten it from his older brother.. etc.

  31. Ron Warnick says:

    I had some childhood chums who played Strat-o-Matic, and fistfights almost would break out over who would get the Roger Freed card. This was after Freed had a monster year as a pinch-hitter with the Cardinals in which he hit .398 with a .627 slugging percentage. And Freed’s bat did change the fortunes of a lot of Strat games that year.

    And Joe’s Don Slaught example sure fits my experience. If your lineup had Gene Tenace, for example, you’re darned tootin’ you’d put him in the lineup spot.

    • 1987 John Cangelosi was like superman doing an impression of Rickey Henderson. .275/.427/.418 with AAA stealing if I remember correctly. My cousin drafted him and wore the rest of the neighbor kids out as we all wondered “John who?”

  32. teb7 says:

    One of the best parts about Strat is the reactions it can elicit simply by saying the name of a player, particularly between me and my brother. ’99 Bill Spiers. ’75 Ollie Brown. ’92 Mel Rojas. ’04 Keith Ginter. All famous (or infamous) for the rest of our lives for their tabletop exploits through long, sleepless summer nights. My brother and I don’t play as often anymore, but we still have our perpetual tournament going.

  33. Chris F says:

    Without looking, one at bat and it resulted in a grand slam, right?

  34. LAprGuy says:

    The optimist says: “Ones happen!”

    I played SOM throughout college and after … I’ll watch games live and think, Oh, that’s a gbA. Enjoyed this writeup.

    p.s. Yes, they are horseshoes.

  35. bill hanger says:

    I never played S-0-M, but played lots of Ball Park Baseball which I think was devised by Bill James. There was a bar in Lawrence, Ks. where you would rent any world series team and play at tables with a random number generator in the middle. Anyone have knowledge on how that game compares to S-0-M?

    • It's Me says:

      Ball Park Baseball is vastly superior to Strat-o-matic. Strat could never replicate those statistical outliers like; guys like Joe Sewell only striking out 4 times in a season, certain hitters who rarely grounded into a double play in a season, some pitchers issuing a very low frequency of walks in a season, etcetera. Ball Park can replicate all of these things. Ball Parks baserunning system is also the best on the market, by a mile.

    • Allen Shock says:

      Ball Park was designed by Bill James but he did play it.

  36. seansweda says:

    I also started out as a kid playing Statis Pro. A group of us would get the set each summer and have our draft, an all-day event filled with non-stop smack talk that turned anonymous players like Casey Candaele into legends. Of course we never managed to actually finish a season. We eventually moved on to Pursue the Pennant because it had LH/RH splits and the parks mattered for HRs (sounds like Strat is similar).

    When I got to college I joined a league I found via — USENET and we’re now about to start our 24th season. When PtP died we created our own game, which anyone can download for free and play themselves. If you’re interested just google “Internet Baseball League”.

  37. It's me says:

    Strat-o-Matic and APBA … the two most overrated games ever.

    • hobo says:

      I couldn’t agree more.

      APBA and the new History Maker Baseball game remind me of one another. Both are quick playing, but lack all the realism, and imagination that a real baseball game offers. You get to play a game in 15 minutes ……. big deal …… it all ends up in being one of the most meaningless games you could ever play.

      And S-O-M …. there are at least 3 other games that are far better ……. Ball Park, Dynasty, Inside Pitch …… that immediately come to mind.

      • Al W says:

        To say that History Maker Baseball lacks imagination is just plain ignorant. Yes, it’s not a complete sim like Ball Park or Dynasty, but it wasn’t meant to be. It’s a hell of a lot of fun though.

        • hobo says:

          It lacks all the realism, and imagination that a real game offers. And it ain’t a hell of a lot of fun unless you’re still into Roy Rogers and Casper cartoons and I ain’t been into those since I was 10. To say it’s anything else is just plain ignorant.

          • Allen Shock says:

            what is ignorant is slamming on a game with totally inaccurate and false information and being insulting.

          • hobo says:

            Allen Shock, I just re-read my post. It says ….. And it ain’t a hell of a lot of fun unless you’re still into Roy Rogers and Casper cartoons and I ain’t been into those since I was 10 ….. I see no inaccurate or false information there. So your claims of me being ignorant and insulting have no merit either.

          • Allen Shock says:

            You really are unpleasant aren’t you? History Maker Baseball is GREAT fun. There is no reason for this kind of venomous insult. If you don’t like it don’t play it, but you don’t have to be a jerk about it.

          • Allen Shock says:

            You claim the game isn’t fun. I and a whole lot of other people say it is fun. That makes your comment an OPINION, not a fact. The puerile insult delivered to the “maturity” of people who like the game is uncalled for.

        • You Can't Be Serious says:

          Aren’t you on the HMB payroll? You do know it’s an inaccurate kiddies game like APBA, don’t you? Unrealistic results and all of that. How else do you explain a double-flash pitcher striking out the current batter and then the next batter, without the next batter’s card even coming into play? Geez, what’s the point in even having player cards if crap like that seeps into the game. That’s the most mickeymouse feature I’ve ever seen in a game, ever.

      • Allen Shock says:

        After playing a great game of History Maker Baseball last night, I have to vehemently disagree with you. It has all the stuff I want from a baseball game and more! Umpires that can influence results, park factors, etc. It was designed to be easily played with a team comprised of baseball cards (Topps and such) which I hace done. Plus the guy that makes the game is a really nice person and his customer service is excellent, something that can not always be said of Strat (although the game is excellent as well).

  38. Eric K says:

    John Hiller 1973.

    The Orioles 1974, “1’s” at 2B, SS, 3B, CF

    Dave Kingman, 1975 — all his HRs were in the 2,3,4 of the columns on his hit card. The “prime #’s”, 6-9, were Ks.

    But we also learned about luck. Even the worst pitcher ever, (Jesus Hernaiz, 1974, comes to mind) could rack up saves without losing too often.

    And if Strat didn’t teach the value of platooning, then nothing will.

  39. Arrojo says:

    It’s been explained that the clutch hitting is not really clutch at all, rather it is an RBI adjustment.players who have a high RBI to at-bat ratio will be clicked positive, and vice versa. Gus the clutch rating simply makes the RBI statistic more realistic per hitter.

  40. Blake says:

    I played Statis Pro and loved it. It was the game that got me totally hooked on baseball. I also enjoyed PTP which I thought was very accurate. I also dabbled with Sherco and thought it had a lot of interesting aspects. It was simple and pretty accurate. You really could do the super shift in that game. Another game I dabbled in was Winning Inning. It was a good solo game for awhile and a lot of fun. I am a Strat nut of course and I find it just as good, if not better than some of the mentioned. I also love Strat Hockey as there are not a whole lot of hockey games out there. Especially as exciting as the Strat one.

  41. Joe are you aware why those horse shoes and diamonds first appeared in 1986 for SOM? It was a clumsy knee jerk reaction by SOM to the “First Sabermetric” Baseball simulation. You can read about this in an entire chapter in the SOM book written by Glenn Guzzo. The name of the “First Sabermetric” Baseball simulation is Pursue the Pennant and it’s successor DYNASTY League Baseball. If you want a seamless interaction of Ball Park effects and other subtle realistic nuances of the game that go far beyond SOM then DYNASTY League Baseball is the game for you.

    There also is a new DYNASTY League Baseball Online version that is the first real time multi-player baseball simulation designed for draft leagues where you can choose to play live games head to head of have game simmed for you and there is no need to import or export files to update stats and standings.

    • Here is the link to the Online version and the free trial for those that are interested and Joe I would love to play a game head to head vs. you which is very easy to do – it all runs right in your browser for either Windows or Mac OS:

      • Blake says:

        I forgot that the original PTP was now replaced with Dynasty baseball. Right away I notice similarities in the cards for sure. I used to love the coloured folding interchangeable ballparks in the original board game. I played in some PTP leagues for awhile and the game company folded. It was too bad as we all ended up using a different version of baseball game just so we could keep one league going that I was in.. It didn’t last long for obvious incompatibility reasons and of course I had turned to Strat. So consequently, being that Strat has a huge customer base and many, many leagues. I am quite dedicated to the game. However, I love board gaming and will probably try Dynasty Baseball and who knows, I might even end up in some Dynasty leagues as well.

        • Great to hear Blake! Most of the leagues for DYNASTY League Baseball have migrated to the new Online version which is expressly designed for multi-player draft leagues. There are both Private Draft leagues and a league directory and also Public Greatest Team leagues. There also are some big local Board version leagues, but most of those are local friends. There is a free trial so make sure to try it out.

          • Alan says:

            Why did you turn the Comments section of this article into a self-serving advertisement for your own game? No class.

          • Because not everyone has read the SOM Fanatics book and half the chapter that talks about Pursue the Pennant. Glenn Guzzo never asked for my comments when writing the book so I don’t feel any compunction expressing my opinions. When Hal Richman writes in the book that Pursue the Pennant is a more realistic game than SOM they are already doing the advertising.

          • hobo says:

            Hey Alan, Another definition of no class is when one game company takes the concepts of another game company and incorporates them into their game. Sound familiar?

          • Big-Time Strat-O Knocker says:

            Sirk, There are so many holes in your argument and to be frank I don’t buy any of them. First of all, Strat doesn’t have 4,320 outcomes. If it did, you’d have to conduct a 1-20 die roll after the original roll, whether the result came off the pitcher or batter card. Have you ever seen a Strat card where a 1-20 die roll is required to get the end result, for every initial roll. No, of course you haven’t. But more importantly your belief that a 50/50 split boils down to a difference in imagination, is totally absurd. It doesn’t matter how you think someone else should try to perceive it, the fact is 50% of the results come off the pitcher card and 50% of the results come off the hitters card. Thus 50% of the time, it doesn’t matter who the pitcher is, or who the batter is. You sound like a car salesman, trying to sell me a Ford that has a missing rear end and is just sitting on the lot with two front tires and nothing behind the front seat column. I can see that it doesn’t have a rear end, but you keep persisting that it does, claiming it’s just my imagination.

  42. mikehammerlock says:

    My favorite thing about Strat is you have to scout the cards. The name on the front means nothing. David Price has yet to have a single good season in my league.

    Joe’s wrong about not playing the L/R matchups. Over the course of the season it makes a huge difference. If a card has a vulnerability, attack it. Pronounced reverse righties are the easiest thing to attack because good LHBs still can hit them, but they turn guys like Torii Hunter into stud hitters too.

    If you’re playing head-to-head, nothing unnerves an opponent like a team that can run. I had the immortal Alex Cole back in 1990. He stole 135 bases (with a .370 OB). He was almost unstoppable.

    They need to create a 6 fielding category for out of position players and terrible fielders involved in a hold or positioned “in”.

    TB counts can be deceiving for hitters. A guy with a lot of hits on his card can have a highish TB count, but wind up slugging below .400 on the season. The TB/H ratio along with the ballpark HR count is a better indicator of how much thump a card will have.

  43. Ed Baker says:

    SOM’S lesson for me was that a string of bad luck can last a really long time. I had Mike Schmidt in his prime on my team and in a 40 game league he hit one homerun, and batted around .080 with an OBP of about .110. A streak of nine games without reaching base. It was the running joke of the league.

    • Big-Time Strat-O Knocker says:

      String of bad luck = Strat’s 50/50 system. If Schmidt has 650 AB’s and every AB roll comes off the pitcher card he could conceivably go 0 for 650. You can call that bad luck, whereas I’d prefer to call it a poorly designed game engine.

      • Greg Eno says:

        I think I would call that INconceivable.

      • Man! I don’t think any game could handle that string of bad luck!

        • (Maybe his bad luck is facing incredible pitchers 650 at bats in a row. Those are some mighty fine pitchers, to pull that off.)

        • Big-Time Strat-O Knocker says:

          Obviously in the 40 game replay by Ed Baker it came pretty close.

          • “It was the running joke of the league.”

            It = Schmidt’s bad luck -or- a game that would “allow” such an outcome ???

            Actually, I prefer an emphasis on realistic results > exact results, so such a string of “bad luck” would not necessarily bother me.

            However, the ole 50%-50% thing has always bothered me, since the mid 1960’s! Some of the better, more realistic games (subjective definition of “realistic” is required here, but I guess I mean: you can taste the ball game … whatever that means LOL) [unfortunately] use it. I’m thinking Dynasty League [& Pursue the Pennant] and Ball Park. (Stats-Pro also did it, but at least revised the percentages, as mentioned in the article above.)

            I prefer real pitcher-batter interaction, and in one way or another (and to one extent or another) there’s a been several noble attempts: BLM (simple combination of percentages to get a final percentage), ASG, Inside Pitch, Payoff Pitch (a simplified ASG), and perhaps Box Seat. Getting the right combination of playability, realistic detail, and pure enjoyment is not easy.

            Other games are [how can one describe it?!?] sort of scripted, such as APBA and History Making Baseball (which seems quite enjoyable but very unsatisfying).

            So, Mr Strat-O Knocker, which is the game you most feel like setting up to play a second time after completing a game? Which one brings all the elements together so that you can enjoy it?

      • Blake says:

        If that happened to me, I’d know for sure that I was cursed and I had better start attending Church on Sunday instead of playing Strat-O-Matic baseball.

  44. Sirk says:

    These comments over the 50/50 setup are amusing to me. You have to have an overly literal mind to say the batter or pitcher didn’t matter in a particular at-bat. You are making that determination after the dice have been rolled and you know which card contained the result. The true probabilities of an at-bat, however, come BEFORE the dice are rolled.

    There are 43,200 different chances in a Strat-o-Matic at-bat. 108 chances on each of the two cards, with each of those chances having the ability to be broken into 20 more chances with the 20-sided die. If you took all 43,200 of those discrete chance possibilities, jumbled them on in a randomizer, and listed them from 1 to 43,200….then used a random number generator to pick a number between 1 and 43,200, you’d get your result with no specific definition of a batter card or a pitcher card.

    But that’s not exactly going to work for a board game. So instead, the exact same math is in place, spread out over two cards. It’s the same process, with 43,200 possible chances unique to each individual batter vs, pitcher matchup, just in an easier to manage format that makes a board game playable.

    It’s just math. And, except in the case of majorly extreme outliers, the math works.

    (The computer game has additional options to deal with extreme outliers, like low-strikeout batters, a la Joe Sewell, or super low-walk pitchers, etc.)

    • Sirk says:

      UGH…. 4,320…..not 43,200. Look at me, talking about math. Hahaha. I wish there were a way to edit comments.

      • Rob says:

        Don’t sweat it. If someone can’t follow the point you’re making, the difference between 4,320 and 43,200 is not going to matter anyway.

    • Big-Time Strat-O Knocker says:

      We have a dominant closer. He pitches 50 innings over the course of a season, an average of 1 inning every 3+ games. He gives up just 10 hits all season long, all singles. He walks just 5 batters and strikes out 50, He doesn’t give up an earned run all year and records a save in every outing. He’s the most dominant closer the game has ever seen. To be sure it’s a season like no one has ever had, yet none of the stats I’ve listed are “unreal.” It’s a season that’s unlikely, but yet, it’s entirely plausible. I’m thinking an Eckersley type, but even more dominant. Explain to me how Strat (the board game) would handle this, when just one at bat (just a meager one at bat) with the result coming off the hitters card would obliterate everything this pitcher accomplished? I know of only one game (50/50 or non 50/50) that could replicate that kind of season and it’s certainly not Strat.

      • Sirk says:

        As already noted, extreme outliers can be tough to replicate in the board game. Your fictional character is off the charts dominant for a closer.

        Two of the most famously dominant closer seasons in MLB history are Eck in 1990 and Gagne in 2003.

        Eck: .160 opp BA, .397 opp OPS, 0.61 WHIP

        Gagne: .133 opp BA, .373 opp OPS, 0.69 WHIP

        Your guy (approx): .063 opp BA, .154 opp OPS, 0.30 WHIP

        So, yes, a guy who is 2x-2.5x better than two of the most legendarily dominant closer seasons ever recorded in real life…that could be tough to replicate in the board game, especially if the small sample size is considered sacrosanct and cannot be deviated from in any plausible way. The guy would still be utterly dominant in Strat, but could have a hard time matching the type of extreme domination that is multiple times better than the most dominant closing performances ever seen in real baseball.

        You got me. Congratulations. Like I already conceded, extreme outliers can be difficult to replicate in the board game. This would be off the charts extreme, so it would it would fit the extreme outlier caveat I already mentioned.

        Strat managed to replicate the amazing seasons of 1990 Eck and 2003 Gagne, but 2x-2.5x better than 1990 Eck and 2003 Gagne…that could be tough. I guess you win and your fictional god of a closer nailed down the save.

        As a Tribe fan, I hope Cody Allen matches your fictional guy’s stats in 2015 so we can see how Strat handles it.

      • Sirk says:

        Just for fun and out of curiosity, I created a player named “Closing God” using your hypothetical statistics. I then replaced Gagne with him on 2003 Dodgers. I figured 2003 was still in the Steroid Era so it’s about as worst-case a scenario as there can be. I also peeled back the game to strictly board game rules,

        Closing God went 0-1, 1.31 ERA. 54-for-56 in saves. Opp BA was .134. Opp OPS was .383. WHIP was 0.60.

        So yes, within the confines of the board game, it would appear that Strat can’t quite replicate virtual perfection in the Steroid Era from a closer 2.0-2.5x more dominant than the most dominant closer seasons ever recorded.


        I then replayed the season with the additional computer-only rules that help compensate for extreme outliers. Closing God went 0-1, 0.40 ERA, 49-for-50 in saves. Opp BA was .102, Opp OPS was .272. WHIP was 0.43.

        Eye-poppingly insane performance, especially given that I placed him in the worst case scenario of the Steroid Era, but still not quite the absolute perfection that you demand.

        I’m glad you enjoy your other game.

      • Jack Cone says:

        what game is that ?

    • Good comments.

      The problem I have with the “50-50” game engine approach, however, isn’t with the math.

      It is the very fact that half the time, my pinch hitter choice was precisely useless. And half the time, my relief pitcher choice was useless. Those choices, 50% of the time, had no effect whatsoever on the outcome.

      It takes away from that subjective feel (“taste of realism”) that would otherwise come from knowing that, at least generally speaking, every game decision has a unique effect on the outcome.

      A similar dissatisfaction, for me, occurred when I was a kid playing APBA. Ok, so the 66 is rolled and, despite the adrenaline rush of a “66”, it was a home run a majority of the time, no matter who was batting. Or bring in a “C” relief pitcher for a “C” starting pitcher … what’s the point?

      I’m a statistician and I teach statistics/probability. I have no problem with the math that you presented. My problem is with how that certain subjective feeling of “these interactions between pitcher and batter really matter” feeling is largely robbed by the “50-50” approach.

      Make sense?

      • Sirk says:


        I think Hal Richman came up with an elegant solution to presenting 4,320 possibilities for each specific batter/pitcher matchup in a way that is easily and efficiently translatable to board game play.

        I think the 50/50 split conundrum comes down to differences in imagination. As a statistician, your brain knows that the probabilities contained within any matchup are vastly different because the pitcher and the batter are contributing to the probabilities. But then your brain overrides that and feels that a given result is either/or because of where you looked to find the result out of all of the possibilities.

        For me, the batter and pitcher cards had the opposite effect. They made the game come even more alive. The math is the math, and I know it doesn’t mathematically matter which card I get the result from, but where I got it greatly aided in my imagination of the play. If the batter whacks the ball and it came in from the most potent cluster on his card, he was locked in on a particular pitch, got it, and attacked it. If the batter got a hit off an excellent pitcher’s card, I’d imagine it as a good pitch that the batter fought off or somehow found a hole, etc. If a hit came off a bad pitcher’s card, it was because he was a crappy pitcher who made a crappy pitch. And so on. The math is the math, but the card results painted additional details in my mind.

        Your pinch-hitter or relief pitcher were in no way useless in determining what happened in that at-bat. That’s just a post facto mental construct after the dice were rolled. If you play the computer game and choose no dice entry and you hide the board game information, you will have the satisfaction of having realistic results without the cards mentally tripping you up. You’d have no idea where the result came from.

        I found the same problems with APBA that you did. I started playing Strat and APBA simultaneously, but right from the outset, it was clear that Strat was a vastly superior game. APBA has none of the feel of baseball and felt largely meaningless. No lefty/right matchups, outfielder arms, the pitchers didn’t matter much apart from their generic A, B, C, or D grade. It didn’t feel like baseball at all to me, whereas Strat felt like I was truly watching a game unfold and each player’s unique card brought instant visualization of a player’s strengths and weaknesses. I quickly abandoned APBA. Strat handily won that head-to-head battle for my interest.

        Oh, and as for probabilities vs. perception, it’s a common thing. I totally see where you’d feel that way. Our brains can get in the way. Back when I was in high school and college, I worked at a convenience store. I used to try counsel our Pick 3 lottery customers to choose tripled digits. If you won a dollar straight bet, with 1-in-1000 odds, the lotto would give you $500. (Great deal, huh?) If it was a triple number, they’d give you $750 for some reason. I used to tell our customers that triple numbers have the exact same probability as any other number, yet the payout is 50% greater. As a result, it makes no sense to play anything but triple numbers. Nobody would do it though. “What are the odds that same number would come up three times?” I’d explain that 111 or 222 are just as likely as 479 or 635– It’s one in a thousand. It’s just that you get $750 instead of $500. But it just didn’t feel right. 333 felt somehow less probable than 807, and if they bet on 333 and it didn’t come up, and some other random three digits came up, it was like they wasted a dollar and their bet never mattered and never had a chance because they bet 333 instead of three random digits that would have had a prayer.

        In this case, the batter and pitcher combine to create a unique set of 4,320 chances. It’s just that where you look after the fact is creating a false perception that half the probabilities didn’t matter.

        I get it. Brains are funny like that. For me, the switching doors on Let’s Make a Deal thing never feels right. I totally get the probability behind it, but my brain won’t listen to the math.

        Since Strat doesn’t feel right to you, is there another game that you’ve found that’s more enjoyable to you? (Obviously, APBA wasn’t the answer.) I hope you’ve found the game that’s right for you. I don’t get too snobby about which games people prefer. APBA didn’t work for me at all, but for those who love it, great. Strat-hater dude hates Strat, but there’s some other game that he loves. Good for him. I will stick up for misconceptions about Strat, but in the end, people should play what they enjoy. There’s no right or wrong. These are all just games simulating a game.

        • Wesley A Kring says:

          Here we are, two years later.

          1. I WANT my brain to “get in the way.”

          2. I want every “at bat” to be a pitcher-batter interaction.

          3. It’s so obvious: 111 has some chance as 493.

          4. Games of choice (theoretically, considering the issues I raised and to which you responded): ASG; Inside Pitch; PayOff Pitch; my own concoction of a game; BLM.

          5. Games of choice (practically, because I just plain enjoy them): Dynasty League; PayOff Pitch; Strat-O-Matic.

          6. Games I want to own (some day): ASG (now defunct, but would love that 1988 season); PayOff Pitch.

          Thanks for your comments!

          • Wesley A Kring says:

            I meant to say also that, for me, hiding where results came from (as one well-known computer game in the 1990’s did) was VERY unsettling for me! LOL.

            I HAD to know what was going on “under the hood” … or else the results seemed contrived and meaningless, no matter how very good the game engine might actually have been.

            For me, transparency of board-game-foundations (so to speak) bring greater enjoyment than results coming from unknown calculations.

      • David K says:

        I understand what you’re saying, and the reply by Sirk below was a pretty good counter. But the key to the Strat-O-Matic game is that the results IN THE LONG TERM will be fairly true-to-life, and you can’t get hung up on one single at-bat in the grand scheme of things. You can also think about it this way: sometimes a good pitcher makes a good pitch, a nice curve that starts out in the zone and then fades low and away out of it, and the batter takes an awkward swing at it, and STILL ends up making good contact and getting a hit. So that would be like you bringing in the ace reliever, and the roll goes off the hitter’s card — not much you can do, just tip your hat to the quality of the hitter going against you.

        • Wesley A Kring says:

          Funny how different people value different aspects in these games. Interesting, too.

          1. I want every “at bat” to be a pitcher-batter interaction. To me, rather than being “hung up on a single at-bat”, this interaction is the essence of a game. It provides the feel of realism.

          2. Results in the long term are not my primary goal. They should reflect reality … but (in my way of seeing things) “actual results” are just a sample of what the hitter is like anyway. (A real .320 hitter may, in real life, bat just .302 in a given season.) And so I don’t get hung up on trying to match “actual results”, as long as reality is reflected in the game.

          3. My games of choice (theoretically, considering the issues I raised and to which you responded): ASG; Inside Pitch; PayOff Pitch; my own concoction of a game; BLM.

          4. Games of choice (practically, because I just plain enjoy them): Dynasty League; PayOff Pitch; Strat-O-Matic.

          5. Games I want to own (some day): ASG (now defunct, but would love that 1988 season); PayOff Pitch.

          Thanks for your comments! Cheers.

  45. duffy01 says:

    I have a couple of questions:

    What do you Strat fans think of the Hockey and Football versions of Strat-O-Matic?

    • Sirk says:

      I’ve played and enjoyed Strat’s football, hockey, and basketball games, Unlike APBA baseball, which I hated when compared to Strat, I liked APBA’s football game and played both that and Strat as a kid. As an adult, I play exclusively on the computer now and use Strat. I’ve never played any competing alternatives to Strat’s hockey and basketball games, so I can’t compare at all, other than I enjoy those games, which I play exclusively on the computer these days. (But I did play the board games as a kid and liked them.)

  46. Bob says:

    Like Joe I had to learn the hard way on the value of defense in Strat –O–Matic. I have played the actual game only once or twice but played in 40+ leagues in the online version. I was always willing to live with a 3 range in a corner outfield position if the offense made up for it. Hank Aaron a 3 in RF doesn’t get to a ball then commits an error on the same play for me to lose game 7 of the championship series in a 70’s Decade league. After that I never go with less than a 2 in any OF position and if I have to go with a 3 because of injury I will always have a defensive replacement as part of my manager strategy.

    The thing with the online game which is getting better all the time is sometimes the computer (affectionately or not called HAL) will make odd pinch hitter or pinch runner calls or for some reason bring in your mop up designated relief pitcher in to an extra innings game when you still have 2 other relievers available.

  47. […] review of APBA baseball.  It highlighted the simplicity of the basic game and between this and last week’s blog post I found on Strat-O-Matic, I’ve been leaning toward playing a couple-few games with these older […]

  48. Dennis says:

    Thanks for the memories, Joe. Spring term, sophomore year of college, 1978. Guys on my floor had an epic season with the 1970 cards. Through trades by playoff time I assembled a lineup including Hank Aaron, Willie McCovey, Frank Robinson, Harmon Killebrew and Rico Carty. One-game playoff. Ninth inning, down by a run. Bases loaded, nobody out. McCovey at the plate. Base hit wins it. Dice roll 1-2: Triple play! Season over. But obviously not forgotten … Yep, sometimes you roll a 20!

  49. Joe: this is so beautiful. It compartmentalizes exactly both my learning curve and understanding of the game exactly, while also giving the non-Strat-head universe a pretty clear and concise description of the game. Including the visualizations, even!

    Wonderful, funny, clear, and best of all, true!

  50. Tinkers to Evers to Chance says:

    ’76 Frank Tanana’s card rocked. Ironically only no-hitter in my gaming was Francisco Barrios

  51. Jack says:

    My “20” event happened in STRAT Football. Or rather I witnessed it happen to my opponent. My buddy and I were 15 (1969) at the time. We decided to replay the 1968 NFL/AFL playoffs right after we received the 1968 cards. He was a big Colts fan, I was an AFL fan. Of course all year long he had been moaning about “how lucky” the Jets were in SBIII. Well the Colts take care of business in the NFL. Over in the AFL the Raiders beat the Jets, no real surprise – either team could of won that game. I am coaching the Raiders in the SBIII replay. Somehow I am leading in the closing minutes 15 to 8, the weird score because of 5 Field Goals by Blanda (inside the 23 he was like 2-12 good). Lamonica could move the ball between the 20s but then stall out because of the tough Colts DEF. Somehow the Raiders kept Morrall out if the EZ – he kept throwing picks. The Colts had a couple FGS and a Safety. Any near the end of the game Morrall finally holds it together and drives the field, throwing a TD pass to Orr or somebody in the last moments. Score 15-14. Michaels comes on to try the PAT to out it in OT and keep the Colts alive. Michaels in 1968 for PATs was 1-11 GOOD. You guessed it – box cars!!! My friend was to shattered to speak to me for a for a week. 20s and the more rare box cars happen.

  52. Joseph says:

    A few things that just knock me down that they are so obvious…

    1.) Great article. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I agree with the lessons you learned!

    2.) Baseball Board Game fanatics enjoy arguing vehemently about which game is best. Even though there is no attempt to quantify or qualify the term “best”, fanatics come out of the woodwork to praise their game and condemn the others as “wanna-be’s”. I am torn between laughing at these people and feeling sorry for them due to their serious lack of perspective and tact.

    3.) I’ve played just about every baseball game under the big yellow ball in the sky. Strat is a great game with a few detractions. NO GAME… repeat, no game…. can say that they don’t have some sort of negative aspect whether it be playability, realism, fun factor, fiddliness… whatever.

    4.) Strat-O-Matic puts out a great baseball game and there are some others in that category as well. The football game is among the “best” in terms of realism, playablility and strategy. It is my personal choice. The Basketball game is superior to every other basketball game out there… in many ways. The Hockey game is their weakest game but it is also one of my favorites. It can be played in a short amount of time, is enjoyable and there are a bazillion teams available for it. Still… there are better hockey games but I will continue to play S-O-M.

    5.) Yes… Strat-O-Matic is world famous for lousy customer service. It doesn’t happen ALL the time but just about every veteran S-O-M player has been bitten by customer service. Some of us have been bitten on multiple occassions.

    6.) Cool article…read my number 1 again.

  53. Aaron Tischmann says:

    Hal Richman is a mathematician with a mathematics degree from Bucknell. A former professor of his enjoys playing SOM during breaks. 50/50 works well as I have played both APBA and SOM and ot is 50/50 at the plate. 50/50 is the best when playing teams from different eras.

  54. Frank says:

    I have no problems with a 50-50 split. Sometimes the pitcher decides the out-come, sometimes the batter. Where I have an issue with APBA is that “hot dice” ie 66’s are more of a factor than the 50-50 split. Let alone replacing a Grade B reliever for a Grade C? That’s like saying “don’t give me a B in math, give me a C?”
    Case in point, when I was younger, a 3rd baseman by the name of Doug Rader hit the 66 HR in 6 straight games on my friend’s table top. I am 55 years old and have played over 25,000 S-O-M games and counting. My cross era HOF leagues can be found on

  55. David K says:

    When I played in the mid-1970s, as barely a teenager, I judged pitchers and hitters basically by a pseudo-OPS in my head. If a card had a hit or walk in the “7” position, that was worth 6 points, in the “6” or “8” positions were worth 5 points (since there are 36 combinations of 2-dice rolls, and a “7” occurs on 6 of them, etc). Then I mentally added some factor based on extra base hits, so I basically ignored most of the stats that were on the card. SO I guess I was doing “Moneyball” years before it existed. I guess some of us were years ahead of our time, and could have done well in the baseball world if any of the executives would have listened to us (THAT would have been the hard part).

    Some seasons, I also convinced my friends to use 30-man rosters to increase the size of our bench, so that allowed me to load up even more on high-on-base guys, and then also speedsters that I would use if down by a run late in the game, get my high-on-base guy to get at least a walk, and then bring in my pinch runner and steal at least second.

    • Greg jay says:

      Interesting, How many points would you give a position of 7, 8, or 9 that has a split like single or double 1-11 LO 12-20 ?

      • Paul says:

        You would just multiple the original chance by the percentage of the roll. For an example a DO 1-15 in the 7 spot.

        6 x .75 = 4.50

        6 represent the amount of chances from the 7 spot.
        .75 represents the roll of 1-15 or 75%.

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