Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Strat-O-Matic Baseball - A Love Story


    I have always been a baseball fanatic. For Christmas in 1982, I asked for a subscription to Baseball Digest. It was a monthly baseball magazine, but it was the size of the old TV Guides. There would always be these weird ads and coupons for some baseball gear, but I was intrigued by the one by Strat-O-Matic (SoM). SoM is a card and dice-based game that can be played alone or with a group of friends. Think Dungeons & Dragons for the baseball nerd.

    Every cent that I had saved was dedicated to clipping the SoM ad and sending off for my own set. When I realized I did not have enough money, I set up a "stand" to sell some baseball cards on the corner of Summerdale and Langdon Streets near my house. I eventually started selling Kool-Aid as well, since I was of the entrepreneurial spirit and realized that I could get more money with the drinks and people perused the cards longer when they had a refreshment. It was more of a pop-up shop because as soon as I had enough money for SoM I closed up shop and sent off my money. It is funny to think of it now that I actually sent exact change via the mail!

    The day my SoM came in, I first read the rule book cover to cover before rolling a single die. I know that isn't normal but I need to know everything about what to do before I do it. From the first roll of the die, it was an INSTANT love affair. The game came with the full set of 1982 cards plus a few bonus teams (1927 Yankees and 1955 Dodgers). I would memorize names and stats, mix and match teams from different eras to play each other (the '27 Yanks usually thumped the '82 Phils, even with Lefty on the mound). 

    When I tell you that I took and played SoM everywhere, I really mean it. School, vacation, parties, etc. All I needed were 3 die, a set of SoM cards, a notebook, a pencil, 1-20 chance cards, and my imagination. I loved creating my own scorecard and then aggregating the stats by hand. Using pencil and paper to do long division to figure out the ERA or Batting Average of the players. I became somewhat of a math whiz because I eventually could do some of those calculations in my head at the tender age of 8 or so. 

    Eventually, life got in the way and SoM took a backseat to being a college student, then a father, then a graduate student, etc. However, in March of 2020, due to the pandemic and lockdown, I fell in love all over again with SoM as an adult. Only now, I had adult money to buy different sets of cards, dice stadiums (Connie Mack replica scoreboard and stadium pictured above), and my love for the game grew even stronger. I was able to play dream match-ups with the '80 Phillies versus the '08 Phillies and settle who was best. I then played the entire 1964 Phillies season to see if I could erase the collapse. I "traded" for Robin Roberts on the 1964 team, but kept the entire rest of the team intact, including the actual starting lineup for each game. The '64 Phillies won the NL by 4 games under my watch. The Phils went on to beat the White Sox in the 1964 Series in 6 games.

    In May of 2020 I purchased the SoM computer game. It is the same "engine" and logic that the card game uses, but the computer aggregates the stats for you. I was in heaven with that too. The PC game lacks almost all bells and whistles of graphics and UI experience, but it can allow you to play a game in about 20 minutes. The Cards and Dice game usually takes 40-60 minutes to play on average. 

    I also virtually some really awesome people, Don P. and Victor C., along the way that shared in my passion for baseball and SoM. So even when the Phillies continue to disappoint and Fall fades into Winter, I keep my baseball passion and math skills sharp with Strat-O-Matic til Spring.

Monday, October 4, 2021

Hope is the Opiate of Fools


    Hope is the opiate of fools. All season we hoped that the Phillies would make the playoffs, but we never believed. We all hoped the bullpen would be better because we did not think it could be worse. We hoped that the extended winning streaks would portend a contending team. The only thing the Phils contended with in 2021 was a .500 record. 

    I perused the MLB team stats and not surprisingly, the Phillies did not lead the league in ANY positive statistic. They were mostly mired in the lower middle in everything. We all want to point the finger at the bullpen and Blown Saves, but guess what? The Brewers, Giants, Dodgers, Astros, Red Sox, Braves and Yankees bullpens all blew 25+ Saves, yet they are in the playoffs. 

    The lack of consistent and clutch hitting coupled with EVERY SINGLE regular position player's (minus JT) Defensive WAR was a negative number. Cutch was historically bad and there is no way he can play everyday anymore. He was just THAT BAD! Didi was another guy who is a defensive liability. If he can't hit and can't field, he can't play. The defense almost never did any favors for the team.

    The bullpen was not good again, but if you at the numbers, they were far from historically bad. They walk too many people and do not strike out enough people. When you let the ball in play versus a bad defense, bad things happen. It isn't just that they have errors, but they do not have the range to get to the balls that other players do at their positions.

    In my opinion, the focus has to be on putting a defense out there that is capable. JT, Bryce, and Jean are the only "locks". They perform decent on defense and have the capacity to be superb on offense. Hoskins has good enough offensive upside to cover up for him being a butcher in the field. Didi and Cutch are both under contract, but should be a bench bats only. Bohm should not be on the roster and should be packaged in a trade if possible. Odubel has been serviceable but still makes so many dumb plays at the plate and in the field that he just does not seem to learn from. He doesn't hit for power enough to move him to LF either. 

    I hope that the front office makes wholesale changes to the defense and bullpen. I have not seen enough evidence of that to be a believer, yet.