Next Big Thing: Strat-O-Matic Baseball
JENNIFER LUDDEN, host:
Strat-O-Matic is the funny-sounding name for a modest-looking board game with a decades-long fan base. The Strat-O-Matic simulates a baseball game by using dice and a series of cards filled with statistics for each Major League player.
Strat-O, as it's known to its fans, was the brainchild of Hal Richman, a Bucknell University mathematics student. Since then, it's developed a loyal following, including celebrities like Cal Ripkin, Bryant Gumbel, Drew Carey and Spike Lee, who featured the game in his film "Crooklyn."
Now Strat-O-Matic has reached further back in baseball history. A new version lets players see how they would stack up against the Negro leagues.
Hal Richman, the inventor of Strat-O-Matic, joins us now from our New York bureau, and Scott Simkus joins us from Chicago Public Radio. Welcome to both of you.
SCOTT SIMKUS: Thank you.
Mr. HAL RICHMAN (Inventor, Strat-O-Matic): Thank you very much for having us.
LUDDEN: So Scott, you did a lot of the research for the Negro league version here. Let me start with you, Hal. Why did you decide to come up with this version?
Mr. RICHMAN: Well, I always wanted to. It's very important of baseball history and, of course, the history of the country, and this part of baseball history was forgotten, and these were great players. And for many years I wanted to do this, perhaps 10, 15 years, but I was never able to do it because the information was lacking in many areas.
There were things that were very basic, like doubles and triples hit by a batter were not there. And then about three years ago, Scott gave me a ring, and he said he had 3,000 Negro league box scores, and I couldn't believe it. And I said, Would you be willing to go through those box scores and pull out data that would enable us to bring out the Negro leagues? And he said yes.
LUDDEN: Well, Scott Simkus, where did you get those box scores?
SIMKUS: I'm a fourth-generation Cubs fan, and when you're a Cubs fan, that means most of the good stuff that's happened has happened in the past. So always had�
(Soundbite of laughter)
LUDDEN: Avid interest in history.
SIMKUS: Yeah, you - you know, you listen to the stories of your grandparents and your parents. You become interested in the game's history. So I used to spend a lot of time in libraries reading books, and I had stumbled across a couple of books about the Negro leagues when I was a kid, right around the same time I had started playing Strat-O-Matic, and I started going through microfilm and starting collecting box scores and looking for stuff that was of a personal interest to me.
But at the same time, when I would stumble across Negro league box scores, I started to put those into a file and build a collection, and it was sort of a hobby.
LUDDEN: And why did you just call up Hal, or do you know him from somewhere?
SIMKUS: Well, you know, I've played his game since 1981. So he's always been a hero of mine, and I know that sort of following the conversation of where the game company was going that there was an interest in doing a Negro league set, and you know, I realized that I probably had the information they needed to create a credible product.
LUDDEN: So all this information was out there - it's just that no one had ever really made it accessible?
SIMKUS: Yea, that's correct.
Mr. RICHMAN: That's correct, and it takes a lot of work. I don't know how many hours Scott put on this - he can tell you - to get that information out.
LUDDEN: Give us an example, Scott.
SIMKUS: Really the biggest challenge, just finding the box scores. There isn't one centralized source for games from the Negro leagues. You have to go - like for the white major leagues, you could go through the Sporting News and find just about every game in there. With the Negro leagues, you have to literally search through 50, 60, 70 different newspapers just to find the box scores.
You know, we're uncovering the DNA of players that we didn't know much about 20 years ago.
LUDDEN: Now, Hal, I understand because of the circumstances that the Negro leagues played under, you had to make some other adaptations for this version. Can you tell me about that?
Mr. RICHMAN: Well, the ballparks were very extreme. The Major League ballparks have differences, also but not like the Negro league ballparks. There were some parks that were what we call a hitters park, very positive for hitters and very unfavorable for pitchers. And then there were pitcher parks, were just huge and really reduced the long-ball threat of many of the great hitters, Negro league hitters.
One in particular, Josh Gibson(ph), was an amazing long-ball hitter, tremendous homerun hitter, but he played in a park that was a cavern. And we were able to take into account the ballpark, and once we did that, only Babe Ruth passed him. He was that great.
LUDDEN: I understand that a lot of the Negro leaguers also - they had bought their products, like, at a hardware store or something.
SIMKUS: It's true. I mean, the economics is one of the things we - we wrote a 32-page booklet that we've included with the game, and one of the things we talked about was the economics of black ball and how that affected the Negro leagues.
Whereas the white players were able to order their bats from, say, the Louisville Slugger Company in Kentucky, made to their specifications, the right weight, height, length, that sort of thing, the black players in general bought their stuff from the hardware store. They were using the same type of equipment that was used by high school players back in the '30s and '40s.
Another factor was the baseballs were different. They used a cheaper baseball, which didn't travel as far and didn't have the same resiliency as the balls used in the white majors.
So there was a bunch of different factors associated with sort of the cash-strapped aspect of black baseball that we had to take into consideration and make adjustments for to make it realistic.
LUDDEN: What do you hope comes out of the fact that there's now this Negro league version of the Strat-O-Matic? Hal?
Mr. RICHMAN: Well, for the company, I hope it brings more recognition for many more people, and to me, it's perhaps the most important thing I've ever done because these players had to be recognized, and there have been books about them and they've been - which is very good, but you don't get the feeling like a game when you put Satchel Paige up against Babe Ruth to see what would happen, and you can do that in a game.
We are the first, really, to do the job properly, and this to me is very exciting, and it's my legacy, and I hope that it brings a lot of recognition to these players in the future.
LUDDEN: Hal Richman is the inventor of Strat-O-Matic. He joined us from our New York bureau. Scott Simkus joined us from Chicago Public Radio. They've collaborated to create a new Negro league version of the Strat-O-Matic. Thanks so much, both of you.
Mr. RICHMAN: Thank you.
SIMKUS: Thank you so much, appreciate it.
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