Port St. Lucie and Tampa may be ground zero for the new baseball season kicking off for Mets and Yankees fans respectively. But for die-hard Strat-O-Matic fans, Opening Day takes place at a gray two-story brick building that’s situated off the parking lot of the Long Island Rail Road Glen Head station. It was here that between 160 and 170 fans recently braved an overcast and blustery day to be able to purchase the new 2019 sets.
What is Strat-O-Matic, you say? It’s a rotisserie set invented by Great Neck native Hal Richman back in 1961. Two regular-sided dice and one 20-sided die are used in conjunction with player cards that offer various hitting and fielding outcomes based on actual seasonal statistics and thoroughly determined player ratings. While novices can whet their teeth with the basic version of Strat, a flip of the cards enables players to go play Advanced and Super Advanced versions of Strat that factor in strategic nuances like righty-lefty pitching and hitting match-ups, pitcher fatigue and ballpark dimensions.
In the five decades since Strat-O-Matic hit the market, the game not only inspired a generation of baseball fans, but it has expanded to include football, hockey and basketball. Moreover, the game served as a childhood introduction to include football, hockey and basketball. Also, the game served as a childhood introduction to the inner workings of baseball for a fraternity of announcers and movers-and-shakers of the game that include Jon Miller, Bob Costas, former ESPN anchor Bill Daughtry, STATS, Inc. founder John Dewan and Chicago Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein, along with a number of former players that include Doug Glanville and Keith Hernandez. For Richman, a diehard baseball fan dating back to childhood, a fascination with a game called All Star Baseball that only measured hitting prompted him to create his own baseball game when he was only 11.
“I took dice in hand and rolled them 5,000 times and created a probability table and from there started creating the game,” Richman recalled.
In time, this far more primitive version of Strat eventually evolved to include player stats and by the time Richman was ready to graduate college, he sought to turn this childhood dalliance into a career. Overtures for seed money were made to a variety of sources, including board games titans Parker Brothers and the Brooklyn Dodgers. After all these potential investors took a pass, Richman bet on himself and approached his hard-nosed father about getting a $5,000 loan. The only condition of the agreement was if Richman was unable to pay back the money in a year’s time, he’d abandon his dreams and come to work at his father’s company.
“The last thing I wanted to do was go into working at my father’s insurance company,” Richman recalled with a shudder. “It was a very tough atmosphere and I didn’t want any part of it. I borrowed the money with the hopes of being able to pay him back within the year and fortunately, I was able to.”
Costas, who has fond memories of childhood Strat competitions with his cousin John whenever he’d visit him in Queens, agrees with Strat’s importance to his own hardball schooling.
“Strat was definitely part of my baseball education,” the Commack native explained. “Baseball lends itself perfectly to Strat, thanks to the nature of individual players in baseball and how it lends itself to statistics, debates, arguments and comparisons across the generations that you don’t get in other sports.”
In keeping with baseball culture, Strat-O-Matic has entrenched itself deeply in the game’s history. Prior years have seen the company release sets featuring Hall of Fame players, teams and even a Negro Leagues All Star set. This year saw the company take it a step further and focus on a number of original Negro League teams including the 1922 Indianapolis ABCs, the 1931 Homestead Grays, 1938 Kansas City Monarchs, 1936 Pittsburgh Crawfords, 1944 Birmingham Black Barons and 1945 Cleveland Buckeyes. For Strat research director John Garcia, the early returns on these specialty sets have been pretty positive.
“It’s the first time we’ve done this and they’re doing really well,” Garcia said. “It’s actually the centennial anniversary of the founding of the Negro Leagues, so we’re donating 10 percent of anything we sell that is a Negro League-related product to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City.”
For Daughtry, who regularly shows up on Opening Day, Strat came into his life at the age of 11, when he would play against good friend Fred Singleton on his stoop when the duo were growing up in Mount Vernon. The retired sportscaster affirms the important career guide Strat became for him.
“It’s played a pretty big part in what I’ve done with my life as a professional with it being a library/laboratory/learning tool for the thing I did on an everyday basis to earn a living,” he said. “It’s a lot more than just a game.”