Portions of the article are reprinted from MLB.com:
Hal Richman received an honor five decades in the making on Saturday, when his labor of love reached an impressive milestone of longevity. Richman, the creator of Strat-O-Matic Baseball, saw legions of fans descend upon the Community Church of New York to jointly celebrate the game’s 50th anniversary and its annual Opening Day party.
Richman said that fans generally come to his Long Island office to pick up the newest season’s cards, but the milestone nature of the 50th season enabled him to wrap it into a day-long celebration of the game. Richman saw more than 600 devotees file into the church on Saturday, which more than tripled his estimate for a normal Strat-O-Matic Opening Day.
Strat-O-Matic has already been featured in a book, and organizers planned to make a documentary out of Saturday’s event. And as Richman tried to put his lifelong project into perspective, one theme came rushing to the forefront.
Strat-O-Matic was one of the first diversions for numbers-obsessed sports fans. Launched in 1961, it’s a predecessor to the stat-based sports fantasy leagues now attracting millions of participants. For some — including ESPN and San Francisco Giants sportscaster Jon Miller, who played obsessively as a child — it was even a tool for self-discovery.
Never a mass-market hit, Strat-O-Matic has nevertheless been a steady seller with unshakably loyal customers, including director Spike Lee, who made the game a recurring theme in Crooklyn, a film about childhood memories.
“It really says that you’ve done something in life that was really worthwhile. You’ve brought a lot of happiness to a lot of people,” he said. “To have some of these people come from all over the country is just a wonderful thing. I feel very honored. I’m humbled by it. It’s just something I never even thought would happen.
“Who would think — when you begin something — that you’d be at it 50 years? The success is because of their loyalty and their interest in the product as much as myself creating it.”
That loyalty took center stage on Saturday, and it felt somewhat appropriate that the event took place in a house of worship. Hundreds of fans lined the pews and listened to several guest panels that featured former players and statistical gurus, all of whom held one thing in common: A love of Strat-O-Matic and an appreciation of the simple joys of the game.
Former big league outfielder Doug Glanville — who began playing Strat-O-Matic at age 6 — said that he considered showing up on one of the game’s cards as a huge rite of passage. Glanville said that he’s played Strat-O-Matic for more than three decades, and he can still remember what it was like to treasure the cards as if they were something valuable.
“People borrowed our cards, and I wanted people to take care of them,” said Glanville, recalling a simpler time. “I remember being very offended because someone spilled grape juice on somebody. … Another guy came in and there were teeth marks on it and he said the dog got to it. I said, ‘That’s Ron Guidry, man. Your dog cannot eat Ron Guidry.”
Glanville, an analyst for ESPN and the author of “The Game From Where I Stand: A Ballplayer’s Inside View,” said that he can also remember specific instances of Strat-O-Matic fans getting his attention during a game. One time, he said, a fan incorrectly cited that he had a +3 throwing arm, and Glanville made sure to tell him to check the game’s particulars again.
The former center fielder also told another story about ex-teammate Gregg Jeffries that drew a rousing reaction.
“When I was playing in Philadelphia, Gregg Jeffries was our left fielder, and let’s just say he wasn’t the best left fielder,” said Glanville. “He was a converted infielder, and plus he had a bad ankle that he was playing on the second half of the season. A gentleman came to the Phillies/Toronto series, and I heard [him screaming], ‘You’re a five, Jeffries! You’re a five!’
“I was laughing in center field, and they were like, ‘What’s going on?’ I knew that [Lenny Dykstra] had heard of the game, so I had to break it down a little deeper and explain something: ‘Basically think about it this way: They invented the rating five just for [him].'”
Richman said that many of the game’s next-generation developments are tied to the computer game, but he’s also planning a streamlined version of the table-top game that targets a younger demographic. Richman also said that the company has found a new printing process that will allow it to manufacture old seasons that had fallen out of stock.
That’s pretty much it for near-term expansion, though. Strat-O-Matic has already moved into basketball, hockey and football — both college and professional — but Richman isn’t sure that there are any other sports ripe for the tabling.
“I’ve looked at tennis. That’s a tough game,” said Richman of another popular sport. “Basketball is the most difficult game we would do. We already do football, basketball, hockey and college football. With hockey, we have a fanatical group that plays it. We do the major sports, and if soccer were to become a passion in this country, we would do a soccer game.
“With tennis, it doesn’t really have a passive following. Tennis is an active game, and that’s important. You have to have a television following. The big tournaments have a decent audience in tennis, but it’s mostly an active game. And golf’s the same thing. If soccer becomes big enough in this country, then we would do it. It’s not gonna help that it’s No. 1 in Europe.”
John Dewan says flatly that there never would have been STATS, Inc. if not for the Strat-O-Matic: “We were looking at play-by-play info, the score sheets from our draft league, when we said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to have a complete play-by-play of Major League games?’ Then, along comes this book by Bill James and he talks about Project Scoresheet, and I about fell over. I became director of that project.”
At the time, Dewan was an actuary (“instead of the statistics of sports, the statistics of insurance”). That gave way to STATS, Inc.
As a gamer, Dewan had started with the fictional players in Baseball Strategy. “I always chose the defensive guys. I was a White Sox fan, and that’s all they ever had.” Then, leafing through The Sporting News in the summer of 1969, he stumbled upon an ad for a game he had never heard of.
When the UPS truck arrived with his new game, he rushed to the neighborhood schoolyard and interrupted a basketball game. “The new game came — Strat-O-Matic. Come on.” Ten to twelve boys headed to Dewan’s house. That became “every morning on my front porch.”
He was “Bowie Dewan,” commissioner of a neighborhood league of teenagers using the 1968 season cards.
Dewan was hooked on Strat-O-Matic after testing the game to see how well it worked.
“I took Willie Horton’s card. He hit thirty-six homers that year in 512 at-bats and had home runs on 1-8, 1-9, and 1-10. To see if the game was legit I rolled the dice 512 times and it came out exactly thirty-six homers. I said, ‘Oh, my God, this is my game.’
“I had to hide my stats at the bottom of the laundry hamper. My mom was mad that I was doing it so much, [the game and the stat-compiling], and she threatened to throw them away. I hid them on her before she could hide them on me.”
Dewan never outgrew it. In 1975 he started the “I Don’t Have Anything Better To Do League” with Bud Podrazik, the guy who designed the “Strat-O-Mat Fanatic” T-shirt logo.
After devoting his life to STATS and the real stats, Dewan has never grown bored with Strat-O-Matic. Even now, as he leads his company Baseball Info Solutions, his league is still going strong.
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