This past Tuesday night we staged our first Strat-O-Matic Negro League All-Stars Series. In the end, I took the series from Cameron 3 games to 2, but it was the entire experience that we are so excited about. Our intention is to stage these Best of Five series numerous times throughout the year, with a big showdown in the post season.
For whatever reason neither Cameron (@CoolPapaC) nor I had ever played Strat-O-Matic before Tuesday night. We couldn’t decide if in our youths it was other sports, lack of patience, or our peers that kept us away from the game. It took an article from the great Joe Posnanski to get us thinking about what we had missed, and to spark an idea about playing and documenting these series.
The article talks about the painstaking work that the researchers at Strat-O-Matic went through in order to create the pitcher and hitter cards required to stage a ballgame. There are 103 Negro League player cards developed for this game, and we decided immediately that this was the version that we wanted to play.
Our decision was based upon the fact that we had very little personal reference for many of the stars of the Negro Leagues. We felt that this would be a great way to get to know them as players, and to expand our appreciation of our National Pastime as fans. Of course, we are well aware of Josh Gibson, Buck O’Neill, Satchel Paige, etc. and of course Cameron is a big fan of Cool Papa Bell, but we felt that there was an important part of baseball history that we could explore by generating a rooting interest in these players. Through the playing of Strat-O-Matic, we believe that we could get a good first hand understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of these players, as if we were seeing them play at our local ballpark. Through diligence in compiling the information about these players, and as I think Strat-O-Matic fans will attest, the simple yet complex dice and card interactions provides a high caliber recreation of a player’s capabilities.
We were often stunned as the act of playing would closely resemble the type of performance that was written about in the League player biographies.
Playing the Games
We can honestly say, without a doubt, that as the games played out we felt an atmosphere of real baseball. We experienced tense moments, key defensive plays that were turning points in the game, jubilation on the rare home run, and tough decisions that needed to be made during game action.
Since we have no prior experience with Strat-O-Matic we played the Basic level, but we intend to get to the Advanced and Super Advanced versions as we get comfortable with the formats. Moving up to those levels provides a more realistic ballgame, as it takes into account park conditions, defensive options, pitcher workloads and righty/lefty matchups.
If you could have overheard our games you would have heard us bringing out our best baseball chatter. We couldn’t help ourselves (but I will say that personally I am out of practice, Cameron was much more on his game). There is a fine art to chatter that comes with years of constant practice. Good chatter must be witty and fast, cutting at times, and full of appropriate baseball lingo. I am convinced that a Negro League game rated A+ on the chatter scale.
In Game 1, I had Satchel Paige going up against Cameron’s young gun, Slim Jones. According to the player bios, Slim wouldn’t make it past his 25th birthday, but the lefty overpowered my team and cruised to a 5 – 1 win.
Game 2 was a tense affair that would introduce us to the eventual series MVP, pitcher Bullet Joe Rogan. Cameron countered with one of the most important figures in Negro League baseball as a player, owner and business man, Rube Foster. Rogan was dominant, and made us realize that no-hitters and perfect games are possible in Strat-O-Matic and it must be just as much of an emotional experience as watching one. The pressure of each roll of the dice would be awesome!
It wasn’t a perfect game, but a key moment was a perfect throw from catcher Spoony Palm to nail Cool Papa Bell stealing in the 7th inning of a 2 -1 game.
I scored an insurance run in the 9th to stretch the lead to 3-1, but Bullet Joe didn’t need the help as he took down a serious bat off the bench for Cameron in Alec Radcliffe, then Cool Papa and Mule Suttles to end the game.
Game 3 established the back and forth nature of the series as I used Roosevelt Davis to match up against Leroy Matlock. Davis was consistently letting runners on base, but after Dobie Moore tied it for me in the 6th with a two run jack, I was feeling good that we hadn’t let the game get away. Unfortunately, Davis could not get anyone out in the 7th and that guy Mule Suttles did damage again with a two run double. Four runs eventually scored and the game ended at 6-2.
Game 4 turned out to be the epic that great Series are made of. It had great defense, clutch pitching, costly errors and a run in the ninth to win the game and tie the series.
Second baseman Frank Warfield kept a ball on the infield in the second to prevent a run from scoring and to keep the score at 0-0. In the 5th, Satchel Paige got out of a bases loaded jam with a strikeout of his counterpart Slim Jones, but it was errors that would rear their head for Cameron’s team. We had been praising the smart play of his eighth place hitter, third baseman Dave Malarcher all series. He constantly seemed to be clearing the pitcher by getting on base with two outs. However, in the 7th and again in the 9th it was Malarcher’s throwing errors that would lead to three unearned runs and a 5-4 win to send the Series to a final showdown.
Game 5 turned out to be somewhat anti-climactic as an Oscar Charleston two run homer in the first inning was all that Bullet Joe Rogan was going to need to finish off this series. It got a little interesting in the 8th after Mule Suttles knocked a three run shot to make it 5 – 3, on what must have been a windy day, with two homeruns in the same game.
As we played, we determined that Mule was the type of player who either struck out or cleared the bases with a big blast. To give you a sense of how realistic Strat-O-Matic can be, here is a quote that I just found at the Negro League Baseball Museum web site;
“A free-swinger who struck out frequently, Suttles was a low-ball hitter with a big, powerful swing who hit towering tape-measure home runs that are still remembered by his teammates.”
Proof positive that our objective of learning the players while having an enormous amount of fun could be accomplished.
Sharing Our Series
We want our experience of discovery to be a part of the community at Baseballisms.com. What good is it if you can’t spread around some of the fun!?! Truthfully, we believe that baseball is such an important part of the fabric of our lives that the best way to celebrate it, is to share it. We hope that you will share too.
In case you missed it, here is the tweet stream from Tuesday night. Live, as it happened commentary as the Series progressed. Unfortunately, capturing tweets to present here graphically produces a reverse chronological order of how they were posted, so to get a good feel read from the bottom up …
We want to mention how impressed we are with the people at Strat-O-Matic who put this Negro League All-Stars collection together. They had to comb through ragged box scores, dig into Mexican League records to help get a more complete picture, and adjust for poor conditions of the Negro League fields, travel and equipment.
We do however want to recommend that the board that is included with this set, and the box that the materials come in, have a graphic treatment that is representative of the Negro League experience. We understand that production costs can be amortized across all versions of the game using the same images, but absorbing these historic players with the creative names while looking at a field with a modern scoreboard and advertising detracts from the authenticity.
It would also be great to incorporate more in depth player bios and photos in the materials as well.
We have to admit that we are rather “old school” around here (and realizing it more and more each day), but we felt that the best way to experience this game was using the traditional board and dice. Although there is a computer version, it seemed much more fun to be sitting across the table from each other, taking in the action.
It seemed like we were having the best day ever at the ballpark!
We would love to hear from you. Did you play Strat-O-Matic as a kid? Do you play the computer version of it today? Look for future posts as the Series continues and we discover many more players of the Negro Leagues.
Until then ….. Hit it Hard Somewhere!