Friday, February 18, 2011

Strat-O-Matic Baseball and Fantasy Sports

Strat-O-Matic celebrated its fiftieth year recently and reading those stories sure brought back fond memories. In many ways it was the perfect game in that it took our built in love for the backbone of baseball (the stats) and forced them into a game where you could create your own season and see what happened. I remember the first time seeing an ad for the game in the Sporting News, a magazine I was fortunate enough to receive every week for most of my childhood. That magazine, which was always printed on newspaper stock, was devoured religiously for the great writing on each team AND the statistics section in the back. That this game was advertised by such a great periodical was good enough for me and it was ordered with paper route money.

And in many ways, Strat-O-Matic was a continuation on a tradition we kids had already built. I had created my own dice baseball game before that and my brother, a best friend and I played entire seasons based on this dice game. I remember that seven was a strikeout and a twelve was a homer because of the rarity of it. It wasn't a scientific game, but it was played and created with some rudimentary knowledge of how often certain events occurred in the game. Once we received Strat-O-Matic, we didn't need the dice game.

We must have played thousands of games of Strat-O-Matic as we created our own seasons with all the teams and played 162 game schedules for all the teams. That meant that we kept box scores and intimate statistics on the games' results. It's really too bad I never took this love of statistics to a professional level. I could be Tango Tiger right now if I had. Anyway, we had notebooks full of the score sheets and statistics. I remember that my favorite player was Mike Shannon, the former Cardinal who I believe still works on their broadcast team. For some reason, he was always a star in our leagues and always among the league leaders. There was a White Sox pitcher who was also fabulous for me but I can't remember his name. According to his playing card, he only started like 13 games with some success. I parlayed that into a thirty start season and he won over 20 games. Strat-O-Matic pitchers never got sore arms.

I think I stopped playing once I went off to college. In fact, I'm sure I did. Then a decade or so ago, the Fantasy sports craze started. And really, to me, Fantasy leagues are a natural evolution from those of us who played Strat-O-Matic (which is proving to be mighty tough to type over and over). Again, the game was based on statistics except this time, it wasn't the stats from the prior year, but as they were occurring in real time. Needless to say, I got highly involved in Fantasy baseball and football.

But I have had to stop. For one, they require time I no longer can justify to do it well. Secondly, I found it was changing how I was watching the games. In the past, I always watched games rooting for one particular team. For a Fan, there is always a hierarchy of teams. Now that I am a "journalist," I'm not sure I can list that hierarchy. But let's say the Rangers are ahead of the Angels on that hierarchy. So if the Rangers were playing the Angels on television, I would root for the Rangers.

But once you get into Fantasy sports, it changes how you root for games. Say you have Jered Weaver on your fantasy team and he was starting for the Angels in that game against the Rangers. Then what happens to who you root for? Since I write about baseball exclusively, I can safely say that I am a huge Patriots fan in football and have been since the Steve Grogan days. But with Fantasy, suddenly you are hoping that the running back on the hated Jets rushed for 100 yards when that might not be in the best interest of your favorite team winning the game. See what I mean? You become divided in your loyalties and that's stressful. All I wanted to do was watch a game and root for a team to win. Fantasy made that complicated and life is complicated enough.

But Fantasy sports are huge businesses now and a thousand blogs are devoted to just that aspect of sports. Each large mainstream media site has a featured Fantasy writer. And that's okay with me. I have no problem with that. As long as it builds interest in my favorite sport, all the better. I just can't do it anymore. This house was too divided and it drove me crazy.

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