Outside of a nondescript two-story gray brick building that sits across from the parking lot of the Long Island Rail Road station in Glen Head, a line of nearly 100 people patiently wait. A sign that reads Strat-O-Matic hangs over the picture window at the front of the building that has a queue of mostly older men snaking its way out to the street. What is Strat-O-Matic and why would these folks be hanging around being exposed to the sunny, yet chilly elements? It’s Opening Day 2016 and it’s the kind of dedication that oftentimes stretches back decades to this pastime that die hards call Strat.
First launched in 1961 by inventor Hal Richman, this game can best be described as Dungeons & Dragons for the rotisserie set due to the use of two regular-sided dice and one 20-sided die. The dice are used in conjunction with player cards, offering various hitting and fielding outcomes based on actual seasonal statistics and thoroughly determined player ratings. And that’s just the basic game—there are also Advance and Super Advanced versions, in which mitigating factors like pitcher fatigue, ballpark dimensions and righty-lefty pitching and hitting match-ups can be factored into a team’s outcome.
Richman was a die-hard sports fan as a child and when he was 11, the Great Neck native decided to create his own baseball game after becoming dissatisfied with All Star Baseball, a similar game that only measured hitting and was rather inaccurate. Richman created a probability table that was created after he took dice in hand and rolled them 5,000 times. Fast forward a few years and after making overtures for seed money to Parker Brothers and the Brooklyn Dodgers, who both passed, Richman took a $5,000 loan from his hard-nosed father. The agreement was that if he was unable to pay the loan back in a year’s time, Richman would abandon this venture and go work at his father’s business.
“The last thing I wanted to do was go into my father’s insurance company,” the soft-spoken Richman said 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.”
Since that time, the game not only inspired a generation of baseball fans, but it has expanded to include football, hockey and baseball as well as CD-ROM versions of the game. Moreover, 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, STATS, Inc. creator John Dewan and Chicago Cubs GM Theo Epstein. A number of players also grew up with the game including Doug Glanville, Keith Hernandez and Lenny Dykstra. It even played a hand in the origins of fantasy baseball.
“[Rotisserie baseball inventor] Daniel Okrent was a major Strat-O-Matic player living in New York City,” explained Richman. “When he moved out to a small Massachusetts community to write a book, there were no Strat-O-Matic players in town. In order to keep his fingers on baseball and to follow the game, he developed the fantasy baseball game, or rotisserie, which is what it was then called. In a sense, you could say Strat-O-Matic played a part in creating fantasy baseball.”
After the company moved from Port Washington to Glen Head in 1975, Opening Day became a tradition where die-hard fans come from all over the country, crossing state lines by plane or car, to stand on what they consider hallowed ground to collect the new season’s sets. This year is no different. Longtime friends Rick Lackey and Derek Townsend hopped a flight from Dallas as a gift to themselves after they won the championship in a league they play in called the North American Strat-O-Matic Association.
“This is our first Opening Day. Our celebration for winning consecutive championships was to make the trip here,” Lackey explained. “I started playing in 1968 and Derek has been doing Strat since 1972. Our league started in 1980, so it’s been around for a while.”
John Fedor drove down with his wife Joan from Campbell Hall in upstate New York for his fifth consecutive Opening Day to pick up his new set although his ties to the game date back to its 1961 origins.
“I started playing in high school after a friend called me and said he wanted to know if I wanted to try out this baseball game he had. I’ve been hooked ever since,” he recalled. “I love statistics, so I get to constantly analyze them. After 40-something odd years, once I retired, I decided that I would try and make it down every year.”
And while Fedor plays with his cards against the computer, Philadelphia Deadhead Joe Brostowicz is part of the 10-team Rose League. Brostowicz drove up that morning with four other team owners.
“This is our 19th year and I’ve been coming up one way or another for 29 years,” he said. “I’ve been coming up and getting the cards and stopping at the hobby shop and bar on the way back for a long time.”
Locals Kara Tucker and Deb Sprague had one of the shorter trips to Strat-O-Matic world headquarters. The Jackson Heights residents shot over from Queens at the behest of Tucker, who got her start playing Strat’s college football set back in the mid to late 1980s while living in Nebraska before moving on to baseball in the 1990s. She’s currently getting her roommate into the intricacies of Strat.
“[Deb] is originally from Cleveland, so I might give her a fighting chance at winning,” Tucker said. “One of the past seasons I have is the 1954 Cleveland Indians team that lost to the San Francisco Giants in the World Series. So if I let her use that set, maybe she can make history correct.”
Visit www.strat-o-matic.com to find out more about Strat-O-Matic.
To read about famous Strat fans, check out Celebs Rolling The Dice For Strat.