Glenn Guzzo

 

Hank Smith Wins Star Tournament and Strat-O-Matic World Championships

 

By Hudson McKee

and Glenn Guzzo

 

Hank Smith, one of Strat-O-Matic’s original 350 customers in 1961 and a long-time ambassador for the hobby, won his first Star World Championship Jan. 12-14 in Las Vegas, 11 years after he helped launch the annual tour of nationwide Strat-O-Matic Baseball competitions. 

 

In Las Vegas, the Torrance, Calif., resident bested 53 other top Strat-O-Matic baseball players.

 

Led by Morgan Ensberg (24 home runs in 47 games) and pitchers Rich Harden and Roy Halladay, Smith’s team started 9-9, then rallied to finish second in his division, one of six. While all division winners advanced to the finals, only two second-place teams make it to the final eight. So Smith first had to defeat Dan Martin of San Diego and former World Champion Pete Nelson of Renton, Wash., in shootouts, where games are decided if either team holds a lead after any full inning.

 

Those victories earned Smith the eighth seed and a match-up with the top seed, 

Errol Dennis of St. Bernard, La.

 

Smith eliminated Dennis four games to three in a series that featured Ensberg’s 13th-inning walk-off homer. Then Smith swept Vic Horvath of Detroit, who previously had beaten Smith four games out of five to win Smith’s division. Finally, Smith overcame second-seeded Ben Leong of Gaithersburg, Md. four games to two in the World Series.

 

After its slow start, Smith’s team surged to the championship by going 20-9 in its final division games and playoffs.

 

“I was lucky to beat five players that I have so much respect for in the playoffs,” Smith said. “It really hasn't completely sunk in that I’m the World’s Champion of Star Tournaments’ Strat-O-Matic Baseball.”

 

Smith said he thought he had two good-luck charms at the tourney. He was accompanied to Las Vegas by brother Phil. And throughout tourney play, Smith wore the New York Knights jersey that Phil had given him for Christmas.

 

Smtih’s roster helped. Drafting eighth in a 10-team draft, Smith also had such players as 1B Todd Helton, LF Manny Ramirez, RF Trot Nixon, SS Bobby Crosby and SPs A. J. Burnett and John Patterson. His team played its home games in Wrigley Field.

 

Musing about his long love of Strat-O-Matic games, Smith said, “Playing Strat-O-Matic transports me back to being the young boy I once was with the wide-eyed amazement at playing Strat-O-Matic Baseball. That I could manage my favorite Dodgers like Don Drysdale and most of the other players was pure fun.”

 

Then in 1996 he became the first commissioner of the Star Tournaments, the latest and most enduring version of nationwide tournaments that began in 1986. The 21 World Championships have been won by 18 different gamers. The 11 Worlds run under the Star banner have been won by 11 different gamers.

 

Smith said he plans to reward himself by making his first trip to Strat-O-Matic’s Opening Day (Jan. 26 at company headquarters in Glen Head, NY). He expects to join friend and 2002 World Champion John Perez of Revere, Mass., there along with another tournament player, Jeff Desnoyers.

 

Noting that it would give him a chance to renew his friendship with Strat-O-Matic creator Hal Richman, Smith added, “It’s kind of like going to Oz and seeing the Wizard. That will certainly be another dream-come-true.”