THE FUNK ZONE
By Jeff Polman
Monthly ruminations on my 1977 replay, Play That Funky Baseball (http://funkyball.wordpress.com), and other Strat-O things
Anybody out there played with the ’77 Red Sox yet? Man and woman alive, can they ever mash taters. Of course, if you’re using the super advanced game, you’ll find they don’t mash as much away from super-friendly Fenway Park, which is probably a good thing.
Currently, they’re working on a ridiculous home stand as I get deeper into June, having just posted consecutive winning scores of 11-10, 14-13, and 25-8, and have taken a modest lead on the K.C. Royals. We’re talking zero quality starts for the entire Boston rotation, but with Rice, Fisk, Yaz, Scott, Lynn, Carbo, Evans and Hobson in the same lineup, it hasn’t even mattered. It’s all been very realistic, though. I went to nearly a dozen games with those same inflated scores that year, when Fenway was just a 20-minute walk from my Back Bay apartment.
Of course, when I was growing up in Western Massachusetts playing Strat-O baseball with our neighborhood of dice rollers, no one could have imagined we’d someday have lefty-righty percentages, ballpark weather and clutch ratings to think about. Basic cards with a few basic charts were more than enough, and games filled our back porch throughout the summers of ’64 and ’65, Aaron and Mays and Killebrew and Robinson and even Dick Stuart blasting shots and Clemente doubling and tripling everyone ragged.
I don’t think we ever had leagues, settling for a never-ending flood of pickup games. The fun was in the bragging and ribbing and the “Here we go, bases loaded, last of the 9th, down by one, Wilhelm’s gonna blow it, just you watch!”, nearly always with the dice roller standing up at that point, his shaking hand raised high and sometimes windmilling.
There was my best friend Hooch, who would call every Mays home run a “boatch,” as in “he boatched it!” There was One-League Mark, who would show up with the entire card set wrapped in one thick rubber band, and was somehow able to bounce the thing up and down while he walked like a giant yo-yo—without losing one card. There was Dave C., famous for hitting wiffle ball homers with one hand (the field bordered our Strat Porch) but always using his other one for the dice. There was the day I had to sit out wiffle ball with a sprained ankle, and spent the time “broadcasting” a Ray Culp vs. Bob Buhl Strat-O matchup by doing the play-by-play into a reel-to-reel tape recorder.
Back then baseball on television was minimal, with spotty Red Sox coverage and one weekend national telecast. Newspapers had paltry box scores and the west coast results arrived a day later if you were lucky, so if you wanted to learn more about your favorite players you were reduced to Topps baseball cards or Strat-O-Matic. It was an easy choice for me. Rolling the dice allowed me a three-dimensional access into a player’s ability that reading the stats on the back of a gum-scented card could never match.
Still, my long Strat-O career has not been without its share of goofy and painful events:
1976—On the way from Springfield to Boston with my younger brother, played an entire game on the front seat with him while I was driving. Can’t remember who the teams were or who won, with good reason.
1979—While playing a furious late-inning Texas Rangers rally in the sunny attic alcove of my Burlington, VT house, a half-dead bee crawled onto my bare toe and stung me, because I had to see what Richie Zisk did before shaking the thing off.
1987—Returned to my L.A. apartment from an East Coast trip to discover that my giant box of past season Strat cards I’d left on top of a floor heating vent had ignited and started a small fire. I lost mostly everything in the box but managed to salvage the 1985 Cardinals, Royals and Jays in all their sooty, heat-warped glory.
2002—My friend Keith and I played an entire ’55 Dodgers-Yankees game on the empty seat between us at Dodger Stadium Opening Day, minutes before Barry Bonds launched a 2nd inning moon shot high over our heads and into the bleachers.
2003—A great NL-only draft league I’d been in for over 11 years completely collapsed following a rules squabble between our two World Series managers (one being the commissioner), forcing me to eventually satisfy my unquenchable Strat fix by creating weird fictional online replay blogs.
2005—While playing an unusually agonizing 1911 A’s-Indians matchup that wasn’t going my way, I threw my Chief Bender card violently on the table and dislocated my right thumb. Finished the game anyway.
2009—Joined the East Coast Baseball Association (ECBA), a fabulous nationwide draft league that’s been rolling the dice for over 35 years. Next month, you can read all about their annual Maryland convention right here.
See you on the flip side, folks!