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
Like some of you, I’ve been doing full season Strat baseball replays for a long time. Oh, there have been frequent interruptions—like college, marriage and life—but little else baseball-wise, other than Boston winning the ’04 Series, has given me as much reliable satisfaction as embedding myself in a Strat season of yesteryear. (I guess you can call me a true Strat-O-Matic fanatic, because I only use cards and dice. The computer game is fine if you want to play a quicker season, but for me, it’s all about the big dice shake.)
I’ve actually been playing the game since 1964, when I broke open my brother’s newly-delivered box while he was away at camp, but my first full season replay was with the basic 1970 set (Mets over A’s for the title). After my Strat-free college years, I delved into the super-advanced game in a big way for 1978 (Rangers over Dodgers), 1979 (Expos over Orioles), 1959 (Yanks over Giants in a shocker), 1941 (Red Sox over Dodgers in a bigger shocker), 1934 (Tigers over Giants), 1955 (Yankees over Dodgers), 1964 (White Sox over Phillies) and 1965 (Twins over Reds).
Then I tried something different. With the 2007 set, I took the best eight teams in each league, an old-time 154-game schedule, enlisted a host of “absentee managers” from the Strat Fan Forum site to provide lefty-righty lineups and rotations, then posted the replay results every day on the Forum. Readers seemed to like the format and my sarcastic game write-ups, so when 1924 was released I branched off with my own replay blog called 1924 and You Are There! (http://1924andyouarethere.blogspot.com)
Doing this blog seemed to be a natural progression for me. After a journalism career, I had enjoyed a small amount of success with a pair of movie screenplays I wrote in the early 90s, so thought it would be fun to fictionalize a replay, and report the story daily through the period language of two main characters. The trick was constructing the story as it went along, because nearly everything the characters did hinged on the schedule and outcomes of the games. Still, aside from the lack of a pennant race (Pittsburgh topped Washington in the Series), replaying 1924 proved to be a fun, if grueling experience, and I was able to incorporate Strat’s wonderful Negro Leagues set into some of the late summer drama.
Hours after I finished my ’24 Series, I traveled over fifty years into the future to the ugly uniform and puffy hair era of the 1970s. But the challenge with replaying and writing about 1977 has been coming up with an equally interesting story. Most of the readers lived through the 1970s and are more familiar with the players, so the decade doesn’t have the same literary and historical pull as the 1920s. This has forced me to concoct a goofier, more inventive scenario involving baseball-mad mental patients and time travel (trust me), and a lot more plot twists and turns, but at least the pennant races are better so far, and I’ve cranked up the absentee manager format in a big way as a base of operations. Sixteen baseball writers and bloggers from around the country, including Joe Posnanski (Sports Illustrated), Josh Wilker (Cardboard Gods), Joe Sheehan (Baseball Prospectus) and Strat Negro Leagues brainiac Scott Simkus, were invited to provide lineups and rotations for the teams, which has given the playing of each series an added dimension.
Fortunately, you don’t have to be an all-consuming replay junkie like me to get the most out of an old Strat season. You don’t even have to share your results. I just think the old seasons are too magical and enlightening to not write about them, and as I explained to Ron Rollins in an interview for his great England-based blog Baseball Over Here, my mission has been to help levitate Strat-O-Matic’s image out of the same “mother’s basement” that all board game players and stat-minded baseball writers have been unfairly imprisoned in for years.
Rotisserie-style fantasy leagues have somehow escaped this label, maybe because money is involved and the format is so easily copied and pervasive, but I find that brand of fantasy baseball about as thrilling as following the stock market. With Strat you not only get to manage the players and teams but learn a ton about how the game was played in each era. As stat guru Bill James once wrote in one of his Baseball Abstracts, baseball managers should be required to play a few Strat simulations before getting their next job, because as he put it, “I’ve seen major league managers that would finish sixth in a good table league.”
With that in mind, I’ll be back here around the middle of each month to keep you updated on how the world of Play That Funky Baseball is progressing, with some exclusive, in-depth dice-throwing analysis I have no room for on my site, along with some fun gaming stories. In the meantime, you should know that Rod Carew is not only flirting with .400, but .450 through the middle of May, the Yankees have had a surprisingly slow start, and the Royals and Pirates are playing like the exciting pennant contenders they once were.
And that’s just for starters.