THE FUNK ZONE
By Jeff Polman
September ruminations on my 1977 replay, Play That Funky Baseball (http://funkyball.wordpress.com), and other Strat-O things
When you replay as many old Strat baseball seasons using dice and cards as I have (’77 is my 11th), you begin to develop a special relationship with the Gods of Fate and Luck. Or at least you think you do. Rolling between four and six games a night, more on weekends, subtle patterns emerge, and unwritten rules of chance form in your head. They are certainly not the same for everybody, but in my forty-plus years of Strat-O experience, the following are my…
TOP TEN DICE-AND-CARD GIVENS
1. Just Say No. If you’re in the middle of an incredible rally or comeback, or if a pitcher is close to throwing a no-hitter, and either the phone rings or a family member desires your attention, IGNORE them. Dice mojo is a fragile thing, like a waitress carrying five hot dinners, and one ill-timed interruption can shatter your game to pieces.
2. Take a Break. Strat dice luck seems to come in waves, often in daily cycles. If teams you’re privately pulling for are getting all the bad-luck rolls, sometimes it’s good to suspend play and finish the game the next morning. Obviously, this can only work if you’re playing solo.
3. #2 Doesn’t Always Work. I’ve taken two-to-three week vacations from the Strat table, thinking a certain team or player will have fresh, positive or negative karma when I pick up the dice again, only to discover nothing has changed, like everything’s been frozen inside a bummer force field. Of course, with me currently rolling for 16 absentee managers, I’m not supposed to be pulling for anybody, but any Strat veteran knows that’s impossible. Similar to characters in a novel, when you replay a season you begin to root for different teams whether you like it or not.
4. Divorce Yourself From Reality. Strat does a masterful job of approximating player statistics, but sometimes, as the saying goes, shenanigans happen. In a face-to-face draft league I was in out here, a manager and huge St. Louis fan had Albert Pujols on her team when his hit columns were 1 and 3—and seemingly rolled nothing but his 2 column for two years running. In another draft league using 1975 cards, a manager had Cy Young winner Jim Palmer on his team—and he just couldn’t win a game. I’ve played with managers who fill every spare inch of their hitter cards with detailed on-base and home run percentages vs. righties and lefties, and have absolute fits when the results don’t match. As much as we want it to be otherwise, in Strat baseball and in life, you just never know.
5. The Cards Will Drive You Insane If You Let Them. Although I’m currently playing in a draft league that uses the basic sides of the cards (with super-advanced fielding), I much prefer the super-advanced game for the varied rolling chances (ballpark homer shots in the 2 and 12 spots are supreme.) That said, either side of the card has the power to put you in the loony bin. Ever notice how double play rolls are often inserted between five or six hit spots? Or how a lone walk in the middle of a “death column” always seems to ignite a big rally? Or how the nuclear 1-column of Barry Bonds’ 73-homer card for some reason had a strikeout chance peeking out of his forest of home runs like a Cheshire cat smile? These are not accidents, but the workings of devious, card-crafting masterminds, and it’s best to appreciate them for what they are, and not let their mad chance-creations get to you.
6. Style Counts. Everyone has their own way of tossing the dice, from the rapid-shake, quick-drop classic, to the standing up with tying run on third, hands over your head martini mixer and Walter Ray Williams fire down the tabletop lane. A few years back I played in a four-team league using the first advanced Hall of Fame set, and the gathering’s rigid rolling rules had me on the verge of screaming. Not only was it mandatory to roll from a dice cup, but you had to announce the result to your opponent a particular way. On top of that, the managers chose their lefty-righty lineups for the entire season on Opening Day, and thought I was nuts for wanting to assemble a different order for each game, depending on little things like the park I was playing in and the pitcher I was facing. These were great guys who had been playing together this way for years, so I was in no place to tell them what to do, but I couldn’t escape from Dice Cup Penitentiary fast enough.
7. Lineups Rock. A natural follow-up to #6. For me, nothing is more enjoyable in Strat than putting a game lineup together, and if you’ve learned anything from the recent shifting away from batting average to on-base percentage and OPS, it’s where you can put your knowledge of new statistics to rapid use. It’s why Mike Hargrove makes a great leadoff hitter, and why Jimmy Rollins or Juan Pierre, despite their speed, are better off bringing up the rear.
8. Armchair Managing Becomes Your Thing. When you play a lot of super-advanced Strat with the current players, you’ll find yourself second-guessing big league managers day and night. “C’mon Dusty,” you yell at the TV, “Laynce Nix doesn’t hit lefties to save his life!” Or “That guy is a C bunter! What are you doing?” And you know what? Most of the time you’ll be right.
9. Memorizing the X-Chart is Hard Work. Believe me, I’ve tried. I’ve played so much solo Strat that my friends started calling me Rain Man whenever I blurted out x-results. But the Catcher’s Card? And that bizarre minefield of pitcher errors? And the rare play gumbo? Even if you think you know the entire chart, just try not double-checking a result with the bases loaded and two outs in the last of the 9th. Just try.
10. Full Seasons are the Bomb. I realize people have lives, and that spending close to a year replaying a full baseball season from start to finish with dice and cards can be a daunting endeavor. But nothing gives me the true sense of the highs and lows and slow climbs and sudden free-falls of a team’s fortune than a 154- or 162-game schedule. If anything, it has taught me the values of perseverance and patience. It’s how I roll.