The Replay Zone – September 2013

By Jeff Polman
September ruminations from your trusty Strat-O-Matic replay addict. Check out my current 1938 replay blog at Dear Hank.
1980: An Out of the Ordinary Strat Year
It was a bitter cold afternoon in Burlington, Vermont, February of 1981. I trudged into my apartment building after work, saw the brown UPS package of new Strat cards propped against the wall in the front lobby. Grabbed the thing and raced up three flights of stairs to my apartment. Ripped open the package, slid out the inky-fresh 1980 baseball set and went straight to George Brett’s monster .390 card. A thing of beauty, on every level. Satisfied, I checked out the pitching staff of the World Champion Phillies.
Yup, Steve Carlton was an assassin. But something was strange. I flipped over the card sheet, looked at Larry Christensen. Tug McGraw. Warren Brusstar. What the heck? I grabbed another card sheet, looked at the Tigers pitchers. Then at the Expos pitchers. Realized it was true:
Every pitcher’s hit chances were in the 4-column, with ground zero of possible damage at the 4-4 spot.
Now of course, there were more important things in the world to worry about, like gas shortages, Ronald Reagan’s first term, etc. But every Strat pitching card with its hit chances in the 4-column? Come on!
I called my three buddies who made up our mini-Strat league: Bill, John, and Seth. Bill, a huge Baltimore fan, hadn’t received his cards yet and demanded I check Mike Flanagan.
"Didn’t you hear me?" I asked, "It’s not just Flanagan and the Oriole pitchers. It’s EVERY pitcher!"
"Okay, but what about Tippy Martinez?"
This went on for another ten minutes. Then Seth called. He had heard the news from John, who had heard it from Bill.
"Know what this means?" Seth asked.
"No, what?"
"Nothing at all." He was an accountant, and thus very logical and mathematical. "There’s an equal chance of rolling the 4-column as any other column. So all we need to do is roll the dice a little longer to keep it random."
That made sense, of course. But somehow, the aesthetics of our yearly Strat cards had been marred. The mystery and anticipation of what Larry Gura or Steve Rogers’ card might look like. And judging from letters I soon began seeing in copies of the monthly Strat-O-Matic Review, our reactions were mild in comparison. Many players just couldn’t wrap their heads around the fact that 4-columns were suddenly the only pitcher bulls-eyes available.
The funny thing is that we forgot about it in no time. We each chose a team from the A.L. and N.L. and played a 30-game schedule. My Yankees outlasted Bill’s Orioles, Seth’s Royals, and John’s Brewers and won the World Series against Bill’s Astros, who finished on top ahead of Seth’s Phillies, John’s Expos and my Dodgers. We had plenty of varied hitting cards to occupy our time making lineups with.
Turns out, Strat did the 4-column format as a one-year-experiment, and never did it again. I now vastly prefer the super-advanced "scattered" number formats that debuted with the 1985 set, with its bizarre HR and other safe chances on 2-3, and 11-12 readings in each column. Makes for far more unpredictable, interesting results, and when playing a full season with dice and cards it’s almost required. Looking at a flood of similar pitcher cards for 162 games would have driven me more nuts than I already am.
Anyway, it’s nice that the Strat card world has since righted itself.
Coming next month: Details on the BEST OF 2012 TOURNAMENT!