Strat-O-Matic Celebrity Q & A with Joe Lunardi
In this edition of the Strat-O-Matic Celebrity Q & A series, Strat-O-Matic interviewed Joe Lunardi, college basketball analyst for ESPN. Best known for his influence in the rise of “Bracketology,” Lunardi makes regular appearances on ESPN, ESPN Radio and ESPN.com throughout the college basketball season. His ESPN.com bracketology site generates over 10 million hits per season. Lunardi also works as the Assistant Vice President for Marketing Communications at Saint Joseph’s University (his alma mater) and serves as a color analyst on the Saint Joseph’s Sports Network (SJSN).
Question: When did you first start playing Strat-O-Matic? Who introduced you to the game?
Joe Lunardi: I first learned of tabletop baseball from my closest friend growing up (Jim Schnepp). He had Sports Illustrated baseball — 1970, I think — which we played regularly from about age 10-14. Then, in 1975, I moved with my parents from Philadelphia to Southern California prior to my sophomore year of high school. We lived part of that summer in a hotel waiting for our new house and furniture, and my Dad bought me a Strat-O-Matic game (1974 edition) to help fill the daytime hours while he was working. It was love at first dice!
Question: Who was your favorite person to play with?
Joe Lunardi: I played mostly solitaire, although there were visits with Jim Schnepp during our high school years and later met a great college buddy, Paul Morro, through a shared Strat passion. The three of us later founded an early version rotisserie baseball league in 1988 that is still going strong.
Question: Did you play Strat-O-Matic Baseball exclusively or did you branch out into any of the other sports?
Joe Lunardi: Baseball is all I remember playing (and certainly owning).
Question: All-time favorite card to play with? Favorite season to replay?
Joe Lunardi: Being a Phillies fan, the 1970s and 1980s were the Hall of Fame years of Mike Schmidt. So it would have to be the Phillies teams of Schmidt and Steve Carlton. My favorite season would have come sometime in the mid-1990s, when, after being invited to join a computer league based in Delaware County (Pa.), I won the whole thing after just scraping into the playoffs. Robbie Alomar, who never made an error, had one that allowed me to beat a huge favorite in the deciding game of our championship series.
Question: In all of your years of playing Strat, is there a memorable game or moment that stands out to you most?
Joe Lunardi: As an adult, having not played Strat for maybe 15 years, I randomly came across a nearly unused game in a closet at a seashore rental in Ocean City, N.J. (early 1990s). I spent almost that entire vacation going through the cards and making team lineups. We had a newborn at the time, and I would read and re-read the player cards during those middle-of-the-night sessions every parent goes through!
Question: You are best known for having created the concept of bracketology, which college basketball fans follow religiously leading up to the NCAA Tournament in March. Did you ever play your own Strat-O-Matic tournaments and create brackets for all of the teams?
Joe Lunardi: In college I ordered some kind of old-timers set of, I think, 16 teams from the ’27 Yankees through the Big Red Machine (plus 1980 Phillies and the 1950 Whiz Kids, which I’d learned about from my Dad). I did create a playoff bracket of these teams and played it through as best-of-seven series one summer. A Philadelphia A’s team of the 1930s was the winner.
Question: There must be a lot of data analysis and number crunching involved in bracketology. Do you think your experience playing Strat-O-Matic helped you at all in this regard?
Joe Lunardi: Absolutely, positively. I learned more about probability and ratios from Strat-O-Matic than I did in college math. Then, after college, I became a huge reader of Bill James and it all came together.
Question: You are making a bracket that consists of your all-time favorite Strat-O-Matic teams to play with. What does your Final Four look like?
Joe Lunardi: All Phillies (1950, 1980, 1993, 2008). When your favorite team doesn’t win many pennants, it’s easy to pick!
Question: Marc Stein, John Hollinger and Daryl Morey were also big Strat-O-Matic fans. Who would win a round robin tournament among the four of you?
Joe Lunardi: I would win (because I’m most experienced!). Which is another way of saying I’m the oldest.
Question: What current college basketball head coach do you think would make the best Strat-O-Matic player?
Joe Lunardi: Can I go almost current? I’d have to say Brad Stevens, formerly of Butler and now coach of the Boston Celtics. We had several conversations during his college years about probability and analytics. Honorable mention to Dr. John Giannini at La Salle, another extremely bright guy who really gets numbers.
Question: If you could play anyone in a single game of Strat, who would it be and why?
Joe Lunardi: Joe Sheehan, who knows Bracketology better than most basketball people. This way I could show off my latent baseball acumen!
Published: October 8, 2015
Published: October 8, 2015