Strat-O-Matic Celebrity Q & A with Jon Miller

Strat-O-Matic Celebrity Q & A with Jon Miller
Strat-O-Matic’s Adam Rosen caught up with San Francisco Giants play-by-play announcer (formerly of ESPN) and long-time Strat-O player Jon Miller in the third installment of the Strat-O-Matic Celebrity Q & A series.
Question: When was the first time you ever played Strat-O-Matic? How often did you play the game growing up as a kid?

Jon Miller: After seeing a Strat-O-Matic ad in Sport Magazine when I was 10 years old, I sent away for the game through the mail.  I believe the set was based on the 1961 or ‘62 season.  I played the game whenever there was a spare moment.  I played all the teams in the limited set but the main fun was seeing the Giants win (which, let’s face it, I was in a position to arrange as the manager of both teams).
Q: We understand you are a big fan of Strat-O-Matic Baseball Online. What do you like so much about the Online game?
Jon Miller: The online game is a convenient, fun way to keep up with my son Alex (who just got married and is working on his PhD in Earth and Space Exploration Sciences at Arizona St.).  Also keeping up with some old friends with whom I used to play Strat-O all summer long when we were in high school (in the olden days).
Often after working a Giants night game, especially on the road, it’s fun to check out the scores and the play-by-play of my team’s games.  It’s different from actually playing the games as we used to as kids.  Your team’s manager, with direction and orders from you, manages the games each night and then I find out how he did. It helps channel my inner George Steinbrenner tendencies!
Q: Do you still play with the cards & dice at all?
Jon Miller: No.
Q: What is the most memorable Strat-O game you’ve ever played?
Jon Miller: During the baseball strike of 1981, when I was broadcasting Red Sox games with the great Ken Coleman, we decided to broadcast Strat-O-Matic games as if the strike had ended.  We picked up the season with a Red Sox/Yankees series that was literally scheduled for those dates in real life.  Local celebrities, Bruins players, local politicians, etc. came to the station and were the managers for either the Red Sox or whichever team the Sox were playing.  Ken and I would then take the score sheets from the games and do old-time re-creations of the games.  We had crowd noise, ballpark organists and I did impressions of the Public Address announcers in all the different parks where the games were played.
The first night broadcast sounded so authentic (even though we stated clearly at the beginning of the broadcast that it was a re-creation of a Strat-O-Matic game played at our downtown studios) that the station was flooded with calls.  People wanted to know anything from “Is the strike over?” to “I’m a season ticket holder at Fenway and I’m outraged the Sox didn’t notify me the strike was over” to “I live over in Kenmore Square and it’s great to see the lights back on at Fenway again” (Ken and I took that as a great compliment of our re-creation abilities).
Q: Did playing Strat-O-Matic as a kid help you develop your broadcasting skills at all? Is it really true that you used to mimic the crowd noises and public address announcers while playing?
Jon Miller: As a kid, when playing Strat solo, I would broadcast the games—to myself, as I was the only one listening—to seem more like the Giants games on the radio with Russ Hodges and Lon Simmons that I listened to so religiously all summer long.  I added my own sound effects such as crowd noise, ballpark organists, vendors, etc. as well as the P.A. announcers.  I would be Jeff Carter at Candlestick, John Ramsey at Dodger Stadium, Art McKinnon at Forbes Field, Pat Pieper at Wrigley or Bob Sheppard at Yankee Stadium.
With all of that going on as I rolled the dice for each play, it created some uncomfortable moments if someone happened to walk in on me at an exciting moment in the game (When a friend of my Mom, looking horrified, exclaimed, “What’s he doing, for God’s sake?!” My Mom ad-libbed, “Oh, it’s, uh, you know, uh…Asthma!  Yes, that’s it, asthma.  He’ll be fine.”
Q: What specifically have you been able to learn about the game of baseball strictly from playing Strat-O-Matic? Would you say that Strat-O-Matic helped prepare you for your career in broadcasting?
Jon Miller: I was excited to learn how many of today’s GM’s played Strat as kids.  They pointed out how they learned early on the importance of on-base percentage through the player cards.  I related totally.  You would merely look at a player’s card and knew instantly which guys had lots of power but also which guys would get on base a lot (even guys whose batting average looked mediocre).  When I was 11 or 12, I realized it would be good to get a lot of guys on base ahead of Mays, McCovey and Cepeda.
Q: You once played Cal Ripken Jr. in a game of Strat-O-Matic on a flight while covering the Orioles. What kind of Strat-O-Matic manager was Cal? Was he super competitive?
Jon Miller: In 1984 when broadcasting Orioles games, Ken Singleton asked me to bring Strat-O-Matic on the team charter for a cross-country flight from Baltimore to Southern California.  Singleton managed a team with Mike Flanagan as his pitching coach.  Lenn Sakata also managed a team.  Cal Ripken came walking by, asked what was going on and wanted to play a game, too.
Cal took the Orioles (the defending World Series champs) and I took the Tigers (who that year were in the midst of an epic 35-5 start).  In the 5th inning with the Orioles leading, I changed pitchers and Cal proceeded to pinch hit for his platoon players (those O’s had the famous Roenicke/Lowenstein platoon in LF, Shelby/Bumbry in CF, Ford/Dwyer in RF, etc.).
By the 7th or 8th inning or so, the Tigers had gone ahead and I changed pitchers again trying to nullify all of his platoon changes.  When the Tigers won the game I used a Howard Cosell impression “manager Cal Ripken, Jr. was thoroughly out managed by the wily Tiger skipper, Sparky Anderson.  At the moment of truth in the late innings, he had no one left on his bench having fallen into Sparky’s cleverly set trap in the middle innings.  This is Howard Cosell, telling it like it is.”
Cal took the score sheet, went to the back of the plane where his Dad always sat, and went over the game reviewing his strategy. Several minutes later, he came back and said, “Alright, I know where I screwed up now.  Let’s play another one.”
Cal was not merely a fierce competitor and the “Iron Man”.  He was always questioning, searching for knowledge, looking to get better.

Even as a Strat player!
And a few questions from the Strat community…
Question submitted by Ken (Bangor, Maine): When playing Strat-O-Matic, do you approach the in-game strategy from a “Stratball” perspective or as a baseball purist (i.e. manage as a “real” life manager would)?
Jon Miller: Right now we have an online league going that goes to the question “Which team is the greatest ever?”  We made up a 6-team league which includes the ’27 Yankees, ’29 A’s, ’39 Yanks, ’61 Yankees, ’62 Giants (my favorite team as a kid growing up in the Bay Area) and the ’75 Reds.
So far, the ’27 Yanks are leading the league (21-12) but the Giants have made a surprisingly strong showing (17-16).  We’d be even better but are 0-6 against the ’75 Reds.  Each manager is welcome to manage his team any way he likes best.  But, as for my Giants, I try and have the starters go as deep as possible because the bullpen is very thin (in real life, the ’62 Giants led the National League in complete games).  
So, this naturally seems to lend itself to doing things as in “real life”.  
Question submitted by Paul Yeager (Oakland, CA): Who would you favor in a seven game Strat-O-Matic series – the 2010 Giants or the 2012 Giants?
Jon Miller: Good question.  I thought the 2012 Giants might have been a bit of a better team than the 2010 “Band of Misfits” team.  However, the 2010 team had Cain and Lincecum still at the peak of their powers so they would always be tough to beat, even by their 2012 selves.
Question submitted by Bennett Sowers (Facebook): Ever had a no-hitter in Strat?
Jon Miller: Several, although not as many as I’ve broadcast.
Question submitted by Adam (Queens, NY): Who is your favorite current MLB player to watch in person? Favorite player to watch of all-time?
Jon Miller: I love watching Mike Trout (just like almost every other baseball fan, I’m sure).  I also enjoy Yasiel Puig.  What a talent.  So raw, yet so dynamic.  Still learning the game, yet already one of the best.
Derek Jeter has long been one of my favorites.  Having had the opportunity to broadcast each World Series from 1998 thru 2010 on ESPN Radio, I saw year after year how strong those Yankee champions were. Mariano Rivera, The Great Rivera I called him, was the Grim Reaper for every team trying to come back in the late innings.
But Jeter was the backbone of those teams, in my humble opinion. I can’t believe this is his swan song.  It’s hard to imagine the Yankees without him.  
With the Giants, Hunter Pence is one of my favorites.  He plays the game with such passion and fire.  He runs hard on every ground ball (he had more than 20 infield hits last year, not bad for a power-hitting guy who stands 6-5).  Hunter is in superb shape and is one of the best “leaders by example” in the game.  A great Giant.
For that matter, as a fan of the Giants since I was 9 years old, I think this is a Golden Age of Giants baseball.  I am grateful to have this chance to broadcast so many magical things in this remarkable Giants era.
Published: May 27, 2014