Strat-O-Matic Celebrity Q & A with Marc Stein
In the fifth edition of the Strat-O-Matic Celebrity Q & A series, Strat-O-Matic’s Adam Rosen caught up with Marc Stein (ESPN), one of the most respected NBA reporters in the field. Stein is also a noted Strat-O-Matic fanatic, having played the board game editions of Strat-O-Matic Baseball, Basketball and Hockey while growing up as a child.
Question: When did you first start playing Strat-O-Matic? Who introduced you to the game?
Marc Stein: I was 9 years old. I had just moved from the Buffalo area to Southern California and, if I’m remembering this right, got introduced to S-O-M Baseball by a friend on a neighboring street. Let’s just say I was hooked instantaneously.
Q: You played Strat-O-Matic Baseball, Hockey and Basketball when you were younger. Which was your favorite? How often did you play each one?
Marc Stein: Don’t make me pick just one! Baseball was far and away the most popular sport at that time and was the king of youth sports, too, so the game’s original red box contained mythical powers as far as I was concerned. But I also have to say that S-O-M Basketball and Hockey were big favorites of mine, too. Especially Hockey. My beloved Buffalo Braves went out of business that same summer I moved to California, but playing S-O-M Hockey helped me stay connected to the Sabres even from 3,000-something miles away.
Q: What was your all-time favorite card to play with in each of the three sports?
Marc Stein: When I was in college in the late ‘80s, I was able to join my first actual Strat-O league, which was already in existence before I enrolled at Cal State Fullerton. It was a league organized by a bunch of student-journalists working for the school’s Daily Titan and we, for the record, always called it Strat-O as opposed to "Strat." As owner, GM and manager of the fictional Norristown Bulls, I remember being irrationally excited to draft two players who had no shortage of flaws but who were two of my favorites at the time: Howard Johnson and Harold Reynolds.
Q: Did you ever write game recaps or summaries when you played? If so, do you think you still have any of them saved?
Marc Stein: Of course. And of course. I know exactly where they are, too. But I think that, for everyone’s benefit, they shall remain in their secret location.
Q: What is the most memorable game of Strat-O-Matic you’ve ever played?
Marc Stein: I think I was about 11 years old. There was a fifth-grade "dance" that night at the local roller-skate rink. I was supposed to go to that dance — my first such outing — but a majestic brown UPS truck rumbled onto our street just before the sun went down to deliver what I remember to be my first-ever Hockey set. So that was that. The dance would be skipped so I could immerse myself in the faux NHL … and to this day I must admit that I STILL have that same hopeful expectation of a fresh Strat-O delivery when the UPS truck pulls up.
Q: In 2011, when the NBA Lockout was in full force, you and John Hollinger played out two of the would-have-been Opening night games using Strat-O-Matic Basketball. What was that experience like for you?
Marc Stein: John and I were both really excited. It was a depressing time in general for NBA fans and writers and anyone who loves the game, so it was a no-brainer idea to us to try to do something to lift the gloom. In a perfect world we would have been in the same place to square off against each other with cameras running and everything. In the end, because of logistics, we each played a game against the computer (which was a first for me) and were pleasantly surprised (and honored) by the turnout of curious online onlookers in the live chat room ESPN had set up. It was a pretty impressive gathering when you remember that there was nothing for anyone to really "see" while we were playing. Best of all, by the end of the night, our experiment gave loyal readers a few computer-generated box scores to comb through to try to fill an unfillable void. That was one of the original motivations behind it: Generating a few box scores for people to click on and have some fun with.
Q: Do you know anyone else in basketball (coaches, executives, broadcasters, etc.) or at ESPN who either grew up playing Strat-O-Matic or who still plays today?
Marc Stein: Excellent question that I sadly can’t answer in great detail. Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey and Hollinger are the only current NBA execs I’m aware of with S-O-M experience, but I’m going to do some asking around because there are surely some Strat-O-Philes in various corners of the NBA who simply need to be discovered. I will do some research and get back to you on this one.
Q: What kind of impact, if any, has Strat-O-Matic had on helping prepare you for your career in sports reporting?
Marc Stein: Sadly I don’t have the requisite voice for a career in play-by-play, but I certainly didn’t know that as a kid. So I used to sit on the floor of my room announcing games to myself. My parents and younger brother didn’t understand it then and will probably never understand it, but it seemed totally normal to me to try to bring the games to life by trying to simulate a broadcast, making pretend PA-announcements and mimicking crowd noise. But I’d say the main thing playing all that Strat-O in my youth did was really just cementing my love of the sports world. I started having visions of a career as a sportswriter as young as 7 or 8 years old, even before I discovered the game, because I already knew at that age that I HAD to find a way to carve out a career in sports somehow despite my lack of athletic prowess.
Q: You have a Strat-O-Matic display in your home office. What does it look like?
Marc Stein: I’ve enclosed a picture of my Strat-O Shelf. It also features my first baseball glove from JC Penney circa 1975, my high school’s official team baseball hat from the 1987 season and some other games I used to play as a kid (like Statis Pro tennis). As a longtime tennis and soccer freak, I also tried to invent my own games in those sports in my teens since there were no Strat-O versions. But I didn’t quite have the Hollinger-esque statistical chops to ever come up with anything good.
Q: If you could play anyone in a single game of Strat (Baseball, Hockey or Basketball), who would you choose and why?
Marc Stein: My kids. I’m still holding out hope that, someday, we’ll be able to have some sort of full-fledged family tournament. But to this point I’ve only managed to corral my 11-year-old and my 8-year-old for a few rounds of the new Strat-O Express Baseball game. They definitely enjoyed it, but they’re also playing more sports simulations on their handheld devices than I can keep up with. So all I can do is keep lobbying.
Published: August 11, 2014
Published: August 11, 2014