They Have Lived and Loved the History of Strat-O-Matic
By Glenn Guzzo
What is likely the longest-running nationwide Strat-O-Matic league with founding members has completed its 37th consecutive season of baseball – and ballet.
GUSSOMO (for the Greater United States Strat-O-Matic Organization), formed in 1971, is so old that it is a self-described “generational league” – four of its members are sons of other managers and weren’t even born when GUSSOMO began.
“When the league began, Strat-O-Matic had only single-sided cards and the Major Leagues had only 24 teams,” said Jeff Fleischman, GUSSOMO’s commissioner since the end of its first season. “Though the 2008 season was the 15th since Carlton Fisk retired, and Fisk played 24 seasons before that, this Strat-O-Matic league was born before Fisk hit his first Major-League home run.”
The league has evolved in other ways. It began as a board-game league, of course, and now uses the computer. It has 22 teams, with the latest, two-team expansion this year (both new clubs piloted by sons of longtime GUSSOMO managers). It began as a stock-team league, but has been a draft league most of the time. Its members are spread across the U.S., but about half meet for face-to-face games. The managers are serious about Strat-O-Matic, but when the whole group convenes annually, they make social time with families, sight-seeing and more, such as the ballets.
When GUSSOMO was a stock-team league in 1971, the franchise names duplicated the real Major League teams. In Year 37, the class of the league with 107 wins was the Sin City Bounty Hunters, but only four games better than the Richmond Banshees. The Concord Grape and the Chicago Mob could not keep up.
The extraordinary thing about this league, said Ralph Polumbo, whose sons John and Will also manage GUSSOMO teams, is “its longevity and the average tenure of the members” who have “shared life events” in each other’s families, such as marriages and births.
“The personal relationships and friendships,” manager Larry Steinberg echoed, “held GUSSOMO together through some of the tough years in the past,” when other leagues might have folded.
Steinberg should know. He and Fleischman have been in GUSSOMO since the beginning, although other managers have been involved for 25 years and the average tenure is 20 years. His son Evan is one of the new managers this season.
“The fact that about half the league has been active since 1990 is remarkable in itself,” manager Vern Coffman added.
The long-timers were in high school (even junior high school) when this began. Naturally, the memories are precious:
Fleischman, who lives in Colorado after a couple of moves, was on vacation when he first visited Polumbo in his Connecticut home. There in the kitchen was a son in a high chair. Today, that son is a GUSSOMO manager.
The “crazy teenagers” of GUSSOMO, riding the New York subway at 2 a.m. during the days of the 1973 Strat-O-Matic convention at the Abraham & Strauss department store.
Looong before the computer game, Fleischman (then living in Southern California) playing the first league game by phone with an opponent in Ohio. Each player rolled dice for his own team and announced the roll over the phone.
Since then, the many times that league members, while traveling, went out of their way to connect with nearby league members for face-to-face Strat.
Steinberg recalling that it’s only because of the annual GUSSOMO league meetings that he and his family have visited such places as Kennywood Park in Pittsburgh, Freedom Hall in Philly, Cedar Point in Ohio and the St. Louis Arch. “Best of all,” he recalled, “meeting Buck O’Neil and Double Duty Radcliffe in KC.”
The annual get-togethers, which has attracted league members (often half or more) to such sites as Chicago, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Kansas City, Cincinnati, Detroit, St. Louis, Milwaukee, Denver, San Francisco/San Jose, Minneapolis and Pittsburgh. The events typically include a “convention” hotel that includes a meeting room dedicated for intense Strat play – with laptops everywhere – but also a Major League Game, a family barbecue at the host manager’s home and more.
“While playing our games is what the get-togethers are all about,” Fleischman explained, “we have made it a point to promote a certain level of style and `culture’ for our members. Over the years, we have made time to attend some of the best local ballets, including the little-known, but very popular `Cowboy Show’ in Windsor, Ontario.”
The gathering in Detroit this past summer was the best-attended of all, suggesting that, like other things of enduring value, GUSSOMO keeps getting better with age.
The GUSSOMO family, enjoying a luxury box at Detroit’s Comerica Park in Summer ‘08
Ralph Polumbo (left), handing a prize to Kevin Martin, manager of the Richmond Banshees
Dave “Peach” Taylor, manager of the Georgia Crackers, holding a picture of his hero, Ty Cobb