A League Of Your Own -- In A PC

A CD-ROM of Strat-o-Matic Baseball takes the dice and cards game to a new level

Stars on steroids. Labor disputes. Small-market teams that are eliminated from the playoffs on opening day. With all that's going on in big-league baseball these days, about the only thing that keeps me interested is Strat.

Strat, better known as Strat-o-Matic Baseball, was created 43 years ago as a dice and cards game but is now greatly enhanced with a $56 CD-ROM version for your home PC (Available through www.strat-o-matic.com). Strat gives you a chance to manage a simulated major league team using cards based on real players' performance for the last completed season. The cards have ratings for the player's ability to steal bases, field, and bunt, and for outfielders and catchers to throw out base runners. Strat is different than fantasy baseball, in which you earn points if the players you select put up good stats through the ongoing season.

In my league, which has participants from Halifax, N.S., across the U.S., and even one in Sydney, each manager builds a team by making trades and drafting the rookies from the last season. We don't wait for the new Strat cards to come out in January to start trading for players. By following the big-league season closely, we have a pretty good idea by September what we want to do.

For example, if one of your better players gets injured, you know you'll need to find a replacement for him in the off-season. We draft rookies in February and finish all trades in March. Right now, we're starting our 162-game season.

Once everyone finalizes the rosters, the league commissioner -- whom we elect -- sends out the schedule and the rosters with everyone's players and home stadium selected. At that point, we program our lineups and pitching rotations into the computer. Then we play ball.

When you turn on the computer game, you see two things: a picture of your home stadium (my Brooklyn Swashbucklers play in Montreal's Olympic Stadium), and three six-sided dice -- one white and two red. Let's say the Swashbucklers have a game against the Foghorn Leghorns. It's the first at-bat, and Swashbucklers catcher Jorge Posada (who really is a Yankee) is facing Leghorns lefty pitcher Mark Mulder (of the Oakland Athletics). I hit the "Enter" key to roll the dice.

SHREWD TRADES

If i roll a 1, 2, or 3 on the white die, I look for the result of the at-bat on the hitter's card. If the white die comes up 4, 5, or 6, I check the pitcher's card. The total of the two red dice tells me where exactly to look on the card. I roll a 2 on the white die and the two red ones total 8. So I look on the hitter Posada's card in the column that says "vs. lefty pitchers" and find the result next to the number 8. It's a home run. Since Posada had a good year last year, he has more homers on his card than weaker players would.

Strat's best feature is the online game, which allows players to face off in real time. It lets me play live with my friend Rick and his Sydney Wombats, provided we can work out the time-zone difference. But more often than not, Strat managers play their home games solo on the computer, using an electronic file sent by the opposing manager that spells out his lineup, pitching rotation, bullpen, and tendency to bunt or steal bases.

Since no team is richer than another, we all have an equal shot to win. You just have to make smart trades and do your homework before drafting rookies. Last year, I won 101 games and took my division. This year, injuries to key Swashbucklers during the 2003 major league season have left my team with lousy pitching. So it's time to rebuild. With a little luck, I'll be back in the playoff hunt next year.

By David Welch

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