Friday, July 08, 2005

All*Star Baseball

If you were a boy growing up in the late 1960s and early 1970s, you undoubtedly passed some of the most hot and humid afternoons of summer sitting in your own, or a friend's, air-conditioned home and playing "All*Star Baseball Game". The version to the right was the version we had. As we grew older, there were more realistic games to be played, such as Strat-O-Matic Baseball, but nothing captured the imagination quite like All*Star Baseball. This game has been around forever. My father even had one when he was young!

Part of the "mystique" was probably the fact the game "board" itself sat in the box and had a picture of the infield at Wrigley Field. On this picture were four holes where pegs could be placed around all 3 bases and home plate to keep track of your runners on the basepaths of a real diamond. So cool!

Then there was a background piece of cardboard which had a photo of Wrigley's bleachers and outfield, and which sat propped upright on the board by four slots. On this piece was a fielding key, stolen base key, hit and run key, and some other stuff I don't quite remember. There was also a spinning wheel to keep track of outs and the number of runs scored that inning.

On the actual playing board were two spinners on top of a piece of clear plastic. Discs, representing individual players, were inserted into the clear plastic. The discs were divided into 15 or 20 areas around the outside of the disc, each containing a number. The numbers represented what could happen during an at-bat. There was a key as to what the number meant on the board just below home plate. So, for instance, if the spinner stopped pointing at the area with the number "10", your batter just struck out, because "10" meant a strike out. Each individual player who was an "All Star" for a particular year had a disc which was divided into the spaces. The sizes of the spaces were determined by the actual likelihood, from that real player's stats, of that player striking out, hitting a ground ball, hitting a fly ball, walking, singling, doubling, tripling, or homering.

Here's what the numbers on the discs meant:
1- Home Run
2- Ground ball III
3- Fly ball I
4- Fly ball I
5- Triple
6- Ground ball III
7- Single II
8- Fly ball I
9- Base on balls
10- Strike out
11- Double
12- Ground ball III
13- Single II
14- Fly ball I

The I's, II's, and III's directed your eyes to the propped up scoreboard area, and based on a second flick of the spinner, determined whether the fielder caught the ball or made an error, and how many bases the runners advanced, if any. So there was a lot of detail to the game, making no two games play the same. What a joy it was!

What happened if the spinner landed on a line dividing two spaces- the dreaded "liner"? Well, we counted that as a "foul ball", and the batting player just spun again.

Wilbur Wood, the famous knuckleball pitcher, had the biggest "10's" I have ever seen. He almost always struck out. There were few things worse than having your opponent bring Wilbur Wood to "bat", and Wilbur Wood getting a hit. He's my nominee for "Worst All*Star Baseball Player" ever.

Triples were invariably the smallest spaces on the discs. Lou Brock, Dave Cash, and, as I remember, Rennie Stennett, had the biggest "5's".

Pete Rose had a huge "13"; there was none bigger. I never understood why they made his "13" so big and his "7" just average. But they did.

And Willie Stargell and Nate Colbert had the biggest "1's". I know. I measured all the players against each other!

I have pages upon pages of statistics that I kept on loose leaf notebook paper. Batting averages, home runs, RBI's. I kept them all. Useless information, to be sure, but if anyone wants to know which players had the most successful discs, I could tell you.

The funniest stat I kept was ERA. ERA? And strike outs. What the heck did I do that for? Pitching had absolutely nothing to do with the outcome of the game. Or did it? After playing hundreds of games, I can tell you that some pitchers fared better than others. Call it the curse, or blessing, of run support, if you will, but on some level I did believe that who my pitcher was influenced a game's outcome. It seems strange to say, but if some pitchers were in my lineup, say, Jim "Catfish" Hunter, I would feel very confident about winning the game. Some guys racked up a lot of wins, while others a lot of losses. How can anyone explain that?

For a youngster, this is a great way to learn the"inner game" in a fairly simple, yet fun, way. There is some "strategery" to this game, because of the options to steal, hit and run, intentional walk, etc. And a lot of the fun was in deciding what players to choose (draft) for your team's position players and pitchers, and then making out the batting order. Something a 10 year old (or 41 year old for that matter) finds extremely entertaining.

Believe it or not, I still played this game regularly in college, although by then Strat-O-Matic was more interesting to me. The last time I played this game was in 1989, when my wife was pregnant with my son. I envisioned him playing this game at the time, just like my father had played before me. But, in this video-game driven world, that was not to be. So be it.

I have seen there is now a "Hall Of Fame Edition" of All*Star Baseball. It looks like there are now pictures of the players on the discs. Although it looks good, I'll pass on getting it. I still have my game in my basement if the urge ever comes. I guess I still have it because I couldn't bear to part with it. The hours of my life spent playing this game have prevented that. I only wish I could find my dad's old game. That, and his old baseball cards.

So, as the MLB All-Star Game approaches, everyone lift a glass (and unless you're The Hulk, preferably not one of these) to All*Star Baseball Game.

Man, I really love baseball. And I think All*Star Baseball Game is a part of the reason.


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