When it comes to my nerdery, Strat-O-Matic hits several sweet spots: history, baseball, statistics and board games. Invented in 1961, the dice rolling game is fun for settling those abstract questions like how would Ty Cobb hit against Roger Clemens in their primes, etc. You can play historical teams against one another and it’s all really fun if you are into any of the above mentioned subjects.
One of the things the game never had was the participation of the great Negro League players like Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige, Cool Papa Bell, Buck Leonard, ad infinitum. Until now! And not just Negro League players, but great players from Cuban, like Tony Lazzeri and Martin Dihigo, and other countries that were never allowed to play in the Major Leagues because of segregation.
Scott Simkus, an amateur baseball historian from the suburbs of Chicago, helped the dice game track down the necessary stats for their inclusion.
Simkus helped solve that. His passion for Strat-O-Matic led him to the baseball shelves of the public library, where he discovered Only the Ball Was White, the pioneering history of Negro League baseball. Fascinated, he began reading old copies of the Chicago Defender, where he found box scores for the Chicago American Giants, the city’s Negro League franchise.
Simkus contacted Richman, offering to do the grunt work of compiling box scores from the Defender, the Amsterdam News, and other black papers. By typing the numbers onto Excel spreadsheets, Simkus was able to determine fielding averages, platoon splits, strikeouts. Baseball Almanac readers take those stats for granted, but they’d been unknown for Negro Leaguers. Strat-O-Matic statisticians then came up with a “major league equivalency” formula to adjust the numbers to major league levels by studying how Negro Leaguers had performed against minor-league teams, Cuban winter league teams, and barnstorming big leaguers. They determined that the quality of play in the Negro Leagues was somewhere between AAA and the majors. So Oscar Charleston, who batted in the 0.390s against Negro League pitching, won’t hit that well when pitted against a cardboard Dizzy Dean or Lefty Grove.
The Negro League set is out now, featuring 103 of the finest players in history. Surprisingly, even with the addition of all these players, Babe Ruth is still considered the greatest player of any generation.