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GETTING ON BOARD : In These Baseball Leagues, Dice and Statistics Are the Tools of the Game

July 10, 1988|SCOTT MILLER

SAN DIEGO — October, 1986. The New York Mets have just beaten the Boston Red Sox in a dramatic seven-game World Series, and Met second baseman Tim Teufel is under the glare of lights in the frenzied New York clubhouse.

"This sure beats playing Strat-O-Matic," Teufel said.

Perhaps. But for those who will never play in a World Series, playing Strat-O-Matic and other baseball board games is the next best thing.

Where else can you manage Tony Gwynn, Alan Trammell and Don Mattingly? What other chance will you have to fill in your own lineup card, decide when to hit and run, and determine when to make a double switch when replacing a pitcher?

There are several dozen devoted players in San Diego. Jerry Asbury, manager of Game Towne, a game shop located in San Diego's Old Town, organizes many of the baseball board game leagues in San Diego.

"Most of the leagues in which I've been involved have been with guys ranging in age from 15 or so into their 30s and 40s," Asbury said. "And they all have a very large interest in baseball. They put a lot of time and effort into it. If you're not somewhat interested in the sport, then it's not going to work."

The big four of baseball board games are Strat-O-Matic, Pursue the Pennant, APBA, and Statis Pro. Strat-O-Matic has the largest following, but newcomer Pursue the Pennant, which has existed only four years, is quickly gaining popularity.

The games stand out because of their accuracy. The goal is to imitate real baseball as much as possible with dice, a board, charts and paper players.

Darrell Hendricks, 29, a security guard, still cringes at the memory of the first Pursue the Pennant game he played four years ago. He lost in nine innings, 21-7.

"It's not that not winning isn't fun," he said. "But 21-7 is more like a football game than baseball."

Pursue the Pennant has made enough adjustments since then to assure more realistic games.

On opening day two years ago, Hendricks' starting pitcher, Mario Soto, threw a no-hitter and lost, 2-1. A couple of errors and unearned runs cost Hendricks' team. But it was at least more realistic than the 21-7 debacle.

"I was just unlucky," he said.

Each game comes with individual player cards based on the players' statistics from the year before. Pursue the Pennant offers 801 individual player cards; Strat-O-Matic comes with more than 700. Players can buy new cards each year.

Each game also comes with charts for various game situations.

"Pursue the Pennant takes into account more things, such as playing on grass versus artificial turf, and weather conditions," Asbury said. "For example, if you're playing in the middle of the day in Texas, you're going to have a different game than if you're playing in Boston on opening day with snow coming down."

Before the game, the players roll the dice, then refer to a weather chart. What month the game is played will be determined by the roll of the dice, as will the weather conditions. Is it hot or cool? Cloudy or clear? Precipitation or no precipitation?

"In Wrigley Field, it will be a different game depending on how the wind is blowing," Asbury said. "If it's blowing in, it will be a pitcher's game. If it's blowing out, it will be a hitter's game."

Pursue the Pennant's weather chart is the most in-depth, but different games feature different charts. Strat-O-Matic is known for its ballpark effects chart. You determine before the game which park you're playing in, and that may affect the batters. A home run in Seattle's Kingdome may be just a fly out in Houston's Astrodome.

One thing you won't find in most leagues is the designated hitter.

"The designated hitter rule should never have happened," Asbury said. "It may be OK in real baseball, but it takes away some of the strategy of managing. And that's why I play this game--to manage. If your pitcher is throwing a three-hitter but is losing, 1-0, in the sixth inning, should you pinch-hit for him or leave him in?"

Leagues are generally formed in one of two ways: through a group of friends or Game Towne. Most of the time, there is a bulletin board on a wall in Game Towne with notices from people who are interested in forming a league.

The first order of business for a new league is the draft. Managers will meet at a central location and spend six or seven hours drafting their teams. If it is a smaller league, such as six or seven teams, the player pool may include only players from one league. If the league is much larger, managers may be able to draft players from both the American and National Leagues.

The managers also draft to determine which stadiums they will play in. If a player picks Busch Stadium in St. Louis, he will be drafting a team with speed--similar to the one Whitey Herzog has put together. A manager playing in Wrigley Field will be picking power hitters.

The next step is a schedule. Asbury will normally spend a week working on that, while managers tinker with their teams, making trades. The length of the schedule depends on the number of teams.

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