Someone once said, I believe on this site, that everyone is a geek. Sure, the locker room jocks may be neither fluent in Lisp nor able to compute partial derivatives in their heads, but their lists of Heisman Trophy winners since 1935 and arguments about who was the greatest Yankee of all time more than make up for this deficit. Strat-O-Matic Baseball more than supports this hypothesis — it strengthens it. I would even go so far as to call this the Dungeons and Dragons of jocks, but, as I do not want to get my head pounded in, I will refrain.

The Strat-O-Matic game company has been around in its present form since 1963. In effect, it makes role-playing—type games for many major American sports, including basketball and American football. However, its most famous production, which was also its first, is based on that utterly American of sports: baseball. And Strat-O-Matic Baseball is formidable. As I said, the company has been around in its present form since 1963: this was the year in which, after two years of financial floundering, the maker decided to include a card for every player in Major League Baseball. That's about 30 players each on 30 teams for a total of 900 cards. And, of course, each card is based on the player's actual statistics, meaning that every card must be updated every season. The geek in jock lives on: Who knows how many hours a season the company spends, compiling statistics, remaking rules, and calculating cards? This utter devotion to the cause of accuracy oozes "geek" from every pore.

Strat-O-Matic Baseball sets are released every year, with the cards usually based on the previous statistical season. The following materials are used to play:

  • As stated, a card for each player.
  • The all-important rulebook. In theory, this is updated every year, but the updates are usually in the form of those errata sheets I love so much, and have no bearing on the majority of games.
  • Three dice. One should be a different color from the other two.
  • (geeks rejoice) A d20.
  • Several fielding charts that determine a hit, run, or error based on the skill of the relevant fielder.
  • Several strategy sheets detailing the results of various plays. More advanced games used more advanced charts whose topics can range from more flyball depth to duration of injuries.
  • Optionally, some sort of baseball diamond to be used to record the positions of the players. This is included with the game. It's also helpful sometimes to use a scorecard.

The basic game works like this: The result of each plate appearance, for the most part, comes from the three six-sided dice. A batter's card has three columns marked 1, 2, and 3; a pitcher's card, likewise, has columns marked 4, 5, and 6. The correct column can be determined from the differently-colored die. Thus, the result of any at-bat will be determined by the batter's skill, or the pitcher's skill, with an equal probability. The remaining two dice are summed to find the appropriate result. Now, sixes, sevens, and eights are more common than twos, twelves, and their surroundings, so a good batter will have hits on these middle numbers, and a bad batter will come out on these numbers. Pitchers' cards will be vice versa.

But, as always, it is more complicated than this. Often, the result will be a "split chance": something like "SINGLE 1-15, flyball(lf) 16-20". Obviously, the d20 is called into use here. In addition, some flyballs, groundballs, et cetera, will not be automatic outs, but dependent on the skill of the fielder. Each fielder is given a 1 to 5 rank: based on this rank and the d20 roll, you'll get a result from the relevant fielding chart. For example, a second baseman with a fielding rank of 1 (this is the best) will throw the batter out on rolls of 1 to 16 and commit an error on a roll of 17. Rolls of 18 through 20 must be rerolled.

And this is only the basic game. Strat-O-Matic makes all of its games with three rule sets: Basic, Advanced, and Super Advanced. In Strat-O-Matic Baseball, the Advanced game implements statistics like lefty-righty differences and batter power, and the Super Advanced game includes differences between ballparks, clutch hitting, and advanced defensive strategy. Formidable, no? In my opinion, this shows a devotion to accuracy that only a geek would want. And, needless to say, there are those who play out full seasons, through tournaments, by mail, or even by themselves. Strat-O-Matic includes rules for this, too: how long pitchers should be rested, how to deal with injuries... In sum, a well-thought out jewel of a game.

And so I rest my case. Few of you who read this will buy this game. Some of you will look into it, intrigued. But I hope that all of you will walk away with a different picture of the many jocks out there. Think of them not as bull-necked aggressors who dislocate your shoulders when they pat you on the back. Think of them not as popular for no apparent reason, surrounded by clusters of cheerleaders, and yet with the total brainpower of a paramecium. Think of them as tender figures, squatting over tables with charts and dice surrounding him, wondering whether to use a sacrifice bunt as they fight the Red Sox for the pennant.