Monday, July 24, 2006

A Trip Down Memory Lane

by Doug Silversten

I recently started reading a book about the history of Strat-o-Matic baseball called, Strat-o-Matic Fanatics by Glenn Guzzo. I am not far enough into yet to provide a book recommendation to readers, but I will say, that even 100 pages in, it certainly has sparked fond memories of my childhood. However, not so much of Strat-o-Matic baseball: while I certainly grew up in a baseball-obsessed household, for some reason we didn’t own the game. I do distinctly remember playing at a neighbor’s house all the time though, and thoroughly enjoying it. It is ironic that I later fell in love with the statistical side of baseball, even specializing in statistics (along with quantitative finance…yikes!) while getting my MBA. Maybe it is a good thing we didn’t own the game, because I can certainly see myself becoming obsessed, and simulating seasons, much like I did recently with Diamond Mind Baseball with fellow columnist Rob Hyman.

No, the childhood memories the book has sparked revolve around other forms of baseball. Because while Strat-o-Matic wasn’t my obsession, I certainly had others. I loved baseball, and loved it in many forms. So, take a trip down memory lane with me as I talk about my top 5 baseball game obsessions growing up (in no particular order):

(Note: "Growing up" means before graduating college at age 22. Because one new baseball obsession has topped all of these, but that is for another column. What’s that, you ask? Fantasy baseball, of course, which is sort of the culmination of being obsessed with these 5 growing up)

Nintendo Baseball
I remember in the early 80s, video games, for the most part, didn’t exist. And then one day, EVERYONE had a Nintendo system. And I mean everyone. Rich, poor, didn’t matter…every kid in America was blowing the dust of those game cartridges before inserting into their NES. Every kid subscribed to Nintendo Power. Every kid knew what Up-Up-Down-Down-Left- Right-Left-Right-B-A-Start meant. And every kid played Nintendo baseball. And it was awesome. Realistic? Ha! Heck no. I remember how it was impossible to do a successful run-down. A runner could always try to take an extra base because if the player saw the throw was going to beat him, he’d just turn around and successfully make it back safely to a base. But who needed realism? This was virtual baseball! My brother and I would play over and over again, keeping track of stats and playing virtual seasons. Ah, good times. I even remember how we implemented our own rules to deal with the impossible run-down situation….if you turned the corner on a base, you had to commit to keep running, even if you were headed for a certain out. What can I say? My brother and I insisted on at least some semblance of reality.

Wiffle Ball
While baseball video games have certainly improved since the mid 80s, Wiffle Ball is just as awesome now as it was then. Nothing like it. Grab that thin yellow bat. Grab a Wiffle. Hours of fun. Growing up, it was just me and my brother, right in our driveway. A little net with a built-in strike zone. Our own little stadium, with a large tree designated as our “Green Monster.” Specific rules outlining what constituted a single, double, triple and HR. Yes, we took it seriously. My brother can deny it all he wants, but I was better. I could hit any crazy curve he threw. I wasn’t a great wiffle pitcher, but made up for it with some excellent defense. Then, in college, the fun continued. Fellow columnist Alan Eliot and I were roommates, and behind one of the dorms was the PERFECT wall which was clearly built for one reason, and one reason only….Wiffle Ball HR Derby. And even Alan, who has a hard time admitting I am better than him at things, must admit that I dominated this competition. But didn’t matter….we loved every minute of it and we both cannot wait until the next rematch.

Micro League Baseball
My first computer was a Tandy and while I remember using it for school once in awhile, its primary purpose was playing either a King’s Quest game, or…Micro League Baseball. What a game! Unlike other baseball video/computer games, you didn’t control the players in this one. You were the manager! The perfect fit for me, since the thinking aspects of baseball, and not necessarily playing, was what always appealed to me. And I was in heaven. I had the black and white 1984 version, which only means I know way more than anyone should about the 1984 Mets. George Foster baby! I had my little Mets pocket schedule and played the season. Kept track of all the stats, of course, and....never could win more than 90 games or so. Too bad I didn’t get the 1986 version two years later.

Ken Griffey Jr. Baseball
If someone asked my favorite baseball video game of all time, I would say Ken Griffey Jr. baseball for Super Nintendo. The game was based on real players, although only Griffey’s actual name was used. However, you had the ability to edit the names and make them the real ones. While that was annoying, that was the only negative about the game. You could play entire seasons and….it would keep track of the stats! No more pencil and paper like I needed for Micro League. Even better, the final season stats were always fairly realistic. No .400 hitters. No 180 RBIs. Realistic numbers made it all the better. The only major negative is I was more obsessed with this game than most of my friends, and I wound up playing most games by myself. That would change though a few years later with the next game.

Super Bases Loaded
Alan would not let me publish this column if I didn’t mention this game for Super Nintendo. It was sort of an odd game. When playing alone, the challenge was to play a "perfect game," which was not quite the same definition as what you normally think of as a perfect game. It had some weird scoring mechanism and you needed to finish with 100 points to "win" the game. I never quite understood why not just scoring more than the computer wasn’t enough. Anyway, not important, as the real fun was head to head with a friend. Freshman year of college, Alan and I would play this game all the time. And, I admit, unlike with Wiffle Ball HR derby, Alan was clearly superior here. It is not that I couldn’t compete. In fact, I often would take a lead into Alan’s last AB. However, by some miracle of fate, some random player named "Mussio" would always come through for him. Always. Just the thought of a Mussio walk-off homer still bothers me. I think I only beat Alan a handful of times in countless games. Damn you Mussio!!!!

Doug Silversten's column, "The Big Picture", appears alternate Mondays


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"I've had a pretty good success facing Stan (Musial) by throwing him my best pitch and backing up third base."
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