Many of you know I'm a baseball fan, and I've written here about my infatuation with table-top sims like Strat-O-Matic Baseball. These games taught me to love rule-bound systems that provoke strategic critical thinking, and they forever instilled in me an appreciation for the poetry of numbers. To a gawky pimple-faced teenager who felt like the least cool person on the planet, Strat-O was a frequent refuge, and those cards full of numbers provided hours of blissful escape.
American baseball's saddest chapter is the 80-year period when black players were not permitted to join major league teams, and its least-known chapter is the story of the Negro Leagues that emerged in response to segregation, featuring some of the greatest players to ever don a baseball uniform. Josh Gibson, whom many baseball historians consider the best player of all time, never played in the Major Leagues, despite being known as "the black Babe Ruth." Many journalists who saw both men play referred to Babe Ruth as "the white Josh Gibson."
Josh Gibson may never receive his due, but now it's possible to include Gibson - and 103 of the greatest players in Negro League history - in the first baseball sim dedicated to the players Major League Baseball kept out: Strat-O-Matic Negro League All-Stars.
Building the cards to accurately reflect the hitting, fielding, and pitching characteristics of each player required ten years of research and stat gathering. Each player's card reflects a combination of information derived from more than 3,000 Negro League boxcores and the most recently published Negro League statistics, much of which has been painstakingly compiled by Scott Simkus.
The results are player cards that reflect each player at the prime of his career in an average season, with credible lefty/righty splits and defensive numbers - information vital to SOM's creation of accurate cards. Fans of Strat-O games expect a sim experience based on reliable data that produces realistic results, and they have never shied from demanding additional data, such as ballpark dimensions, be reflected in the game. SOM has incorporated such data over the years, and if they say they've done everything they can to produce the most accurate Negro League player cards possible, I believe them.
Of course, the most exciting thing about the new Negro League cards is the door it opens to players who wish to virtually right MLB's 80-year wrong. I'm operating under no illusion of justice served here. But I am suggesting that something fascinating is now possible for players like me, curious about the impact players like Josh Gibson and Cool Papa Bell might have had on Major League Baseball. Was Johnny Bench a better catcher than Gibson? Let's sim a few seasons and see what we might learn.
The potential for games to reflect, bend, or even rewrite history suggests a powerful dimension to gaming that we don't often consider. Games like the Civilization series enable us to construct playful scenarios that engage us with endlessly fun gameplay . But Strat-O-Matic's latest effort adds a layer of speculative complexity to the simulation experience that I find fascinating and immensely appealing.
Strat-O-Matic releases the Negro League All-Star cards on November 1. I can't wait for mine to arrive.