The Sandberg Game: How Ryno Got Me My First Strat-O-Matic Set

The Sandberg Game: How Ryno Got Me My First Strat-O-Matic Set

Ryne Sandberg bought me Strat-O-Matic baseball.

Well, it was kinda indirectly, but still.

It was the nationally televised NBC game of the week on a Saturday in June...Oh, you know the rest by now.

The "Ryne Sandberg Game" will always go down in my fondest of memories, maybe my favorite Cubs game of all time. It was a coming of age of sorts for me as a young Cubs fan and the team was emerging as a contender for the first time in my young fandom.

Sandberg was quickly becoming my favorite player. He was also emerging as one of the brightest stars in the game. However, this game will also always stand out in my memory because it gave gave me my first edition of Strat-O-Matic Baseball.

For those non baseball nerds, or maybe a younger generation, Strat-O-Matic was a tabletop baseball game that used advanced statistically-individual player cards to allow pretty realistic simulation.

Strat-O-Matic is recognized as a very influential game. It has been played by a wide variety of sports fans, including professional athletes themselves.

Former major leaguer Doug Glanville is an avid Strat-O-Matic player and advocate of the company, and his ex-teammate and noted gamer Curt Schilling also plays. Former New York Mets teammates Keith Hernandez and Lenny Dykstra also have proclaimed their devotion. After homering in the ninth inning of Game 3 of the 1986 National League Championship Series, Dykstra said that the last time he had done such a thing was when he played Strat-O-Matic against his brother.

Broadcaster Bob Costas often played Strat-O-Matic in his youth, and credits the game with teaching him about baseball, for instance the importance of on-base percentage and slugging percentage. Author Buzz Bissinger says that "Strat-O-Matic changed my life."

Computer sports game designers and producers such as Trip Hawkins and Richard Hilleman have been lifelong Strat-o-Matic players, indirectly influencing the development of rival computer baseball simulation games.

Just prior to The Sandberg Game, I had become riducolousy obsessed with the game after first playing with a friend. This was the ultimate baseball experience for me. I always wanted to play GM. It was long before any video games out there could even give you close to an authentic MLB experience.


I was determined to get my hands on one ASAP. I think at the time they cost about $30, but I only had $10. So I proposed to my father that he front me my summer allowance. My dad would like to play little games with me and sometimes liked to make things interesting.

He told me I could wager my 10 bucks against his 20 that the Cubs would beat the Cardinals on this Saturday.

I was all in. First, I had nothing to lose; the Cubs would win, of course, and it was my best shot at getting my hands on the game. Right about the fourth inning, with the Cubs down 7-1, I had started to feel my dream quickly slipping away.

We happened to be up in Michigan on a summer weekend vacation. Luckily the game was on NBC, a pretty big deal back then, and I was able to watch from the hotel. However, we had to go to a barbecue later in the day, so we left the hotel and I listened to the game on the radio.

By the time we got to the cookout, the Cubs had made things interesting. I got to listen to Harry Caray make the call of Sandberg's first shot off the seemingly invincible Bruce Sutter. Later, I negotiated my way in front of a TV to watch Sandberg's second game-tying home run.

I will never forget Bob Costas call: "Do you believe it?" Thank goodness I have this on DVD now.

Soon after, I got pulled from the couch and back outside to the barbecue for the food, but still got to listen to Harry call Dave Owen's game-winning RBI. Strat-O was soon to be mine after this improbable comeback, and the Cubs, not to mention Sandberg, were becoming a thing. Cardinals skipper Whitey Herzog proceeded to label Sandberg "Baby Ruth" during the post-game.

One minor problem: my Dad wasn't complying with payout. In hindsight, he probably was just too busy with friends to fork over his $20 immediately, but I was nonetheless relentless. My dad's friend Louie had a plan: he would ask my Dad for change and then sneakily fork over my rightful cash during the exchange. The move felt a little seedy, but hey, a deal was a deal.

That following Monday morning, I was readily camped out in front of "Gamers Paradise" at the Harlem and Irving mall until they opened. As a kid, that was by far my favorite summer of baseball. I got to live out the Cubs division-winning season by day, and simulate baseball in my basement by night.

True story: my simulation season ended up having the Cubs meet the Tigers in the World Series. In case you were wondering, Kirk Gibson took Steve Trout deep late in Game 6, sealing the series for the Tigers.

Well, even in simulation the Cubs were denied. Still to this day, when I think of the Sandberg game, I can't help but think about the double win for me.

Thanks Ryno, and thanks Dad.


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Filed under: Pop Culture


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  • fb_avatar

    Awesome story Tom. As I mentioned on twitter yesterday I have recently gotten back into APBA (the true simulation LOL).

    It just reminds me of the days in the summer (when it was raining and we could not got outside) my brother and I playing some simulations of all time great series.

    The 82 run (literally) of the Cardinals through the awesomeness that was the Brew Crew (I am still upset that I could not beat my brother with that team). The 84 Cubs in a replay on the arm of Rick Sutcliff went head to head with those despised Detriot Tigers (I learned to hate Barbaro Darby off the bench). I even got to prove that I am smarter than LaRussa by winning the series replays 3 strait years from 88-90 (And I did not need God to make his presence felt in 89 to do it).

    Those days made me realize there is a lot more to baseball than just the typical Baseball Card stats. That it took a very in depth look at why those players and teams were good. It more than just the typical well he batted .300 but he could not walk with a crossing guard showing him the way, or Wow he won 20 games (but he gave up a league leading 26 HR's ).

    I am glad that you enjoyed the lesser game just as much as we true baseball people that played with the superior product...... I am only half kidding on that one.

  • In reply to Richard Hood:

    I always thought APBA looked interesting too. Is there a CPU version now?

  • In reply to Tom Loxas:

    there was a cpu version back in the floppy disc days.. lol - my dad and I used to play all the time.. but you could only do 1 season at a time.. we hated that.

    not sure if they still make a cpu version, but you should check ootp baseball.. its the greatest sim game out there.

  • In reply to CubfanInUT:

    Ok, I've heard that too.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Tom Loxas:

    The 5.0 version is interesting. You can do multiple seasons as far as creating a central league and up loading different teams to a season. The group of us that have started back this year have taken out most of the recent expansion to keep it 26 teams.

  • fb_avatar

    You shopped at the HIP? I wonder how many times we crossed paths as I made my way over to Rolling Stone Records.

    Great article.

  • In reply to Michael Canter:

    Thanks Mike. I'm sure I was there too.

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