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.
Thanks for reading; if you enjoyed it, please share with others. And if you'd like to be updated on my future posts, and those from the rest of the Cubs Insider team, you can subscribe below.
Type your email address in the box and click the "create subscription" button. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.
And be sure to like Cubs Insider on Facebook. You can also
Filed under: Pop Culture