The baseball board game that kept me the most entertained for many years of my adolescence was Ethan Allen’s All-Star Baseball by Cadaco. I spent hour upon hour playing the game, in which opposing sides consisted of player discs onto which their offensive stats were mapped.
I had two versions of the game. One from the early 60s had discs with rectangular cutouts in the center, and you’d slip the disk over a block of cardboard on which a spinner was affixed. You’d spin the dial, read the number of where the spinner landed and your player had a single (7 or 13), double (11), a strikeout (10) and so on. A home run (1) was usually at the top of the dial.
The disks were on light card stock, and they were susceptible to rips in the corners of the cutout. To me, one of the greatest innovations of the 20th Century – right behind the assembly line and wireless communication – was when All-Star Baseball came out with new plastic-pocket spinners. The players were still on discs, but they didn’t have a cutout and were much more durable.
I’m not sure exactly when I picked up the newer version, but I still have it today (depicted above). The cardboard box housing the old set probably fell apart and was tossed when I got the new version.
For a skinny stats geek in suburban Cleveland, All-Star Baseball was great because the players hit roughly in line with their real averages. The game’s flaw was that it made no difference whether Frank Howard was facing Bob Gibson or Wally Bunker: he was going to fan a certain percentage of the time regardless.
On paper, that was the case. But in my head I believed some of the player discs had mystical powers. I’d imagine that Jim Maloney was tiring on the mound (not hard to figure after he gives up 6 runs in the bottom of the third) and bring in Jim Palmer in relief. His control was pinpoint as always.
I kept score to all my games (95 percent of which I played solo) and I had a draft and leagues and seasons and my own World Series. Donn Clendenon was my best clutch hitter, and Danny Cater had a legendary hitting streak that lasted a dozen games or so.
Each game was played with a full soundtrack in my head, an announcer describing the crack of the bat and the runners scurrying around the bases while Willie Mays and Carl Yastrzemski chased the ball down against the outfield wall.
I played the game into high school, and this will erase any doubt about my baseball nerd credentials. My friend Ed and I figured out how the discs were calculated, and we used the stats from The Sporting News Baseball Register to make our own. These were days before the widespread availability of Texas Instruments calculators, so we used the Wang computers at school on which light bulbs put up each number in the results of how many degrees in the circle we’d allot for each category.
Not content with the 1-14 categories on the basic discs, we added a 15 for hit-by-pitch. Maybe we wanted to how Ron Hunt’s HBPs would compare with Babe Ruth’s home runs.
As a kid, I dreamed that some day there’d be games that would realistically recreate the game to the extent that you could see the players pitch and swing and otherwise perform as they do in real life. Video games like that exist with remarkable graphic displays. I’ve played them, and they’re fun. But they don’t fire my imagination the way All-Star Baseball did, in its delightfully low-tech, analog way.
For further reading on All-Star Baseball, there’s a fine entry in Wikipedia, another at the Unofficial Home Page of Cadaco’s All-Star Baseball and this Baeball Games site, which may be the best of the lot.