EDITOR'S NOTE: CodBall continues its partnership with WCAI/WGBH NPR for the Cape and Islands. Broadcasted on Monday morning June 8th, Dan Tritle and I previewed the 2009 Cape season, and we interviewed Tom Simon for the latest CodBall Conversation.
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Its history reaches back as far as baseball itself, and this Thursday the Cape Cod Baseball League begins its 124th season.
Over the past several years WCAI has teamed up with CodBall to bring forward voices and stories from the league. This week our CodBall Conversation is with Tom Simon, who has created a novel game based on statistics emanating from top players in the Cape League over the past decade.
For many baseball enthusiasts, the dice game known as Strat-o-matic is an enduring memory from their childhood, one that precedes today’s fantasy baseball and video games. In Strat-o-matic your team’s players are printed on cards with batting and fielding probabilities which are then played out in a game with the role of a dice. NPR four years ago ran a memorable story on the influence of Strat-o-matic.
Mr. Simon, an award-winning baseball writer, has created his own Cape Cod version of Strat-o-matic and was interviewed last week from his law offices in Vermont.
CB: Tell us how you play the game.
Simon: You've got one four-sided die, which looks like a little pyramid, and two ten-sided dice that generate numbers from double-zero to ninety-nine. If you roll one or two on the four-sided die, you look at the batter's card for the result; if you roll three or four, you look at the pitcher's card. If you roll a low number like double-zero, especially on the batter's card, you've got a pretty good chance of an extra-base hit; if you roll in the 90s, it's probably a strikeout. There are some nuances -- if you roll doubles, for example, there could be an error -- but that's the game in a nutshell. It's pretty simple.
CB: So who are some of the players contained in the game?
Simon: The Cape League's website has statistics for the past ten seasons, so I made what amount to all-decade teams for each of the League's ten franchises. Some of the players are established Major League stars, like Mark Teixeira, Chase Utley, Evan Longoria, Kevin Youkilis, and Tim Lincecum; a lot are guys you've never heard of unless you're a scout or a serious Cape League follower; and some, like Matt Wieters Aaron Crow, and Grant Green, are guys you may not have heard of yet, but soon will be stars. All told, I made cards for over 270 players. CB: This winter you played a complete 44-game Cape Cod League season; who won and what surprised you about the game? Simon: Chatham came on strong at the end to beat out Orleans in the East, and Falmouth and Wareham were first and second in the West. In the finals, Falmouth took two out of three from Chatham for the dice Arnold Mycock Championship Trophy, with pitcher Dallas Buck of Oregon State taking home the PA Sports Ticker Playoff MVP Award by pitching a complete game four-hitter in the rubber match.
As for what surprised me, this might sound a little self-serving but I was amazed by how realistic the results were. The cumulative batting average for the Cape League over the past ten seasons is around .247; my dice league batting average came to .246, and the percentages of doubles, triples, strikeouts and walks were almost dead-on. The only significant difference was that my league hit a lot more homers.
CB: How did you get interested in the Cape League? Simon: Every serious baseball fan knows about the Cape League, and I'd read The Last Best League by Jim Collins, which is a fantastic book that follows several members of the Chatham A's through a Cape League summer, but what really hooked me was when we went to Wellfleet for vacation last year and I got to see a couple games in person. When my kids get a little older I'd like to do a trip where we see a game in each of the league's ten ballparks, and I'm really looking forward to this year's Cape League All-Star Game at Fenway.
CB: You are a baseball historian and statistician; why is the Cape League important to the game of baseball? Simon: It brings together many of the most talented collegiate players in the country and pits them against each other, using wooden bats, in a condensed schedule that is similar to what they'll encounter in the minor leagues. If you were a Major League team on an incredibly tight budget, you could do respectably well in the draft, I think, by scouting nothing more than the Cape League. I don't think it's coincidence that the major and minor league rosters of smart organizations like Oakland and the Red Sox are littered with Cape League alumni.
CB: How can listeners get a copy of the game? Simon: I haven't made very many of them, but I do have a few, so if your listeners really want a copy, they can contact me by commenting here on CodBall (either comment on this post or send us an email). By the way, I will donate 100% of the purchase price -- not just the profits but the entire purchase price -- to the CCBL.
CB: What research was needed for you to make the game perform realistically? Simon: This may get a little "sabermetric" for many of your listeners, but first you have to total all of the league's statistics to determine what percentage of plate appearances result in home runs, triples, doubles, singles, walks, and strikeouts. Then you do the same thing for each individual player, and the numbers that go on his card depend on how much he deviates from the league average. You could do the exact same thing for any baseball league that keeps detailed statistics -- I did it for the New York-Penn League back in 1996, when the Vermont Expos won the championship, but you could do it for your son's Little League if you wanted to.