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Strat-O-Matic: Not the real thing, but an incredible simulation

You’d think a guy who played in more than 2,000 major league games and broadcast nearly 1,000 more would be tired of baseball.

Not Keith Hernandez.

The former National League most valuable player can’t get enough, often firing up his laptop when he gets home from the ballpark to play Strat-O-Matic, a game he first tried in high school nearly four decades ago.

“I like to play the schedule as it happens,” he says. “It’s a complete reenactment of the season. I’m playing 1962 right now because that was the Giants and Dodgers.”

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He has plenty of company. Since Strat-O-Matic was launched in 1961 by Bucknell University mathematics student Hal Richman, the game has sold millions of copies, given birth to hundreds of fantasy leagues and inspired an online community of nearly 6,000 hard-core players.

It’s even been featured on the big screen, getting a cameo in the 1994 Spike Lee film “Crooklyn.”

In an era when sports simulation games have moved from the tabletop to the laptop and beyond, Strat-O-Matic and its older old-school rival APBA have remained popular because of their unrivaled realism.

In both games, the performance of every major leaguer is subjected to a mathematical formula and then rendered onto individual cards for each player. Toss the dice, cross-reference the results to the numbers on the card, and you get the outcome of each at-bat. Advanced versions of the games factor in the probability of balks, rain, injuries, a pitcher’s stamina -- even trades and the intricacies of ballparks.

And because the basics of Strat-O-Matic haven’t changed over three decades, game players can match ballplayers from different eras, batting Hank Aaron against Roger Clemens, for example.

Hernandez says the game is so realistic he uses Strat-O-Matic cards to guide him during his work as a TV analyst for the New York Mets.

“It’s remarkable how it works out,” he says. “I like to see the ratings defensively, arm, speed. Are they good hit-and-run guys? Stolen base guys? It’s always good for me to brush up on that.”

In recent years, Strat-O-Matic has added a computer version and it can be played against distant opponents on the Internet. Yet even those versions are tame and antiquated -- if far more statistically accurate -- compared with what’s available for Xbox and PlayStation.

Richman, 73, concedes his audience is growing older, but fans of his game remain loyal.

“I’ve always enjoyed it,” says Hernandez, 56. “I don’t come from the generation that needs a visual.”

kevin.baxter@latimes.com


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