|SOMWORLD The Official Strat-O-Matic Fanzine|
The Hal Richman Interview
June 09, 1999
Gary Altman - When did you start the Strat-O-Matic Baseball game?
Hal Richman - 1961 was the first set offered for sale to the public. It had 80 cards. The second set contained 120 players and was on standard 4x6 cards, with the pitchers in red ink and the batters in black. This set contained no error ratings, either. I invested $3500 and had 1000 sets printed. Of those sets, 350 were sold, leaving 650 sets in my basement, and a loss of my investment. I had run a national ad in Sports Illustrated.
GA - What happened to the other 650 sets that remained, and do you have at least one set for yourself?
HR - I didn't know the effects that mildew would have on paper at that time. I do have a set for myself, but I don't have the original instructions.
GA - What happened then in 1962?
HR - Basically, the same thing as 1961. I invested another $3,500, and again I lost my investment. This set had two All-Star teams, and the Pennant Winners, Pittsburgh and New York, for a total of 120 cards.
GA - What changed for you in 1963?
HR - My father, who was in business for himself at that time, wanted me to come and work for him. This was something that didn't appeal to me. I borrowed $5000 dollars from him, and the basic agreement was that this would be the last chance for Strat-O-Matic. If I had failed again in this year, I would work for my father. So, I made a few changes. First I learned that partial sets were not the way to go, and offered the first full and complete set. Through May, the sales were on par with 1961 and 62. Things were not looking good for me. Then in June of 1963 sales took off. I attribute the sales to the full set being released, and the end of the school year. At this point in time, the business was launched, and I've never had to look back.
GA - What were some of the benchmarks for Strat Baseball?
HR - In 1966 the Major League Baseball Players Association was formed. We were one of the first two companies called in by the MLBPA, with the other being TOPPS Baseball Cards. My lawyer, Mr. Robert Sale, and I went to Marvin Miller's office. Mr. Miller was a very calm and fair man. When he saw our books, he slammed his pencil down on the table, took a deep breath and said, "Your sales were supposed to be our royalties!" Marvin Miller believed our sales to be about twenty times more than they actually were.
The MLBPA could have shut down the operations of all the small companies. But instead, the MLBPA decided to work with those small companies, including us at Strat-O-Matic.
In 1971 we added the Advanced Game. This was fueled by Sports Illustrated offering their baseball game with lefty and righty split results.
As a side note, Sports Illustrated was in the market to buy Strat-O-Matic and APBA. I wasn't selling, but there was a chance that APBA would. APBA was so sure of the deal going through that they started construction of a building in Lancaster, PA in anticipation of being bought out. But at the last moment, Sports Illustrated backed out, leaving APBA with a near empty building about three times the size of what they needed.
Advertising in comic books around 1967, introducing error ratings in 1977, and the addition of Bob Winberry in the late 1980's were also extremely significant developments in our evolution.
GA - What inspired you to start Strat-O-Matic?
HR - I was very creative. Technically, the genesis for the game was born when I was in camp as an 11-year-old boy who loved baseball and numbers. I created this baseball-type game with cards.
One day, late in 1960, my mom told me that a neighbor, who was in the toy business, had just moved in down the block and that maybe I should go and ask his opinion. I brought my wares down to see him, and he looked them over, and gave me an honest answer. He said he liked what I had done, but there was something missing: It wasn't "commercial." I went home that night, with my mind racing about the criticism he gave me. I was sitting at my kitchen fidgeting and tossing dice, trying to figure out a way to have this "game" become a "Game." Then it hit me: Using a third die to determine the outcome. That was the missing piece to my puzzle.
GA - Can you name some important accomplishments in Strat history?
HR - June of 1963, the CD ROM computer version of the board game, Lefty/Righty splits, Bob Winberry, and the initial release of Football in 1968. The reason for mentioning football is because that expanded company sales.
GA - Was there some sort of inspiration for you starting Strat?
HR - My father was a difficult man to get along with, but he meant well. I graduated from college and I wanted to be my own man. If Strat failed then I would have to work for him. Also, I loved baseball and wanted to be a part of that. I knew that I would never be a baseball player, but would have done anything to be involved. This was my way of being involved in baseball.
GA - Did you have a favorite player or idol growing up?
HR - Joe DiMaggio. I was an avid Yankee fan at that time, and losses absolutely devastated me. I lived and died with the Yankees.
GA - What about now?
HR - Not so much now, because of the business. I have to be, and remain, objective. But if I had to name players I like I'd say Ken Griffey, Jr., Frank Thomas, Derek Jeter, Mark McGwire, and Bernie Williams. But none of them will be Joe DiMaggio.
GA - What current players do you know of who play, or have played Strat?
HR - Doug Glanville of the Phillies. Glanville e-mailed me a protest of his defensive rating. He thought he should have had a higher rating. Glanville is a University of Pennsylvania graduate who was into the whole game. Kevin Sefcik ordered the computer game about a month ago. Bobby Bonilla of the Mets as well. Cubs president Andy McPhail played the game as a child. Former Dodgers manager Glenn Hoffman has played Strat Baseball. A lot of the Braves play Strat Baseball, as well. Manny Ramirez has played with his family and friends. Cal Ripken, Jr. played his father, Cal Sr. Junior was very competitive with his father. The first game they played, Cal Senior beat his son. Cal Junior then looked over the cards and made a few lineup modifications. Junior then went on to beat Senior. Also Bill Daugherty of the Madison Square Garden Network. Bob Costas. Spike Lee plays Strat Baseball. ESPN has an office league.
GA - There has been a lot of talk on the Strat List about the game engine of SOM. Can you describe the game engine for those members of the list who don't quite understand the concept and meaning of the game engine?
HR - The game engine is what makes the game go. You get a result that is generated from a program. The computer game is based on the board game but with many embellishments. The advantage of the computer game is the ease of use, plus it is easier to design than a board game. The board game needs playability to be successful.
GA - Can you walk us through what happens from the end of the baseball season until the cards come out?
HR - Well, I already have my calendar marked for October 11th. Starting that week through December 1st, I'll be putting in 80 hours per week. My wife has threatened me with divorce for the last 33 years over this. I do a tremendous amount of reading. Right now, I am reading 6 to 7 hours a day just to catch up.
Steve Barkan, who has been with me for 25 years, works about 60 hours a week, as does James Williams, who has been with Strat for 28 years, during the October to December period. You would think that with the Mets and Yankees here in New York I would be able to see for myself all those games, but that's not the case. I read all the newspapers that cover Major League teams. I don't just listen to the New York media. A few years back there was a real question whether Omar Vizquel would retain his 1 rating. He had a sore arm all year and wasn't himself. If you lived outside of Cleveland, chances are you wouldn't have known that he was having a problem.
When we sit down to do the ratings, everyone has input, much like the Olympic Judges. We'll sit down for about 3 hours going over the ratings and most of them go by unchallenged. I'm very proud of those ratings. I know they're not perfect but I feel that they are superior to our competitors.
Each year when I do my reading, I jot down notes. I then compile those notes. I ended up writing over 40,000 words of notes on the 1998-baseball season. That's fairly typical on a current season. On Old-Timer seasons, I'll write about 15,000 words.
We then put the roster together, the ratings. We're still waiting on the Gold Glove voting, but that came out early last year, which was a bonus to us. I'm hoping for more of the same this season. I feel that the Gold Glove voting is about 85-90% correct. Sometimes they'll vote for an offensive player if there is no clear-cut defensive fielder. I then will go over the lefty/righty figures myself. The lefty/righty statistics are very sensitive. Players who manage to get 150 at bats against lefties are considered significant. I'll look at the last 3 years to see how a Major League manager has used a player and, when you get down to it, the Major League manager is usually right.
Then we'll work on the bunt and hit and run ratings. Information at this point is still coming in, so we have to be flexible. We'll send the Basic side to the printer. When we finish up the Super Advanced side we send that to the printer and the printer will complete the job.
GA - Where are the cards printed?
HR - In Illinois.
GA - So, in summation, the process order is Reading, Ratings, Cards, 8 weeks at 80 hours?
HR - Yes.
GA - Where do you think the Gold Gloves were wrong?
HR - With Wade Boggs. I never thought he deserved a 1.
GA - Has there ever been a problem with deciding what rating to give a player?
HR - Yes. Manny Ramirez. I thought he was a borderline 2 or a 3. He could have gone either way. But, during a national telecast, possibly the playoffs, he made a defensive blunder. Totally butchered the ball, and that sealed his fate. We gave him a 3. We call that "The Colavito Factor."
Manny Ramirez was raised in the shadows of Yankee Stadium. When he first was called up to the Major Leagues and came into town to play the Yankees, a large number of family and friends would come to the stadium to see him play. When he made a good play in the field, his "group" would be calling out numbers like a 1 or a 2. This was picked up by a local paper here in New York, and the reference was to Strat-O-Matic's fielding rating.
GA - What is "The Colavito Factor?"
HR - We had a problem with Rocky Colavito once. He ended the season with a 1.000 fielding percentage, but we felt that he still was a horrible fielder and deserved a 4. We gave him a 4. There was such public outcry over that, that we changed his rating to a 3. We do listen to what the people have to say.
GA - What kind of hours do you put in for the other games?
HR - About 50 hours. Steve Barkan works on hockey and that takes about 3 weeks. James Williams will work on basketball and that takes 4 weeks. Each of them has their own program that will break down the stats and give them the generated Strat numbers.
GA - What happens to Strat when you decide to retire?
HR - My father retired when he was 70. He then went on to run an apartment building. He ended up living to a hundred and a half.
GA - I didn't say die, I asked about retirement?
HR - (laughs) Well, someone checks my work. So there might be a bump or two in the first year, but after that things should run very smoothly.
GA - Where do you see Strat in 5 years from now?
HR - I'd like to see a strong Internet game. I would like to get it on the net. We want to do that right. We want the right companies. That's in the next 2 or 3 years though.
GA - What about Old Timers seasons being upgraded for Super Advanced ratings (i.e. 1961 & 1969)?
HR - Probably not. We have to run a business and make money. We want to satisfy our customers, but we must run a business. Sometimes these issues conflict with one another.
GA - What about making available all the past seasons on one CD-ROM?
HR - We're not only creating a game, but also 1,500 hours of research. We won't do that with the Cadillac versions, but possibly with the Chevys. The Chevy seasons are already discounted on multiple purchases. But we're not willing to give away the Cadillacs.
(Editors Note: "Cadillac version" refers to a past season disk that has had the research completed. "Chevy version" refers to the statistics being generated without the background research that the Cadillacs have had.)
GA - Can you tell us what past season will be released next?
HR - 1966. Right now on our website, we're having a poll that is very important to Strat-O-Matic, as it is the feedback of the consumer.
GA - Let me ask you if you have any thoughts on the article I wrote about the hit and run chart.
HR - Basically, for the reasons you mentioned, the hit and run is not used in baseball anymore, either. We get a report from Stats, Inc which tells us that the hit and run is used 1.2 to 1.3% of the time in real baseball. If we were to change the chart, then we'd hurt past season playability. We don't want to do that. Also, there is something else used in determining the hit and run rating, which I can't divulge because of our competition. But getting the right information is important to us. Statistics play an important part in this rating.
GA - Is there a general rule that you use in giving out the 1 fielding ratings for the infield? Like, in the past few years, you've given out a maximum of two 1s for each infield position per league. This past year you gave only a single 1 for 2B in the AL, but 3 in the NL.
HR - We don't use a two-and-two ratio for the 1s. We're not bound by giving two per league. Perception has a small piece of the pie also. We will listen to what the customers have to say.
GA - Can you explain what is the Clutch Formula?
HR - Well, I can't get into the exact formula, but I can tell you its more than the Runners In Scoring Position Average is. If there was enough ABs produced with 2 outs and runners in scoring position (RISP), batters hit between 12 and 20 points below their regular average. There is pressure on the batter to produce in those situations. But enough ABs can't be generated. We look at average and RBIs. They are weighted differently, but anything under 100 ABs we consider to be very little. Its more than a RBI adjustment. I really think that the clutch is an excellent formula.
GA - Are you surprised at the level of intensity regarding Strat-O-Matic customers and the Mailing List on the internet?
HR - I'm not surprised at the intensity, but the way people go about their hobby. I've heard about someone pulling a gun on someone. I saw on the list this past week where a Sheriff's group played Strat, and one was arrested for vandalism of another league member's property. I was called a few years back on the list "Darth Vader" and that I am "from the Dark Side." I become very cautious when reading the list, I'm sorry to say.
GA - The question I seem to be the most interested in is will there be Internet Play in the near future?
HR - Last year, at the Convention in Cleveland (Editor's Note: the convention was held in Canton-Akron, not Cleveland), I said that there would be Internet play soon. I was in negotiation for a year. The deal fell through. I'm looking for a strong website and partner. I'm hoping to be able to announce something in the next couple of weeks.
GA - When you say website and partner, what are you talking about?
HR - Its going to be a separate product. This will be on the Internet only. You can play on the web without having to purchase the game from us. Right now, I'm in negotiations with two well-known companies, but due to the sensitivity of the talks, I am unable to tell you more about them.
GA - What about a direct hook-up function?
HR - My first goal is to get Internet play up and running, then see how it all works out and go on from there.
GA - What are your feelings, so far, about SOMWORLD?
HR - I look forward to a nice relationship with SOMWORLD. I'll listen to any criticism and suggestions that are of a constructive nature.