In times of national crisis, sports—and baseball in particular—have always been a unifying force. The World Series after 9/11 brought the country together, as did the way the Red Sox made us all feel “Boston Strong” in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing.
Now that we’re more isolated from one another than ever before, the absence of our games is particularly jarring. That’s why I was excited when a group of friends started texting to one another actual boxscores of the Phillies season. How could this be?
Well, back in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s—long before fantasy leagues became all the rage—generations of sports-crazed adolescents played Strat-O-Matic baseball, a board game that, using computer-generated, individual player cards and dice, realistically recreates the on-field exploits of Major League Baseball teams and players.
Long Island-based Strat-O-Matic is still at it, having added a digital version, and games that recreate pro hockey, basketball and football. But its baseball game had long been its iconic product; I grew up playing it, often losing to my older brother, whose taunts still ring in my ears.
I hadn’t thought of the game for years, probably ever since, one day during the 1994 baseball strike, I dug out my game and brought it over to the Phillies’ front office, where team owner Bill Giles and I recreated game six of the Phils’ heartbreaking 1993 World Series loss to the Toronto Blue Jays. (He doubled down on using series’ goat relief pitcher Mitch Williams).
Now that there’s no baseball, Strat-O-Matic has been recreating the 2020 season online. What’s that old saying? You never know what you’ve got till it’s gone. When Opening Day’s boxscore landed in my inbox, I realized that, until now, virtually every day of my life has started with me perusing a Phillies’ boxscore, even if I’d seen the game, even if I knew the score.
The same could be said for my dad, before me; he’d read the sports agate page with his morning coffee, muttering his frustrations under his breath like any fan who had lived through 1964, the worst collapse in the history of sports.
Generations of American fans had long done the same. We were, all of us, practitioners of an aficionado’s ritual, and there was—in retrospect, now that it’s been gone—something communitarian in the way we all started our summer days.
In a way, sports fandom at its best is an essential component of citizenship—a way for cities to engage in a daily common project. That’s why we’ve decided to bring you the simulated Phillies Strat-O-Matic boxscores, in an effort to capture some sense of normalcy in these weird days, and—who knows?—to provide something to bond over in such tense and alienating times.
We’ll reprint the boxscores from each simulated Phillies game, with commentary from Philly sports thought leaders, led by 97.5 The Fanatic’s Anthony “Cuz” Gargano.
This isn’t just about losing ourselves in a sports narrative, folks. It’s also a cultural win at a time when we desperately need one. It’s about us telling this virus from hell that it can keep us locked in our houses, it can fill us with fear, and it can test us in countless ways. But hell if it’s going to keep us from bonding over baseball.
See the season so far here.Header photo courtesy Miles Kennedy / Philadelphia Phillies