A Birthday Gift


When I was a kid, I was usually sick (eg, asthma, eczema, allergies).  When I had a good day, stickball occupied my –and my friends’ –time. But when it rained, we were forced inside our homes.  There were board (not “bored”) games to play (eg, Monopoly).  But in the 1950s, I got a new game for my birthday.  It was “Ethan Allen’s All-Star Baseball Game”, made by Cadeco.  (see above picture)  It quickly became our favorite indoor activity.

Ethan Allen was a baseball player for 13 years (1926 – 38).  A toy company gave him a job helping design a baseball game “for boys.”  That’s what it said –not me.  In time, it was replaced in popularity by an even more realistic game: Strat-o-Matic Baseball.  But in the 1950s, it was as close to real baseball that was available to us. Unlike previous baseball games which used only dice or a deck of playing cards to simulate a baseball game’s outcome, our game brought a bit of reality to a board game.

The game centered around 40 circular discs which represented 40 major league ballplayers’ batting performances.  Each player’s name was on a disc and around the outside of each disc were the numbers 1 – 14.  Each number stood for the outcome that a batter could have in a real at bat: home run, triple, double, single, walk, strike out, fly out, ground out.  How much space a number occupied on a disc depended upon how likely a specific player was to produce that result in a typical at bat. Instructions for the game explained that if a player  came to the plate often enough, his hitting outcomes would be the same as a specific player would in real life.  Although playing enough games to achieve that degree of accuracy was unlikely (ourtime was limited by school, chores, and stickball), we were hooked.

A game was played by 2 people (one player for each of two hand-picked teams from the 40 player discs in the game) –although one person could play both sides of a contest, especially if  that person was sick.  This game was a godsend for the athletic and mental health of young boys.  (No mention was made of girls’ participation. Remember: it was the 1950s.  Betty Friedan had not yet arrived on society’s radar.)  Each player-disc was placed upon the game board’s spinner, which was spun by a youngster’s finger and determined the outcome of a single at bat.   The 2 players took turns choosing their players/discs and setting up their All-Stars’ batting order.


The game was extremely popular when the 1950s saw baseball’s Negro Leagues decline due to the influx of exceptional Black and Latin players in Major League baseball.  The game’s discs which could have Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Joe DiMaggio, and Yogi Berra available for play found new names from which to choose their team (eg, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente).  (see above picture)

 We had to admit the game did have its shortcomings.  A player’s batting performance could be accurate, but pitching and defensive outcomes were not available.  You soon realized that Sandy Koufax struck out in half of his at bats.  (Ouch.)  And most pitchers did little better.  But, on the other hand, for someone who was frequently sick and had more time to research which pitchers hit better than others, well, such a person had an advantage in choosing players.  ***  And if such a person existed, he (or, nowadays, she) could learn how to create a disc for anyplayer.  Any player they wanted.  Even Roy Hobbs. (see picture below)  But who would do that?



The end result?  We had our stickball games, weather permitting, plus our indoor games all-year round!!



 *** Sandy Koufax had a lifetime batting average of .097 with 2 home runs.  But Bob Gibson had a lifetime batting average of .206 with 24 home runs.  Not everyone would know that.





About rcarmean

Two things... First, why have I decided to establish this blog? I like to put essays together. I research an idea or topic looking for information, statistics, stories, quotes, pictures, etc. I enjoy the process and seeing a finished product. I’m told that as I get older, new activities can help maintain energy and keep my brain alert. In other words, I am not doing this for money or fame. Second, regarding the gentleman in the collage of pictures above...it's not me. Those are photos of Christy Mathewson. Why him? When I was young, my primary activity was being sick. It took up much of my time. Eczema (a case so bad I was written up in a medical journal showing doctors what their patients COULD look like), asthma, and allergies. You know allergies: don’t eat this, don’t wear that, and, for Heaven’s sake, don’t touch any of these things (eg, dogs, cats, horses --I only saw horses in cowboy movies and TV shows, dust, swimming pools, my brother --OK, that’s an exaggeration, Rick was a fine brother). In my spare time between doctors' appointments, pills, and ointments, baseball kept me sane. In the 1940s and 1950s, when I grew up, pro footballI and basketball had not yet become extremely popular. Baseball truly was “the national pastime.” I listened to games on the radio (remember it? TV without the picture). I read magazines, books, and newspaper accounts of games. I collected baseball cards. I learned about the game’s history, as well as present. The same with its stars. One man stood out: Christy Mathewson. He was a great pitcher for the New York Giants in the early 20th century. But there was much more to him. At a time when professional athletes made little money (yes, there was such a time) and ball players were considered on the same level as actors, artists, and prostitutes, Mathewson stood out. One of his nicknames was: “The Christian Gentleman.” Most men is baseball drank, smoked, cursed, and fought —with other players, umpires, and fans. The fights were physical, not just verbal. Mathewson did none of these things. But he earned the respect of other players who did them all. Even Ty Cobb and John McGraw. There’s more. He was a college graduate (Bucknell University) when most men were lucky to have a high school diploma. He played other sports, including pro football which you wouldn’t recognize. He was handsome. He played in New York City, then as now, the largest city in the country. Excellence and popularity there meant fame and money. He dressed well. Today, his commercials would rival LeBron’s. And, finally, a hero’s life must have tragedy. After his playing career ended, WWI arrived. He suffered from influenza and was exposed to mustard gas. Chemical warfare. His lungs were damaged and he required treatment for the rest of his life. (Like my Grandfather who also fought in The Great War.) He died in 1925. He was 45 years old. I have his picture here because you need to know more about him than me. He was what an athlete could be. Players like him and their accomplishments got me through a sickly, painful childhood and can still sustain me in difficult times. *****
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