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Saturday 16th Dec 2017

One of the tougher leagues in which I play is the Strat-O-Matic "Summer League of Champions" (SLOC) league, curated by the ever venerable Larry Denicola in a setup that includes 24 total participants.

Using the great Strat format, SLOC allows a throw back draft every three years which allows teams to build a basic roster using the Strat Hall of Fame set. From there, each year we pick a season to exploit and the Hall of Fame set is augmented by the players and rosters for a particular year (for this season, the chosen year was 1948).

So, we keep our Hall of Famers for three seasons, and then redraft from the specific season each year, and play it out. It is important to note that players like Dwight Evans and Orel Hershiser--excellent players who fell short of actual HOF status--are included within the HOF set, and the league does have fairly tight usage rules. That is, players can only play in the assigned position, and there are penalties for overuse of a specific player.

Well, I have struggled over my three years in the league, trying to balance defense and speed and power and pitching. But the longer I play, the clearer I am that pitching doesn't help that much when Bob Gibson goes 8-18, 4.94 and David Wells 8-10, 5.71. So, next season that means I will look more to hitting than pitching.

But, if I ever wondered how much difference it makes for a very good team to match up against a great team, this lesson was drilled in this final month of our season when I played eight home games and went a sad 1-7.

Because I got knocked out of the playoff picture by mid-season, I used the bulk of my starters like Ozzie Smith and Ed Delahanty and Eddie Murray up until our September play, and then subbed out said stars for the likes of Howard Johnson (Strat-O-Matic averages stats over three-year periods in HOF-type contests, so Johnon's numbers reflect a .255-25-80 season), Bobby Brown (.300-3-48 with a .383 OBP) and Birdie Tebbetts (.280-5-68 with a .371 OBP) over the likes of Ron Santo, Frankie Frisch, and Bill Dickey.

In just about any Strat or sim matchup, Tebbetts, Brown, and HoJo would be excellent bench support, but in a league that features Lefty Grove and Walter Johnson as the top arms, and where guys like Frank Chance can simply kill your squad whether Nolan Ryan or Webster McDonald is hurling is the norm, not the exception.

That does indeed make things very tight, but also, I have found, very depressing. For, in a league where indeed the toughest three outs are those in the ninth, where a seven-run lead is nothing to feel safe about, and where Rogers Hornsby and Dave Parker can easily come off the bench and bounce a pitcher around, this is the way of things.

I can indeed adjust next year, where I will freeze Gibson and Hershiser and McDonald (if you do not know him, he is a great reliever in such a setting), focusing first on hitters, then pitchers. And, ideally, some success will follow and I can sub the likes of HoJo for Santo once a week to spread out the usage impact.

But, even with that, it was shocking this year during my final round of games to see that for the most part, my team never stood a chance with a contingent of very good and respectable players trying to stay on equal footing with Hall of Famers.

I suppose this was much like the old winter barnstorming days when American All-Star teams would tour Japan and win 19 of 21 games, for the one game I salvaged this time was a close one where Nolan Ryan held our opponents to just two runs, and Mr. Johnson belted a two-run jack in the eighth to give me a lead that McDonald successfully protected.

However, I feel sure had Johnson hit his dinger in the sixth, that game too would have fallen by the wayside as the late-inning pressure and players would have dropped my Berkeley Radicals onto the losing end of the scoresheet.

Mind you, I am not complaining. Fantasy and Sim games are good fun, and for me they are an opportunity not just to play a game, and a baseball game at that. But they also afford a chance to play out situations and see just how the hits and strikeouts fall, and which side of the diamond said stats live by the last out.

I frequently like to advise fantasy players to try a lot of formats and styles of play, for what we learn in one league can often help us learn what to do in another seemingly different league (remember, the league might be different, but the game of baseball remains a constant).

So, I can only suggest you have at it. After all, games are fun! And baseball games are the most.

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