My concept for The S.T.A.R. Project was originally developed in early 2000 beginning a decade long plunge into baseball history. The idea was to determine the greatest baseball players of all time, place them on major league teams and have them compete to see how they would fare in a 162 game season.
Having become a strat-o-matic fanatic in my youth (see the link to Strat-O-Matic Home if you don't know what that is!) and rediscovering the game in the form of the computer game as an adult, I knew that if I could determine the greatest players, I had a realistic method to have them compete. A series of events conspired to hatch this project in the dark recesses of my mind. First, family and career obligations had led to me abandoning my internet baseball leagues which had fueled my strat-o-matic obsession for most of the 1990's leaving me with a baseball void. Secondly, the turn of the century marked the natural nostalgia toward looking back on the past 100 years of our beloved national pastime. Indeed the seeds were planted on mlb.com as the web site introduced its All-Century Rosters for each of the major league teams. Coincidently, 2000 also marked the end of a quarter century since my first season of strat-o-matic cards from the 1975 baseball season. With my creativity deprived accountant’s mind, I came up with what I thought was a clever acronym for this league, the S.T.A.R. (as in baseball star), which stood for the Strat-o-matic Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Replay. I know this may seem like a typo, since you may have noticed that the logo for this project shows this anniversary as the Thirty-Fifth and being 2010, it is not exactly the turn of the century, but as is commonplace in my hectic life, this project did not exactly proceed as scheduled.
While I can conveniently fall back on the excuse of “raising” four kids from our brady bunch household, my wife would probably dispute the legitimacy of this claim. My increasingly busy career is a bit more plausible excuse, I have to admit that my wife afforded me plenty of time to slip into my fantasy world and work on my grand scheme. More likely excuses range from a natural tendency to procrastinate to my ever increasing love affair with another great American past-time – Poker. My wife actually introduced me to the game in the mid nineties and I became obsessed with Texas Holdem tournaments long before my fellow accountant Chris Moneymaker “created” the poker boom with his improbable run to the World Series of Poker main event bracelet, but then that is another kind of World Series altogether and I digress.
The real reason for the decade long nature of this project, poker notwithstanding, is my stereotypical accountant’s trait of being a perfectionist. No matter how I sliced and diced the all time greats, a few names kept failing to make the cut that seamed to nag at me. Then there is the seemingly small task of how many teams (and therefore players) should be in the S.T.A.R. First it was the original 16, then when that wasn’t enough 20, and then there is the 24 team league that I eventually settled on. One of the many flaws in my perfectionist mind that I have hopefully corrected in 2010 (I will have to come up with a new acronym if I wait until 2020), is that I went back to my original premise that this league should consist of the greatest players and that while placing them on their real life team was important, it was of secondary concern. If you are confused, this dilemma goes something like this: If I have 16 or 20 teams, where do you put some of the all time greats if you are focusing on teams. Tony Gwynn is of course an unquestioned hall of famer, yet he managed to play his entire career with only the San Diego Padres. Even if you bump it up to twenty four teams, what about Ken Griffey Jr., ARod, and Edgar Martinez from Seattle? I guess that means at least 26 teams, but I always hated that format, so might as well go with all of the current major league teams. But now how on earth can the Florida Marlins compete with my beloved Cubs and their history stretching back to the 1870’s. In fact how on earth can the Marlins win two World Series in their measly twenty some years of existence while the Cubs….uh well ok, that has nothing to do with the issue here, but some things are damn painful that you never can really get it out of your mind!! I can’t really say I blame Steve Bartman, or even Alex Gonzalez or Mark Prior (ok, back to the point). Suffice it to say that focusing on teams was difficult for my twisted mind to pull off.
Another issue that I struggled with is trying to be fair (translated: objective) as much as possible. If hall of famer Monte Irvin had only 731 career big league hits, how do you limit those who have more hits yet no prior Negro league history that helped get him to the hall of fame? Speaking of Negro league stars, how can you exclude legitimate hall of famer’s Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige and the rest from the greatest of all time. Even Bill James acknowledged in his landmark “The Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract” that there was no real way to rank them. Speaking of this great work, I should take this opportunity to point out how big a role this book has played in this project (actually the revised version to be exact). In fact, I relied on this book so heavily that I used it as a criteria for selection to the S.T.A.R. (more on that later though). Any way, strat-o-matic has given me a way around this dilemma with their long awaited and recently released Negro league baseball set. Problem solved! The improved 2010 S.T.A.R. will have two teams of Negro league greats including numerous hall of famers including the aforementioned Monte Irvin.
While I am not a sabermetrician, I also learned enough from Bill James to know that there were also inherent flaws in using my absolute stat measures, such as number of hits or home runs, to measure a player’s place in history. While like most Cub fans (not sure about Red Sox) I love Bill Buckner, and I fondly remember many of Dave Kingman’s 48 homeruns flying out of Wrigley in 1978, 2,715 hits or 442 home runs do not make one a hall of famer (of course that is good enough to be one of the 1,000 greatest). Also, while I don’t want to get into the steroid issue just yet (trust me I tend to agree more with Jose Canseco than the average baseball writer on that subject), there clearly must be some kind of comparison of a player against his own era in order to measure the dead ball era player vs. our steroid injected contemporaries. While like any other objective measure it does not measure everything, and at the end of the day there will always be subjectivity, I believe that I have developed (more like extrapolated from real sabermetricians) a pretty fair method for my purposes here. But then you can be the judge of that as we unveil this shortly.
Getting back to my nagging little problem with perfectionism, or as the saying goes, paralysis by analysis, I have taken a vow that 2010 will be better. A New Years resolution if you will? It goes something like this. I am going to make some decisions on where the black lines are and where the grey ones lie, throw in a little subjectivity and then move on. No more second guessing, I will leave it up to you to point out the reason my league format is not worthy of the Dream Season or why this player should or should not be included. Even accountants figure out in a moment of clarity (or disillusionment) that there are grey lines and not just black, and I am not even referring to Enron.
Perhaps all of this rambling hasn’t really fully introduced the project in clear terms, but there will be plenty of time for that. But to put some closure to the topic, here is a quick fly by on how the Dream Season will unfold:
1) Choose the 1,000 greatest players from a pool of 2,000 major leaguers (actually 1,896 + 104 Negro League stars from the strat-o-matic set and Monte Irvin).
2) Divide these 1,000 (including 80 Negro Leaguers) players amongst 24 teams in 4 divisions (just like the good old days in 1975).
3) Add in the greatest managers and executives including all of the rest of the hall of famers if possible.
4) Using three strat-o-matic resources (hall of fame set, career historical disk for 2009, and Negro league set), ready the teams for The Dream Season.
5) Because I don’t have time to play 1,944 regular season games this year, play approximately 400 games while using computer managers (HAL in the strat-o-matic vernacular for strat founding father Hal Richman) to play the rest.
6) In order to have the opportunity to play a few games for each of the 24 teams (and of course see if I can influence the results in the meantime, since it is of course my fantasy), I will take the following approach:
A) As the most loyal of Cubs fans, I will manage every Cubs game (both home and road) against a computer manager in the NL.
B) As a great hater (read: envious) of the New York Yankees, manage every other team against the Yankees with a computer manager in the AL.
C) For the other 76 or so games I play, wait until the pennant race heats up late in the season and choose my games there.
7) Finally, play all of the playoff games for both the NLCS and ALCS and then crown a world champion for the Dream Season (hopefully the Chicago Cubs!!).
Anyway, that’s my project in a nutshell. Along the way I plan to sprinkle in some of my own personal baseball history and soap boxes on certain topics, most notably my unconventional stance on the Baseball Hall of Fame (which of course will become part of the Dream Season festivities). Not to spoil the fun, but at some point we will unveil “The Big Hall” in a blatant act of baseball heresy. In case you haven’t guessed by now, Pete Rose, Joe Jackson, and a host of other deserving candidates including our very own Ron Santo will be enshrined in the ceremony to take place at the all-star game.
Hope you are ready to come along for the ride…