It was a sunny, summer Saturday morning in the early 1970’s and for some reason that day I slept in well past my usual early morning wake up time.  I woke up to the feeling of a package that just arrived, one of my family members gently placed at the foot of my bed.  I laid still and didn’t peek, and continued that way for several minutes after they quietly left.

I knew what it was and to this day still remember that special feeling one gets when something arrives they have been looking forward to.  For a moment if felt like Christmas morning.  When I opened my eyes, there it was, a long rectangular-shaped cardboard box containing the game I ordered and had been anxiously awaiting.

The tabletop baseball board game that was an inspiration of Baseball Classics

After carefully opening up the box, I was not disappointed one bit.  There it was, a game with the throwback feel and yet new design, different from all the heavily text-based others.  Colorful and had the greatest MLB players of all-time, the very best through the early 1970’s.  16 teams, featuring their best franchise players including my all-time favorites Lou Gehrig and Mickey Mantle, though so many more.  As well as other’s I never heard of before and came to appreciate like Rudy York, Eddie Joost, and Three Finger Mordecai Brown to name a few.  It wasn’t long before I came to know them based on their contributions once I started playing game after game rotating through these 16 teams of greatness across the eras.

I played Strat-o-matic, SherCo, APBA, and so many others that were great fun, but this game, now this was special.  This was Sports Illustrated All-Time All-Star Baseball Game, it was released in 1973, I was hooked.  It was the inspiration behind Baseball Classics.  Sadly, there was never to be any revised editions in subsequent years.  The game can be found for purchase from time to time on sites such as eBay, typically ranging from $100 to well over $200 or far more depending on the condition.

When I designed Baseball Classics, this was the game that came to the forefront of my mind.  It had a great combination of one I thought was the most fun to play, easiest to play, fastest to play, minimum charts, had MLB greats across the eras, realistic, and accurate.  This is a combination I embraced and built the Baseball Classics business model around.

Game Design

Sports Illustrated All-Time All-Star Baseball Game Player Sheets

The SI All-Time All-Star baseball game had a new design, full color team sheets compared to the black and white, plain font lettering of other games.  Everything from batting stance, batting vs. a lefty or righty pitcher, bunting, and the result of an at bat and plays such as stealing, base

Matrix Edition Card

running, etc., all color-coded.  Baseball Classics eventually adopted full color-coding, we like to call “traffic highlighting”, for all player card ratings (bunting, base stealing, base running, fielding) results, and the Play Chart.  This enhances not only the look and feel of the game, but also makes it easier and faster to glance through your players to see which ones are strong in the areas you’re looking for as you build and/or insert into your lineup and pitching.

Upon showing a Baseball Classics to a friend one day to get his opinion, he said “In 5 seconds you can tell how to play!”.  Formerly, Baseball Classics carried the Matrix Edition, some may find it resembled the SI game player look and feel most.

Perhaps those familiar with SI may have another point of view, but in mine their game gives that design feeling of throwback and modern baseball.  Providing All-Time All-Time Star players from yester year such as Ty Cobb and up to the early 1970’s with players like Reggie Jackson along with their mostly black and white game box cover gave it such such charisma.  The Baseball Classics name and logo were designed to embrace both the throwback and modern eras MLB; we hope you feel they do.

Play Any Major League Baseball Team

This is another area of the game that truly inspired our offering any Major League Baseball season or team from 1901 to present!  The SI game featured the greatest players of all-time, some spanning into the late 1800’s like Honus Wagner for example.  Naturally, Baseball is such a historic icon with many fans appreciating the glory of yesterday we were surely wanting to provide access to all these great teams and players as well.

From the beginning, Baseball Classics offered not just the All-Time greats, but any MLB seasons and individual teams dating back from 1901.  Our most popular season is always the current season available.  Next would be seasons and teams from the 1960’s and 1970’s.  However it is probably not a surprise that so many other seasons and teams are purchased including 1901.  We have had many requests to offer Negro League, Minor League, and the Federal League of which we have noted.  Yet, with over 100 MLB seasons to supply, we have plenty to focus on and provide for our customers.  I feel it is important to serve the mass of baseball fans and their variety in taste to ensure they can manage all the MLB teams and players they want.

David S. Neft and Richard M. CohenThe best benefit I enjoyed when playing SI’s game was learning about cool new players I never heard of.   Their performance piqued my interest, I wanted to them research them further.  It steered me to books like the Baseball Encyclopedia and The Sports Encyclopedia of Baseball by David Neft and Richard Cohen.  The first one I purchased of the latter was the 1985 edition.  Since the SI game didn’t provide player stats, I was curious to see just what was behind their colorful player ratings.  The 1986,1987, and 1988 editions of Baseball Classics used stats from the aforementioned books.  There are many other baseball books that I have read and flipped through to gain more insight into these older ball players well before my time.  One I keep handy is Rob Neyer’s Big Book of Baseball Lineups.  It’s one of my personal favorites to learn about so many players across the MLB eras, an easy, insightful, and enjoyable read.

Game Play

SI is easy and fast to play!  It is a straight dice roll that refers to either the batter or pitcher.  The overwhelming majority of tabletop baseball board game fans want to be able to crank out a good number of games played in a relatively short period of time.  With SI, I typically was able to get 3 to 4 games played within an hour.  A perfect pace for making some good progress towards a slate of games and if one created standings, say National League and American League teams (8 each), then some movement in the standings too would be had in that time.  Baseball Classics was designed from the ground up with player results that could garnered quickly.  Over the years we updated our formulas and player cards to ensure very high accuracy.

SI player results consisted of lefty and righty for the batters, all within an easy view for comparison to see if you should bench or play someone based on the pitcher they are opposing.  Though the game didn’t account the same for pitcher’s lefty vs. righty results, it was still good enough.  I considered this righty and lefty results for player cards in Baseball Classics, though after researching it decided it was not a wise idea.  Here’s why:

  1. Frankly, though for some players there were some clear differentiation when they faced a lefty or righty, the overwhelming majority of the players didn’t have that much of a difference to split their results out.
  2. Our player card design is our marquee; it would have been too disruptive towards the look and feel, hence potentially sacrificing game play ease and speed.
  3. Statistics for lefty vs. righty are not easy to get, especially far back and for pitchers; this matters a lot when offering any MLB team or season from 1901 to present.
  4. Statistics for players are typically listed as the sum of their results and widely discussed that way.  For example, when was the last time you heard or had a conversation with someone when speaking of Hank Aaron’s career home run total in terms of how many were hit off lefty vs. righty?  Instead most everyone simply states 755 homers.
  5. Since most all stats are the sum of a player’s performance, it already represents their lefty vs. righty total, so assuming a batter faced the same pitcher the same number of plate appearances, the results should be within an acceptable margin.

I respect the baseball purest that would still only want to play a tabletop baseball board game that offers lefty vs. righty game play ratings.  However I stand behind the level of high accuracy and fast, easy playability being a fundamental combination requirement not to be sacrificed.

The play charts in SI are easy to read, thus simple to follow and keep the game flow going.  They embraced the same great color-coding consistency that really made it smooth to play.  SI used the same dice for at bat results as play results such as base stealing and then referring to the chart was only necessary when a play beyond the at bat occurred.  This really keeps the pace of game play on track and yet still embraces the drama of play.  Baseball Classics incorporates the same theme throughout to seamlessly move from player card results look and feel to looking up play results in a simple to read condensed chart sporting the same look.  Keeping it simple, yet effective, that’s our policy and I tip my baseball hat to games like SI that deliver on this.

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In conclusion, I would be so appreciative to hear from those who have played Sports Illustrated All-Time All-Star Baseball sharing your favorite memories, what you love about it, and/or any inspiration from it you would care to share in the comments.  I always brought mine with me on our family summer vacations throughout the USA, so it was well traveled and made the car trips go by fast and inspired a new game the next decade named Baseball Classics for all to play and enjoy.