Illustration of Hal Richman ’58
Illustration: Joel Kimmel
Hal Richman ’58
Keeping Baseball Top of Mind in COVID Time
by Matt Zencey
Hal Richman ’58 invented the legendary baseball board game, Strat-O-Matic, which simulates what it’s like to manage a game played by a real Major League team. First issued in 1961 and still sold by his company, Richman’s game enjoyed a resurgence this spring when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down baseball and other professional team sports. Each day of the baseball shutdown, his firm has run a computer simulation of the scheduled games and posted results for thousands of fans on the internet. At 83, he still has a hand in the business, working 16 hours a week.
Q: Are you hearing from folks saying, “We’re sure glad we have your game because we don’t have real baseball?”
We have. Many longtime players are breaking out their old games from the attic and updating to some of our newer products. We’re honored that they are turning to Strat-O-Matic in record numbers. We also hope our simulation of each day’s Major League games will give fans a fun substitute for baseball on the field.
Q: Your games are basically simulations driven by the actual statistics of real players. How many math Ph.D.s does it take to run Strat-O-Matic?
[Laughs.] We’re a very small company. There are only five employees [Richman’s son Adam now runs the company]. We have six consultants. Four of the six probably have math backgrounds and are involved in computers. We do a lot of research [about intangible aspects of a player’s performance]. We are a small company with a big reputation.
Q: Did attending Bucknell play any part in your success?
Bucknell did play a part in my growth as a person. I was an accounting major in college, and I use that talent to do the books every month — tell the boys how much money we have or don’t have. Development of the games, that was my strength. [He invented his first version of Strat-O-Matic at age 11.] I wasn’t really an entrepreneur. I was really a board-game developer.
Q: As a businessman, what’s your management style?
In the old days, you could say I ran a “Lincoln cabinet”: There was only one vote. Today, there are five of us who vote on these issues and usually the vote is 4 to 1, with myself in the minority. [Laughs.]
Q: Some people say your game was an important way they connected with their fathers. Was that true for you?
There are a lot of people who have relationships with their fathers because of the game. That, to me, is very, very important. I had a very difficult relationship with my father. He was a very tough man. Physically tough. He had only a sixth- or seventh-grade education. My father never played the game, but he bonded with me in the success of the game. He was very proud of me, but he had difficulty telling me so.
Q. What is your favorite baseball team to manage when you play Strat-O?
Usually I take the ’27 Yankees. Of course, I always win. I started rooting for the Yankees in the 1940s. Joe DiMaggio was my hero.
Q: Some say baseball is our nation’s secular religion. What do you think?
I really think it is. We always stress individual entrepreneurship in this country. I think it’s what’s made the country what it is today. And we really have that in baseball. In other sports — hockey, basketball, football — a player’s statistics really depend on the players you are with, the team you are with. Baseball is different. It’s really the pitcher vs. the batter. It’s an individual sport. It’s very entrepreneurial that way. And that’s what America is all about.