The Big 4-0: Arizona convention to kick off milestone season

Well, we’re about to officially turn 40.

On March 2 the I-75 League will conduct its annual convention and draft that will precede the start of our 40th season of Strat-O-Matic baseball. Thirty-nine years after we held our first draft over a telephone hookup between a kitchen in Detroit and a newspaper office in Tampa, I-75 League managers will convene in Scottsdale, Ariz., for a face-to-face draft among eight managers and via an internet connection to seven more. This time around, the stars being sought are Acuna, Soto and Ohtani, instead of Seaver, Ryan and Winfield.

Five of our current 15 managers weren’t even born yet back in 1980. Another five — Dave and Mike Renbarger, Steve Hart, Steve Bizek and Gary Kicinski — are still skippering squads as they were in 1980.

We’re no longer rolling dice in a box, no longer keeping score by hand, no longer using “stooge” managers, no longer enduring 10-game series and having to mail results back to our opponents.

Now we click a mouse to roll dice, a computer keeps score for us, all 1,200 of our games per season are played mano-a-mano over the internet, and we celebrate our ability to play a five-game series in the shortest time possible.

Managers assemble for 1981 draft at Howard Johnson’s Motor Lodge in Knoxville, Tenn.

But the amazing thing is merely that we have persevered, through job changes and family raising and expansion and format shifts. As best we can assess, our little league is no worse than the seventh-longest-running active Strat Netplay baseball league in the country.

Oldest active Strat Netplay baseball leagues (year founded):

1. Greater United States Strat-O-Matic Organization (1971)
2. Fly-By-Night Baseball Association (1974)
3. Capital Baseball League (1975)
4. United States Baseball Association (1977)
5. Strat-O-Matic Baseball Ivy League League (1979)
6. Delcal Strat-O-Matic Baseball League (1979)
7. (tie) North American Strat-O-Matic Association (1980)
7. (tie) I-75 League (1980)
7. (tie) Ferndale (Mich.) Strat-O-Matic League (1980)

Source: Strat-O-Matic baseball league registry research

As we embark on our 40th season, we could be seeing a changing of the guard. After a season in which four of the league’s wily veterans advanced to the Final Four, this year the league’s younger crowd is jockeying for position among the league’s anticipated elite teams. With returning strong teams, high draft picks and a freewheeling front office, teams like Boulder, Tatooine, Dyersville and New New York could be setting stakes in the ground.

Destin dealt ace Chris Sale to move into the No. 1 pick, presumably to select Brave fave Ronald Acuna Jr. Juan Soto, two-way star Shohei Ohtani, and young pitching studs Walker Buehler, Jack Flaherty and Miles Mikolas are expected to soon follow.

The draft will likely then quickly descend into a free-for-all for relief aces, setup stars and lefty mashers. St. Louis pitchers and Tampa Bay hitters will be prized acquisitions.

It’s only our second visit ever to Arizona for this group of Florida lovers, but it presents a chance to check out some teams we don’t usually see, with so many camps bunched around the Phoenix area. The convention will also feature the drawing of teams for the divisional realignment that will take effect in the 2020 season.

Let’s draft!

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