Box Score is a weekly column that offers a look at sports games and the athletic side of the industry from the perspective of veteran reviewer and sports fan Richard Grisham.
baseball-obsessed teenager living in the 1980s, no game was better than
MicroLeague Baseball. Featuring some of the greatest major league teams throughout
history – replete with the real rosters and tons of statistics for each player
– it allowed me to don a manager’s cap for the first time and play countless
hours of captivating games. It wasn’t about timing or stick-flicking; you
needed legitimate baseball smarts and strategies to win. I sunk days, weeks,
and months into it, playing seasons, tracking stats, and generally geeking out.
Turns out I
wasn’t the only one.
and Bill Simmons are well-known ESPN personalities today – Ramsey, as a part of
the Sports Nation show, is actively involved behind and in front of the scenes,
and Simmons is the world’s most popular sports writer and podcaster – but in
the summer of 1988, they were simply good friends who shared a passion for
“This was the
summer before my last year in college,” Ramsey told me when I spoke with him
last week. “My folks had just moved out to California that year. I am one of 6
kids, but I was the only one still in Connecticut at that time. I was living
with a friend of my Mom’s that summer, so for the most part I was spending all
my non-working hours at Bill’s house. He had MicroLeague Baseball.”
Above: Simmons (left) and Ramsey are best known as ESPN personalities, but their friendship goes way back
it’s hard to comprehend the impact MicroLeague had on people like us, but trust
me; it was massive.
I was a big Strat-O-Matic fan,” Ramsey recalled, speaking about the card-based
board game that had been around since the early ‘60s. “In some ways,
MicroLeague was the first kind of video evolution of Strat-O-Matic. I used to
sit there and play Strat-O-Matic, keep score of the games, box scores, the
stats and all of that. Now, instead of rolling the dice, you just had to press
a couple keys on the keyboard. Bill had the version of the game that would give
you the box scores and track statistics and he had a printer for his computer,
which in the ‘80s was a big deal. The thing was like the size of a Hyundai.”
lifelong Mets fan who’d been going to games since childhood, and Simmons, a
huge Red Sox supporter who still hadn’t recovered from their epic collapse in
the 1986 World Series, made a decision that only MicroLeague could empower.
that summer that we were going to play a 162-game Mets-Red Sox season,” Ramsey
said. “I made a roster of the greatest Mets of all time, he had made a roster
of the greatest Red Sox of all time from 1962 on. We needed a level playing
field, so no Ted Williams for him or some of those guys. I had good pitching. When
you take the best Mets’ years from ’62 to ’87 – Seaver and Koosman and Matlack
and Gooden – you can put together a pretty good pitching staff.”
however, that Ramsey wasn’t entirely alone in the decision-making process for
his Mets. A certain future Hall of Fame pitcher named Tom Seaver made sure of
that. When Seaver was attempting a comeback with the Mets in 1987, Ramsey wound
up catching him in some practice sessions (read all about how that happened here).
Gus got onto the subject of his all-time Mets roster when chatting with the
explaining to Seaver about the MicroLeague team and my all-time Mets team,”
Ramsey recalled. “MicroLeague was strictly an offensive game, there was no
defensive accounting for anything. So, Bud Harrelson was not my shortstop
because Frank Taveras had had a year where he hit .279; at that point, that had
been the most productive shortstop the Mets had ever had.
“I go through
my lineup with Seaver and I tell him that Frank Taveras was my shortstop,” he
continued. “You have to understand that Seaver loves Bud Harrelson, in part
because he’s a great defensive shortstop that saves a lot of runs and Seaver
obviously appreciated him.”
conversation was quick and, well, effective.
Ramsey: I’ve got Frank Taveras at short.
Seaver: No, you gotta have Harrelson.
Ramsey: Well, Tom, there’s really no defense
at all, and Buddy’s best year was like .235, Taveras’ was .279.
Seaver: No, you gotta have Harrelson. Just put
Harrelson in there.
Ramsey: I understand, Tom, but –
Seaver: Change it.
So in went Buddy
Above: Simmons stands at bat while Ramsey catches for Seaver in 1987
As the summer
progressed, the two friends played every single game – no simulations. “Pretty
much every day over the course of the summer, we’d get together and play one game
or two games,” Ramsey laughed. “We would have to hold up something to cover our
eyes when the other guy was making his pitch selection, because you didn’t want
anything nefarious going on. Every once in awhile he’d be like ‘You looked, I
know! How else would you know I was going to throw a slider on 3-0!’”
approached, Ramsey would soon need to make the drive from Connecticut to
Rollins College in Orlando, Florida. There was just one problem.
summer is ending,” he remembered. “It’s the night before, I am driving to
college the next morning, and we’re at game 156. Bill’s got a 6-game lead on
than concede defeat, though, Ramsey played Simmons until there was no chance
the Mets could overtake the Sox. Which never happened.
win the last six games to split 81-81 for the 162-game season,” he recalled.
“It was a lot of fun and just pretty funny that we spent the entire summer and
cranked out 6 games the last day to finish dead even at 81-81.”
Turns out the
long drive to Orlando was a little bit happier than Ramsey expected it to be
just the day before.
complicated online franchises with custom schedules, rosters, and stat tracking
are common. But in the 1980s, the newness of it – combined with the simple
beauty of the best baseball simulator of its day – was a small part of
propelling two good friends on a path that led to careers doing what they love.
We should all be so lucky.
Richard Grisham has been obsessed with sports and video games since childhood, when he'd routinely create and track MicroLeague Baseball seasons on paper. He currently lives in New Jersey with his wife and four-year old son, who he'll soon be training to be an NFL placekicker. As a freelance journalist and writer, his work has appeared in GamesRadar, NGamer, and 1UP.