Hal Richman did not have much of an athletic career. At Great Neck High School, he failed to make its winless basketball team.
But as the creator of the baseball simulator Strat-O-Matic in 1961, Richman helped jump-start baseball's statistical revolution. Now celebrating the 50th anniversary of his game, the self-proclaimed "mediocre athlete" was one of eight people inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame Sunday at the Suffolk Y Jewish Community Center in Commack.
Richman, 75, began his induction speech by saying, "I certainly would've liked to enter the Hall as an athlete, but that wasn't possible."
He created the game at his parents' home as a response to the unrealistic simulators that flooded the market. Strat-O-Matic allowed players to re-create entire seasons using MLB players and their accordant abilities printed on cards.
Although the proliferation of fantasy and rotisserie sports has lessened Strat-O-Matic's cultural foothold, the 50th anniversary has brought revitalized interest in the game and its creator. For Richman, whose boyhood hero was the 1930s and '40s Hall of Fame slugger Hank Greenberg (aka The Hebrew Hammer), his induction into the Jewish Hall carried added significance.
"This is perhaps the most important [honor] given to me," Richman said before the ceremony. "It's coming at the end of my career. And it's very gratifying. It's really saying that you've done a good 50 years of work, that you've contributed to society and brought a lot of good things to a lot of people."
Strat-O-Matic has carried on from its original board game to online versions and in other sports, including basketball, hockey and football. Former major-leaguers Cal Ripken Jr. and Doug Glanville are some of its biggest fans. Keith Hernandez often cites the game during SNY broadcasts.
"It certainly hasn't hurt,'' Richman said of the attention, "and it keeps reminding people of us, which is very important." Richman recalled a story about Glanville, who early in his career with the Phillies earned a "1" on defense, Strat-O-Matic's top rating. Later, when his defensive score moved to a 2, the outfielder objected. They then had a mock debate at Shea Stadium, where Glanville came armed with a bundle of statistics to petition Richman's rating.
"I stood my ground that he was a 2," Richman said with a chuckle. "And that's how it ended up."
Because of advocates such as Glanville and a cult following, Richman and his staff keep churning out the game. And year after year, from a modest office in Glen Head, Richman continues to live his dream.
"I wouldn't trade being a game inventor for anything," Richman said. "Except a professional athlete."