Invented by Ethan Allen
More Detailed History
If you love baseball, winter is hard, so the idea of a game based upon baseball to fill the time between games probably goes back to the 19th century. Most early games used dice to come up with the play, but those who longed for greater realism were out of luck. That is, until All-Star Baseball was introduced.
The game was the brain child of Ethan Allen,* a moderately successful major league player of the 20s and 30s. After he retired, he became head baseball coach at Yale, and it is here where he developed the game and sold it to Cadaco, who made it for years.
Instead of using dice, All-Star Baseball used cards. Only they weren’t standard baseball cards: they were circular, with a big hole in the center. You’d put the card on a spinner on the game board (there was a raised area that matched the hole) and spun the pointer. The number showing when the spinner stopped determined the results: for example, if you spun a “1,” it was a home run (as everyone who ever played the game remembers).
But the perimeter of the cards were not uniform. Each section containing a number was a different size. The size of each option were designed to match the performance of the player. Thus the home run area (1) for Mickey Mantle was considerably larger than that for Nellie Fox. Although crude, the setup did have the players hitting like they did in real life. There was a second spinner for the defense, which had limited options (things like holding a runner to one base instead of two on a single), and was probably not bothered with.
The game was far from perfect. In addition to the lack of defensive options,** there was no consideration for the pitching,*** so a batter would hit just the same no matter who was on the mound. The design of the cards meant that there was a trick to put them on the spinner, and the game consisted of placing the card, spinning the pointer, then putting down a new card. Your finger could get pretty sore with all the spinning, too.
On the plus side, the game used the names of real players, both active and historical. The players were honored to be part of it and granted their permission for next to nothing. The game also could easily be played in a solitaire version.
As time went by, things changed. They started adding player photos to the cards, and eliminated the large hole in the center.
Around 1993, though, they stopped making the game. One factor was that the Players Association started asking for more money for using the players’ names, but the drawbacks of the game conspired against it. There were more accurate simulations by that point, and spinning the spinner was hopelessly low tech. New versions come out sporadically for the nostalgia market
There are still many who look fondly back on the game, but computer games have moved far beyond what you could do with cardboard. It’s too bad – I actually liked sports games where realism was thrown out the window.
*No, not the Revolutionary War hero.
**I don’t think many people bothered with it, and it seems to have been added to the game to give the defensive team something to do.
***Pitchers did have cards, but only for batting. Pitcher cards rarely had a “1” on them.