Games and Adventures

About 1950, I discovered a game that became a dominant part of my life for about five years. The table-top game was named Ethan Allen’s All-Star Baseball game. It was launched in 1941 and produced by a Chicago company Cadaco-Ellis. This game was a fore-runner to the current fantasy sports phenomena that has grown into a multi-billion dollar business estimated to involve over 60 million people worldwide. But in 1950, All-Star Baseball (ASB) was a relatively simple board game in a box and was marketed to pre-teen boys who loved baseball. I fit the bill completely.

Not sure how I discovered the game, but I quickly became hooked. The game’s creator, Ethan Allen, was a former major leaguer who became the head baseball coach at Yale University for many years. He was George H. W. Bush’s (the future president) baseball coach at Yale and was a respected teacher of the game.  ASB used real players and real statistics and produced very realistic results.

The game consisted of a mock ball diamond, a spinner, and a series of round disks representing individual major league players. A current website (https://baseballgames.dreamhosters.com/CadacoASB.htm) explains how the game worked: “The disks, with a die-cut rectangular center hole, punched out, were placed over a small cardboard block mounted on the game-board, a spinner spun over it, and the wedge number — 1 through 14 — at which the spinner stopped indicated the result of each at-bat.” The spinner would land on a number indicating a walk, single, double triple, home run — or an out via strikeout, ground out, or fly out.

The number “one” indicated a home run. A home run hitter like Mickey Mantle would have a much larger slot for a homer than speedster Richie Ashburn. Mantle was the all-star centerfielder for the Yankees in 1952, and Ashburn was the all-star centerfielder for the Phillies, my favorite player at that time. Ashburn was not a power hitter, so his home run slot was slim, but his singles and doubles were large because he was a consistent hitter who beat out bunts and stretched singles into doubles. I was captivated by the accuracy and realism of the statistical results.

My neighbor Steve joined my excitement, and we organized so that each of us conducted a 50+ game schedule with two separate leagues. Then we had a world series of our own at the end of our season. We had a great time keeping all of the statistics just like we read in the sports pages of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. But this was our league, and to us, it was not fantasy — it was real.

A few years later our family moved to Chicago, and I persuaded two of my new friends, Butch and Pat, to go with me on an exploration to find the headquarters of Cadaco-Ellis, the manufacturer of my beloved game. By searching the massive Chicago phone book, I discovered that the company’s offices were on the 14th floor of the 20-story Merchandise Mart, near Moody Bible Institute, on the north side of the downtown loop.

Butch and Pat weren’t too interested in my game adventure, but they agreed to go if we could stop at the magic shop on Randolph Street, a few steps west of State Street. I can’t believe my mother allowed me as a 13-year-old kid to go with two friends downtown Chicago via the Elevated/Subway train. We had a ball on the “L” — running back and forth between cars and acting like typical jerks. Then they introduced me to The Treasure Chest that I’ve recently learned was owned by a famous Chicago magician who hosted a local TV magic show. We had a great time traipsing up and down the Chicago streets, exploring The Treasure Chest and running the stairways of the Merchandise Mart. Those were truly different days.

I’ve not been a big game person the rest of my life but was enticed by Connie about three years ago to join the monthly Mexican Train Tournament conducted here in Maranatha Village. This event draws around 100 or more every month to play in six-person table configurations of this challenging and competitive game. Some strategy and thinking are required — which I like — but lots of luck is needed. I am amazed that we have a handful of octogenarians, and beyond, that are so sharp and have so much luck. Several of these ladies win over and over. We’ve dragged our kids into Mexican Train, and the granddaughters were overjoyed this Christmas to get their own set.

Mexican Train with the family at Christmas 2019.

But we are also still adventuring. The Lord has allowed Connie and me to travel extensively in ministry for many years. During those trips, we continued to explore new places and new experiences. And we are still doing it today as we have launched out over the past seven years to explore the adventures of Florida. This coming summer Connie and I are praying about a new adventure…stay tuned.

6 thoughts on “Games and Adventures

  1. frankhamrick

    Gerry. That brought back great memories for me I owned a copy of ASB by C-E! Like you, I spent hours playing that game. I was also a big Whiz-Kids Phillies fan and loved Richie Ashburn. For some reason I remember Walker Cooper (Catcher) from ASB (not sure who he played for at the time as he played for 6 different teams in his career). So your article was extremely nostalgic for for me. I think I literally wore that game out during the late ‘40’s to early ‘50’s. DiMaggio was in my edition. Can’t remember all of them now. Thanks for the journey through those by-gone years (And, as you know) I’m still in love with games, though my tastes are toward strategic games playable in 30 to 90 minutes. Helps my aging mind :).

  2. Thanks, Frank. Surprising we never discovered this mutual interest before. My original game had a set of old timers (Ruth, Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner,etc.) and a set of current all-stars. Then I got an updated set the next year via mail order. My friend Steve had an older cousin who was into the game too, and we traded with him. When I went to the company offices it was on a Saturday, and they were not open. I was disappointed b/c they had a small store with items for sale. I ultimately made a special game board out of wood that allowed me to have room on the side for my scorecard, and other disks, etc. it was big time stuff. That website is cool — giving a lot of his about the game and company.

  3. Gail

    I remember that game and how you sat in your room playing it for hours and eating oranges! I too would take the el downtown in Chicago. I’m sure we were allowed to do that because our mom grew up there, knew it well, and had no fear there. I also took the street car downtown by myself in Minneapolis to my piano lessons at McPhail school of music. And I was younger than you! I remember we would walk to Lake Harriet by ourselves to swim, and I walked to the library totally by myself. Aw, those were the days!

  4. I can’t say that I remember the game, but I followed baseball avidly. Too avidly, my parents would have said. I was never a big fan of the Phillies until we lived in the Philadelphia area during the 1980s. That’s when I became interested in them and enjoyed listening to the play-by-play of Harry Calas and his “color man,” Rich Ashburn. This year has been a big one for the passing of great players. I read somewhere that with the passing of Phil Niekro, seven Hall of Famers are now gone. As a kid, I was a Braves fan–still am. My room was plastered with photos for which I had written the team–Niekro, Hank Aaron, Rico Carty, etc. A few years ago, we had to have some faulty windows replaced in our house, and the manufacturer’s rep who did the work was none other than Niekro’s son. We had a good time chatting about his dad, his uncle Joe (also a pitcher, for the Astros, I think), and the Braves. Great post. I hope you’ll one day turn these “chapters” of your grace journey into a full-fledged book!

    1. Thanks, Dennis. I could go on and on and baseball from my boyhood days, but my goal in these remembrances is to leave a legacy for my family. I’m still studying and meditating on the grace of God. That is the subject I would like to develop into a book. My work in Maranatha Village keeps me too busy to write more seriously at this time. But I am working through various eras of my life that give a window into my perspective of God’s grace in my life. Thanks for your encouragement. Your writing has been an encouragement and great example to me.

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